Ballet Hispánico Scores Another Homerun

                     Image courtesy of Paula Lobo

A few years back, Ballet Hispánico hosted an audience Q&A after one of their performances, and an audience member commented that he was surprised that Ballet Hispánico did not present more ballets with a stronger Latin influence. Perhaps, this audience member thought he was only going to see flamenco dance or dance works with strong, traditional Latin rhythms from the Caribbean and South America. What that audience member may not have understood is that Latin culture is an amalgam of influences from many cultures, be it West Africa, North Africa, indigenous Native cultures, the European mainland, and even some Asian and Middle Eastern cultures. And oftentimes these cultural influences are so brilliantly melded into more recognizable Latin rhythms and influences that to the untrained eye, some theatrical works may not appear Hispanic, when in fact, the Latin presence is quite strong.

At their recent season at the Joyce Theater, Ballet Hispánico’s CEO and Artistic Director Eduardo Vilaro demonstrated the breadth and wealth of the Latin diaspora. The four programs on the opening performance—Linea Recta, Espiritus Gemelos, Waiting for Pepe, and Con Brazos Abiertos—aptly exhibit that Ballet Hispánico is commented to exploring Latin culture in all its diversity and incarnations.

Under founder Tina Ramirez, Ballet Hispánico assembled a repertoire that had a recognizable Latin influence and fit into the fold of what non-Hispanic audiences would expect from a dance company rooted in Latin culture. Ramirez’s point of view under her aegis was appropriate at that time. However, in this current incarnation of Ballet Hispánico, Vilaro is stretching the company beyond that. And that is a real good thing.

                                    “Linea Recta” image courtesy of Paula Lobo

Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s Linea Recta approaches familiar, traditional Hispanic influences—flamenco, mantillas, lacy, ruffled dresses, and black fans—in a modern interpretation. Ochoa aptly takes familiar flamenco movement and replaces and enhances some recognizable movement with vocabulary from the modern dance lexicon. Instead of flamenco foot tapping, Ochoa employs barefoot shuffles and other barefooted flourishes. The traditional high-low ruffled skirt, traje de gitana, is replaced by a shortened version that gives the dancers more movement freedom. And the pyrotechnically brilliant choreography demonstrates Ochoa’s acumen for taking something that is deeply rooted in Andalusian culture and translates that influence into a modern interpretation for modern audiences. The company performed this seminal favorite with verve, passion, and technical prowess with standout performances by Chris Bloom, Lyvan Verdecia, and Eila Valls.

     “Waiting for Pepe” image courtesy of Paula Lobo

“Waiting for Pepe,” a Ballet Hispánico world premiere with choreography by Carlos Pons Guerra, explores Guerra’s interpretation of Federico Garcia Lorca’s play The House of Bernarda Alba. For those familiar with Lorca’s play, the dominance of the women in the household is front and center. That female forcefulness is a crucial element in Guerra’s choreography. Guerra infuses his Latin power women and family intrigue with the theatricality that can be found in Latin films and telenovelas.

Guerra also showcases in “Waiting for Pepe” his ability to meld different movement styles from the modern dance lexicon seamlessly without sacrificing dramatic relevance. And the last movement of this dance work Guerra brilliantly utilized the rhythmic, percussive music of Jacinto Guerrero, exhibiting Guerro’s expert skill at expressing modern dance movement styles juxtaposed against narrative and emotion.

Ballet Hispánico’s Joyce season placed a heavy emphasis on Federico Garcia Lorca. The company’s third work of their opening night was the second dance work that drew inspiration from Lorca. “Espiritus Gemelos,” another company world premiere, drew inspiration from the meeting between Lorca and Salvador Dali in 1923. Collected letters from that time imply that they there may have been a sexual relationship between Lorca and Dali. Gustavo Ramirez Sansano explores this relationship through movement that is subtle, thoughtful, and sensual. Again, Ballet Hispánico explores different ways of defining Latin culture through movement that expands the company’s repertoire beyond work and movement styles that is familiar and expected.

                          “Con Brazos Abiertos” image courtesy of Paula Lobo

Another favorite, Michelle Manzanales’ “Con Brazos Abiertos,” explores the immigrant experience with verbal sound tracks from Cheech and Chong, music of Julio Iglesias, and a mix of rock en epanol. Funny, bombastic, and technically brilliant, this crowd favorite always satisfies.

Ballet Hispánico’s season at the Joyce Theater is from April 10–15.

—William S. Gooch

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