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Ballet Hispanico program less than stellar

by Bonnie Rosenstock
April 21, 2015
The Joyce Theater
175 Eighth Avenue (at the corner of 19th Street)
New York, NY 10011
212-242-0800

Featured Dance Company:

Ballet Hispanico
Ballet Hispanico (office)
167 West 89th Street
New York, NY 10024
212-362-6710
www.ballethispanico.org

Ballet Hispanico's two-week New York Season at The Joyce Theater (April 14-26) highlighted the many facets of Latino culture. "Each work is a chapter in the past, present and future of our American experience," stated artistic director Eduardo Vilaro, a first-generation Cuban-American, who took over its helm when founder Tina Ramírez stepped down in 2009. Since its inception in 1970, Ballet Hispanico has grown by leaps and bounds into an outstanding Latino dance company.

The 90-minute program on April 19 featured three contemporary works, which showcased the depth of talent of the company's dancers (with a few minor exceptions), but choreographically speaking, it was less than stellar.

"Sombrerísimo" (2013) by Annabelle Lopez-Ochoa, a Belgo-Colombian choreographer based in the Netherlands, was commissioned for the 10th anniversary of New York City Center's Fall for Dance Festival. It references Belgian surrealist painter René Magritte, whose iconic bowler-hatted men have inspired countless homages and parodies. The work has a three-part musical and dance score, which gave it the feel of three discrete mini-ballets, pulled together by a sextet of bowler-hatted male dancers (minus the green apple).

The first score is plaintive and rhythmic, with wailing brass instruments accompanied by a male singer, whose earthy and throaty catches in his voice asks the question, "¿Pa' qué"? ("For what?") The men exchange hats, steal them off each other's heads, toss them up in the air, throw them at each other, deftly catch them, jump, leap, turn, do a bit of Bob Fosse. The second part is electronic and slower, a jarring and unpleasant mood shift to what went before it and what was to come. The third is joyful and fast-paced, with a guitar and what sounds like a cajón, a wooden beatbox. Throughout, the men possess an extraordinary range of athleticism and power.

"Conquer" (2015), a world premiere by Mexico-based choreographer Miguel Mancillas, explores notions of power, possession and control. Mancillas's work came about through Ballet Hispanico's Instituto Coreográfico, an innovative choreography lab program for Latino dance makers, which Vilaro created in 2010. It begins with an overly long but beautifully executed solo by Christopher Hernandez, who has long, strong, muscular legs, a mesmerizing supple spine and height which overshadows the other dancers who are doing some somber group movements on stage left. Control involves violence, so there is much of it: quiet, seething anger, portents of danger, strangling, hitting, all in an eerily quiet and banal way, musically and choreographically. There are some lovely running jumps, and one heart-stopping catch, as Min-Tzu Li was thrown across stage from one male dancer to another. But it was less "Sturm und Drang" ("storm and stress") and more "signifying nothing."

The third piece was a charming bit of fluff, and an obvious audience-pleaser, called "El Beso" (2014) by Spanish choreographer Gustavo Ramírez Sansano and does for kisses what Ochoa did for bowlers. In Spain and throughout the Spanish-speaking world, kissing is custom, so every imaginable kind of kiss is explored and parodied on many body parts. It is set to Spanish Zarzuela music, which is a kind of light opera similar to Gilbert and Sullivan.

The first duet is a woman trying to seduce an implacable male. She jumps about like a cat attempting to attain an out-of-reach bird, licking her chops, thrusting her pelvis, pursing her lips, showing teeth, twitching her eyes. But he is unmoved. Could be taken as amusing, embarrassing or a little annoying, take your pick. Another duet between two men had promise, but Jamal Rashann Callender, a late addition to the program, seemed a little off his game. The set was simple, but effective, with, at various times, a gigantic Spanish fan hovering above and on the side and a manta (shawl) suspended from the ceiling with black fringes draping half the stage. The original costumes by Venezuelan fashion designer Angel Sanchez could have come from Wal-Mart, or as a friend of mine said, "They didn't spend too much money on them." As with all three pieces, the dancers shone, but the choreography needed some refinement and polishing.
Ballet Hispanico in 'Sombrerísimo.'

Ballet Hispanico in "Sombrerísimo."

Photo © & courtesy of Paula Lobo


Ballet Hispanico in 'El Beso.'

Ballet Hispanico in "El Beso."

Photo © & courtesy of Paula Lobo


Ballet Hispanico in 'El Beso.'

Ballet Hispanico in "El Beso."

Photo © & courtesy of Paula Lobo


Ballet Hispanico in 'Conquer.'

Ballet Hispanico in "Conquer."

Photo © & courtesy of Paula Lobo


Ballet Hispanico in 'Conquer.'

Ballet Hispanico in "Conquer."

Photo © & courtesy of Paula Lobo

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