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Ballet Hispanico New York Season 2015

A company trying to re-think and update its choreographic aesthetic.

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Ballet Hispanico in a scene from “Show.Girl.” (Photo credit: Paula Lobo) 

Ballet Hispanico in a scene from “Show.Girl.” (Photo credit: Paula Lobo)

Joel Benjamin

Joel Benjamin, Critic

The Ballet Hispanico has long been revered as a beacon of dance art in the Latino community.  Its school and repertory have helped illuminate the Latino experience while instilling the discipline and joy of dance, particularly under the direction of its founder, Tina Ramírez.  Eduardo Vilaro, the troupe’s artistic director, seems to be slowly turning the company away from ethnic exploration towards the generic modern dance aesthetic of companies like Complexions and the soon-to-be-defunct Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet.  Although the three works on this program were choreographed by Hispanic artists to music by Spanish-influenced composers with themes seemingly concerning the nature of Latino behavior, the impression was of a company working hard to find a choreographic aesthetic that can satisfy its identifying with both the Latino community and the newer ideals of modern dance, only partly succeeding.  He may eventually find this balance between the two ideals.  Certainly he has an absolutely brilliant company of good-looking, talented dancers to work with.

“Show.Girl.” is a new work by the prize-winning choreographer Rosie Herrera to pop songs and film music of Earth, Wind & Fire, Ennio Morricone, 10cc and Nino Rota.  Program notes indicate that she’s using “the Cuban cabaret aesthetic to explore the Latina female identity.”  On stage, however, was an awkward, overlong thirty-five minutes of posing and speechifying.  Six women are first seen standing in a line, dressed in pale undergarments.  They spend a great deal of time staring at the audience between taking on the clichéd poses of female sexual come-ons, in an attempt to satirize them.  They sashey about and pose and sashey about and pose far past the point of meaning.  They begin chattering some gossipy nonsense and then are suddenly replaced by a solo woman in a glitzy gown surrounded by a posse of five show boys replete with feather fans used to frame and hide her.  Rather than exulting in being the center of attention, she mopes.  Return to the line-up and more languid posing ended with glitzy confetti drifting down on the cast.  Diana Ruettiger’s expressive costumes and Joshua Preston’s complex lighting helped, although at least fifteen minutes could be excised in the name of clarity and dramatic effect.

Ballet Hispanico in a scene from “Conquer” (Photo credit: Paula Lobo) 

Ballet Hispanico in a scene from “Conquer” (Photo credit: Paula Lobo)

“Conquer,” choreographed by Miguel Mancillas to a moaning, dreary score by Ricardo León featured a passionate solo danced by Christopher Hernandez who seemed an outsider in this very fit little community caught in some sort of undefined purgatory where communication is reduced to athletic, picturesque wrestling and writhing.  Dressed in Ms. Ruettiger’s simple underwear, the dancers worked hard to keep a momentum going to the droning, almost rhythm-less music.  Why they treated each other so badly—albeit at the same time quite beautifully—is never explored.  They arrived on stage in full blown angst which was never resolved.  Again, lighting design, this time by Bob Franklin, helped create a dramatic ambiance.  The choreography was endlessly repetitive.  The performances were erotically charged and exciting.

Ballet Hispanico in a scene from “El Beso” (Photo credit: Paula Lobo) 

Ballet Hispanico in a scene from “El Beso” (Photo credit: Paula Lobo)

The last work, “El Beso,” brought some lightness to the program.  Choreographed by Gustavo Ramírez Sansano to bright Zarzuela music and wittily dressed in angularly cut dark costumes by Angel Sanchez, the dancers used flirting and kissing motifs to explore the title which, of course, means “kiss.”  All variations on romantic liaisons were shown, with kisses used as emotional weapons, little seductive tricks and just plain sensuality.  The large cast dashed about spiritedly forming fast-moving pods of dancers relating to each other.  A man is surrounded by three women.  Two men hold hands and embrace.  Kisses travel down a line.  “El Beso” was a beautifully performed delight.

Ballet Hispanico (through April 26, 2015)

Joyce Theater, 175 Eighth Avenue, at 19th Street, in Manhattan

For tickets call 212-242-0800 or visit http://www.joyce.org

Further information:  http://www.ballethispanico.org

Running time: one hour and 45 minutes including one intermission

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Joel Benjamin
About Joel Benjamin (286 Articles)
JOEL BENJAMIN was a child performer on Broadway and danced with leading modern dance and ballet companies. Joel has been attending theater, ballet and opera performances ever since childhood, becoming quite opinionated over the years. He was the founder and artistic director of the American Chamber Ballet and subsequently was massage therapist to the stars before becoming a reviewer and memoirist. He is a member of the Outer Critics Circle.

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