April 9, 2016
Ballet Hispanico is transforming into a cutting-edge contemporary dance company with a point of view, right before our eyes. Under the able artistic direction of Eduardo Vilaro, in recent seasons the quality of the choreography and the caliber of the dancing have reached a new level of excellence. Most interesting is to see the way the company redefines itself as a laboratory for contemporary dance while celebrating Latino culture without restricting it to stereotypes.
In Flabbergast (2011), choreographer Gustavo Ramírez Sansano creates a fun-filled riff on the idea of place, with dancers dressed in 1940s everyday wear, carting suitcases around the stage to music by Juan García Esquivel. Starting with a darkened stage, each dancer in their own downpool move, twist, and flail in place as we hear a voiceover announcing disparate phrases like “la primera Guerra Mundial” (World War I), and “el cine tiene la culpa” (the cinema is to blame). As they peel off to dance solo or in small groups, they sometimes mime, or use pedestrian movements – in one cheeky section, a woman flirts with three men, and as they vie for her attention, she ends up leaving the stage with another woman. Ramírez Sansano blends humor and kitschy nostalgia with his distinct contemporary dance language, in a strange yet very appealing mix of past and present.
Ramón Oller’s Bury Me Standing (1998) is a work to traditional gypsy melodies and flamenco music by Lole y Manuel, where the oppression and struggle of the Roma people is danced with an emphasis on communal bonds. In one memorable section, women file onstage two by two, shuffling on their knees and kvetching loudly at each other, then suddenly cross themselves at high speed multiple times. We see flamenco–inspired zapateo in bare feet, and the twisting flamenco port de bras – references absorbed into a contemporary language. And in a stunningly poetic sequence, two dancers performed a duet with the man mostly on his back, constantly lifting and lowering his partner gently to the ground with his feet while she hovers over him weightlessly: a floating love duet bound by the earth.
The evening closed with Pedro Ruiz’ Club Havana (2000), an energetic, balletic interpretation of the “glamorous Havana of the 1950s.” With sections to different traditional rhythms (son, mambo, cha cha cha, bolero and rhumba, conga), one wishes for more technically “authentic” or red-blooded renditions of these dances, rather than the many pirouettes and pas de chat lifts. One sparse section with three couples and a disco ball reminded me of my recent visit to Cuba, where empty grand hotel lobbies and guilded ballrooms with peeling paint remain as a testament to that glittery but seemingly irrecoverable past. May the confetti-littered finale of Club Havana not just evoke that period frozen in time, but instead, be a sign of things to come.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Nicole Robertson Duffy