Ballet Hispanico

Ballet Hispanico dazzles on tour at Penn Live Arts

Ballet Hispanico’s founding director Tina Ramirez created an artistic haven in the early 70s for Latino communities in New York City. Now, 50 years later, her company and school of dance have become one of the world’s most innovative and diverse contemporary dance companies.

Ramirez stated from the company’s inception,” I started teaching ballet placement with Spanish Dance.” She said she already had elements of classical dance and “Argentina, Flamenco, folkloric dance.” Ms. Ramirez died earlier this year, but her artistic mission has lived on under the leadership of Eduardo Vilaro, the company’s artistic director, since 2009.

Ballet Hispanico returns to the Annenberg Center stage this month with ballets choreographed by Annabelle Lopez Ochoa, Pedro Ruiz, and Michelle Manzanales in the final weeks of their US tour.

In ‘Linea Recta,’ Annabella Lopez Ochoa subverts the expectation of sultry male-female partnering of traditional flamenco and conceives more ‘pure dance’ dynamics of the artform. In previous ballet, Ochoa was fond of dance props as symbolic focal points ( an apple, a rose, and mirrors). The red flamenco gown with a long bata de cola (ruffled train) is prominent for this ballet.

The curtain comes up on Amanda Lauren del Valle. With powerful whispering moves of her arms and lightning bolt pivots, she conjures four men in tandem as her suitors. Del Valle wraps the gown around her body. And at one point, she holds it in her mouth while she turns en arabesque, then whips it out with an attitude that communicates artistic passion and power.

Meanwhile, she taunts her suitors Antonio Cangiano, Dylan Mclntyre, Omar Rivera, and Christopher Bloomin, who are in second-skin red tights and bare-chested. They execute Ochoa’s matador lunges and paso doble brio. Still, Ochoa flips the chase so one can catch their seductions. It is more of a pure dance challenge ignited by the existentially soulful Spanish guitar of Eric Vaarzon More.

Choreographically, Ochoa’s preparation of transitional flamenco steps ending in balletic lifts, jetes, and deep plies captivates in the clarity of its combined technique and character intrigue.

Elegant, breezy flamenco laced with ballet, Dandara Veiga leads Antonio Cangiano and Dylan Mclntyre in a sensual trio that unfolds as Veiga switches partners in a sultry menage.

Ochoa created an acrobatic scene for the men. One moment in vaulting configurations, they are momentarily pugilistic, then in entwined arm partnering, sort of the male version of the Cygnets in Swan Lake. They finish by climbing on each other to collapse in a heap. 

The final dance returns to unabashed flamenco couples’ dances, set to the lusty vocals of the cantantes serenading Ochoa’s flamenco show-dance duets, with no artistic deconstruction in sight.

Next is choreographer Michelle Manzanales’ ‘Con Brazos Abiertos.’ The curtain stays down while an American 50s pop song with offensive lyrics plays depicting stereotypes of Mexican Americans. The curtain rises on the dancers costumed just in undergarments, moving across the stage, looking lost and searching for something.

The ensemble reenters in work jumpers and sombreros in a geometric choreography that makes them look like a chorus line of dancing sombreros with their forced smiles peeking out from under the brims, ala Busby Berkeley musicals from the 30s. 

Dandara Veiga performs a solo snaking her body around on the floor, keeping the sombrero perched on her foot until she kicks it away. This dance is performed as a voiceover to a poem by Maria Billini-Padilla about Mexican emigres navigating the often-dehumanizing process of assimilation. 

Manzanales follows this with a spirited folkloric ensemble dance of Mexican cultural pride and community. The dancers are in long white skirts that, at any moment, unfurl like mythic wings as they fly over the stage or the fabric swirling around their bodies as they spin in a continuous processional.

Pedro Ruiz’s ‘Club Havana’ was the captivating closer, a homage to the glamour and mystique of Cuban dance clubs from the day. A woman in a yellow dress solo rumbas to the opening bars of Buena Vista Social Club’s famous song ‘Chan Chan’ while facing a man smoking a cigar in a noirish spotlight. Gabrielle Sprauve and Omar Rivera start the dance with slow sensual movements. Ruiz accentuates this dance’s balletic lines as other couples saunter onstage for an evening of dance romance. The women dressed and their partners in matching shirts, identifying them as couples.

But there is some furtive flirting going on with others. Isabel Robles flicks her cigarette after a diamond-hard arabesque combination with Hugo Pizano. Dandara Veiga (in red) leads in a seductive menage trio with Antonio Cangiano and her regular partner Rivera. She switches them off, with various smoldering moves, before playfully shoving them both to the floor.

The women take the floor for the finale set to a Cuban big-band orchestral, their quicksilver precision footwork turning up the heat as the men enter for the couples’ duets with flashy lifts, turns, and aerials. Ruiz’s choreography to a fireworks display of conga, mambo, rumba, conga, and cha cha mixes brought the house down.

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