In 2019, Mexican artists are turning heads in every corner of the international art world, and Elisa Carrillo is no exception.
The 38-year-old professional ballerina recently became the first Mexican woman to receive the prestigious Prix Benois de la Danse, an award that is akin to winning an Oscar for best ballet performance. Some have called it the “Nobel Prize of dance”.
“I truly want this award to be something for the country,” said Carrillo, speaking to journalists during a press conference in the courtyard of Mexico’s National Auditorium.
I sat down with Elisa for an interview while she was promoting the start of Danzatlan, a national dance festival she established in 2018 to promote Mexican arts and culture.
Elisa joined me backstage where we spoke about her ballet career, and her work as a cultural ambassador for the government.
We also spoke about violence, an unavoidable topic in Mexico these days.
“It makes me so sad to think about the situation this country is going through,” she said. “But I believe that art, culture, sport, all of this, can help younger generations have a different view of the future.”
In 2012, Elisa launched a non-profit that carries her namesake, the Elisa Carrillo Cabrera foundation, which among other things grants scholarships to ballet students.
“What we’ve been doing is supporting young people so they can travel to other places and study,” she said.
Some of her scholarship recipients have gone on to attend art academies like the Berlin State School and the Ballet School of the Bolshoi Theatre.
I should note that Elisa is the first Mexican woman to be named principal dancer of the Staatsballett Berlin. She’s also a member of the UNESCO International Dance Council.
Now the second Mexican national to win the Prix Benois, I asked Elisa what she planned to do with the one million dollar cash prize rumored to come with the award.
“What cash prize?” she asked. “Wikipedia might say there is a prize, but I checked, there’s no cash prize. They give you a nice statuette, which is lovely, but I assure you there is no cash prize.”
A few awkward laughs later, we spoke again about the effect she hopes to make through her non-profit work and receiving the honour of the “best ballet performer in the world”.
“I believe that a child who holds a violin or a paint brush will never hold a weapon,” she said. “That’s why promoting dance and culture is one of the missions of my organisation, and I hope that over time, my beloved Mexico can achieve peace and tranquility.”