Ballet Hispanico Explores Immigrant Cultures and Female Empowerment


Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s “Sombrerisimo” image courtesy of Susan Bestul

Ballet Hispanico performs movement styles based in Latin culture like no other company. But, they should. Ballet Hispanico is the premier Hispanic dance company in the US. That said; Ballet Hispanico has gone beyond brilliantly executing dance styles steeped in Latin culture with all the nuance and sensitivity required, and with the program performed on opening night Ballet Hispanico has fully transitioned into a company that can now use body stillness, as well as movement to create architecturally sculptured plastique with emotional integrity. Only a dance company of Ballet Hispanico’s caliber can sculpt movement. Most dance companies only dance and/or strings steps together well; however, when a dance troupe can take stillness and movement and combine these two seeming disparate qualities and carve out movement, that is indeed a fait accompli.Ballet Hispanico’s mixed program for the spring dance season at the Joyce Theatre contained two world premieres, Edwaard Liang’s “El Viaje” and Bennyroyce Royon’s “Homebound/Alaala,” and crowd favorite, Annabelle Lopez Ochoa “Sombrerisimo.” And though the three dance works in question were distinctly varied and demonstrated the company’s mastery of different movement styles, the cerebral nature of Liang’s and Royon’s choreography was not necessarily crowd pleasing.

Image of Edwaard Liang’s “El Viaje” courtesy of Paula Lobo

The two premieres were dance works that stretch Ballet Hispanico and what some balletomanes would deem a dancer’s choreography. Which is a good thing for the company. Still, the motivation and reference points in Liang’s and Royon’s work was lost on the audience. Perhaps, because the subtleties of the works were sometimes not well defined.Liang’s “El Viaje” drew reference from the Chinese Cuban diaspora, metaphorically reflecting Chinese immigrants leaving mainland China and melding into Cuba’s diasporic cultures. The is a dance work that employs carved, interwoven meanderings with dancers being singular at times and at other times being a part of a group. Liang expertly utilizes modern technique from the Graham lexicon of fall and release and contraction, displayed in variations of these two familiar movement principles of the Graham pedagogy. And though there was some beautiful partnering and exquisite, sustained sky-high extensions, the repetitive quality of this work caused a redundancy that half-way through made Liang’s choreography seem as though it was running out of steam.That said; Gabrielle Sprauve’s statuesque presence and intensity in “El Viaje” brought integrity and majesty to Liang’s choreography. This second season of Sprauve with Ballet Hispanico appears be a breakout season for Sprauve. She is finding her stride and standing out among the other excellent Ballet Hispanico dancers.

Image of Gabrielle Sprauve and Dandara Veiga in Bennyroyce Royon’s “Homebound/Alaala” courtesy of Paula Lobo

Bennyroyce Royon’s “Homebound/Alaala,” as detailed in the program notes, explores the intersection of Latino and Asian cultures through ideas including the spirit of communal unity (bayanihan), the resilience of women, overcoming hardship, and the quest for home. Again, Ballet Hispanico has selected a dance work that speaks to the immigrant experience.Cerebral in its own way, like Liang’s “El Viaje” Royon’s work did not have pyrotechnical feats to move the story forward. Using different colored boxes, Royon used this prop to conjure up images of Filipino community and home separation. And interesting work that centered more on female relationship, though there was interesting same-sex coupling, still fell flat in some places. The last rhythmic section of “Homebound/Alaala” did redeem this dance work.

Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s “Sombrerisimo” image courtesy of Susan Bestul

Annabelle Lopez Ochoa “Sombrerisimo” is always a crowd pleaser, and there are reasons for this!! “Somberismo” celebrates the Ballet Hispanico female dancers. With hats as a prop, Annabelle Lopez Ochoa found a way to inject sensuality, technical bravura without those elements overshadowing the choreography. The hats were the perfect unifying element that glued everything together. And the Ballet Hispanico women ruled this great work, as they always do!!Ballet Hispanico performs at the Joyce Theater from March 26 through March 31.

—William S. Gooch

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