Ballet Hispánico celebrated its 53rd anniversary with a too-brief season at the New York City Center. The company, whose identity lies somewhere between ethnic, ballet and modern dance forms, is in great form and presented a pleasantly varied program, including an impressive premiere.
After an upbeat, front-of-curtain speech by the troupe’s artistic director, Eduardo Vilaro, the first of four pieces, “New Sleep (Duet),” choreographed by the now-aged infant-terrible William Forsythe to a clanging score of the same name by Thom Willems appeared.
Fatima Andere (on point) and Antonio Cangiano, dressed in body-hugging black (costumes by the choreographer), brilliantly breezed through Forsythe’s grab-bag of virtuoso grabby partnering. They spun and slinked away from each other only to meet for more off-balance balletic wrestling, managing to establish nothing but an adversary relationship. The fine lighting—Forsythe, again—was moody in a noirish way.
“Papagayos (Parrots)” was an intriguing work, choreographed by Omar Román de Jesús, delving into that eponymous character’s mischievous adventures, adventures that turned the large cast into a brooding community subject to her whims. Amanda del Valle, dressed in Karen Young’s colorful, fringed costume—meant to mimic a bird’s feathers—began pacing about in front of the stage making a fuss until the curtain parted to reveal a stage full of folding chairs which represented the fraught world of the cast.
Divided into six sections, “Papagayos” put the dancers through an ever-changing game of musical chairs led by the alternately impish and mean-spirited dl Valle whose hat, grabbed from her head, seems to anoint dancers and make them go into solos while the others meandered about the stage moving chairs.
Although the concept of “Papagayos” was interesting, the choreographer wasn’t able to integrate the colorful lead character into the drearier parts which had pretentious subtitles like “Strength of a Young Man” and “The Left Arm of Buddha.” The extremely dark mood after the whimsical opening was jarring. He was helped by the terrific, mood-shifting lighting by Chad R. Jung and the mesmerizing performance of the Ballet Hispánico dancers who are well-suited for emoting.
The major work of the evening was “Sor Juana,” choreographed by Michelle Manzanales (“in collaboration with the Company”) and performed to a selection of period music including a composition by the title character, Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, the 17th century nun, proto-feminist, poet and composer. “Sor Juana” was commissioned by New York City Center.
Gabrielle Sprauve as Sor Juana was dignified and powerful as she strode amongst the others, all dressed in extravagant period costumes by Sam Ratelle. A black and white habit straight out of a famous contemporary portrait of Juana was a standout even though it was soon stripped off to reduce Sprauve to a tight, white leotard as if reducing her to emotional essence. She is joined by the similarly attired Isabel Robles in what became the apex of the work: a sensual, yearning duet that included supported lifts and much entwining.
“Sor Juana” was more concerned with her emotional inner life rather than her very real accomplishments, even though some of her music and poetry was featured. The surreal image of sheets of paper floating from the rafters closed the work.
Again, the extraordinary lighting—this time by Jojo A. Franjoine—helped define the mood and emotional state of the characters.
“Club Havana from 2000,” a well-organized and performed series of Latin dance forms by Pedro Ruiz, costumed colorfully by Ghabriello Negron and brightly lit by Donald Holder, closed the program with lots of joy and tons of hip swaying.
Ballet Hispánico is ready for a master choreographer to combine all its dance and technical talents into a masterpiece. Right now this exciting troupe certainly gives its audience lots of style, sensuality and grace.
Ballet Hispánico (June 1 – 3, 2023)
New York City Center, 131 West 55th Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, visit http://www.ballethispanico.org
Running time: two hours including two intermissions