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BWW Dance Review: BALLET HISPANICO Starts Strong but Comes up Short at The Joyce

Ballet Hispanico in "Flabbergast".
Choreographed by Gustavo Ramírez Sansano.
Photo by Paula Lobo

Magical realism has struck the stage! A group of travelers has set out on a long journey, but the scenario, lighting, and music keep shifting before our eyes. It feels as if we are jumping from one daydream to another. Thus began Ballet Hispanico's 45th Anniversary on the evening of Friday April 9th, 2016 at The Joyce. Each scene change of Gustavo Ramírez Sansano's "Flabbergast" registered as channel surfing on the radio wherein old fashioned radio plays are being enacted by a cast of charmingly talented dancers. This is contemporary dance at its most wonderful. Eschewing crotch exposing lifts and angsty mugging, Mr. Sansano has crafted a movement vocabulary that is quick, illustrative, explosive, and efficient. Rather than something stiff and staccato, we are rewarded with a ballet that simulates reality while reveling in its foibles. Most importantly, the dancers are allowed to move with verve. And boy do these dancers know how to groove. Among all of the wonderful performers, special mention must be given to Christopher Bloom. Mr. Bloom imbued his episode of departing lovers with the soul of a poet. His every reach felt resolved yet conflicted. His every turn cried out "There is more to come". Excellent.

Ballet Hispanico in "Bury Me Standing".
Choreographed by Ramón Oller.
Photo by Paula Lobo

Whatever hopes one had for further transcendence from the evening were swiftly deflated by Ramon Oller's interminable "Bury Me Standing". In this piece, the corps de ballet moved in simple unison while a soloist, usually Christopher Hernandez, dispatched long movement phrases that did little to expand our understanding of the music or of the plight of the Gypsies who inspired the work. Tall, dark, and handsome, Mr. Hernandez was cast perfectly according to physical type as the star of this ballet. And while he is a faultlessly smooth mover, he showed little of the mystery or charisma that one expects from a star. One can only look at a beautiful vase for so long before the mind starts to wander. Such was the case with this dance and Mr. Hernandez's interpretation, that is until the spitfire soloist Johan Rivera Mendez briefly took over as leading dancer. Despite the welcome bolt of lightening that Mr. Mendez injected into the proceedings, he was clearly dancing in a different piece. The ballet he was dancing in had duende (soul) and made something of the percussive rhythms set to a score of traditional Gypsy songs.

Ballet Hispanico in "Club Havana".
Choreographed by Pedro Ruiz.
Photo by Paula Lobo

Following intermission we returned to a Vegas floor show featuring upward bound Spanish flavored movement. Actually this was an excerpt from Pedro Ruiz's portrait of a 1950's Cuban nightclub. New in 2000, "Club Havana" has not aged well. Based on this performance, the ballet registered more effectively as a satire of how foreigners view Cuba than as an evocation of what adults do at night when the lights are low and the music seductive. Despite the faux sexual posturing -- every other step for the women was a high développé or a "passionate" lift by a perpetually smoking man -- things felt decidedly tame. This nightclub was family friendly, sparklingly safe, and devoid of any grit. Though the broad characterizations told us that these men were muy macho and that the women were either auditioning for Cyd Charisse's part in "The Band Wagon" or playing the girl next door waiting to be swept off her feet, one could rest assured that the most shocking thing to occur would be confetti raining from the sky. Which is precisely how this ballet closed: ready made for Disneyland. Unintentionally, Mr. Ruiz has mistaken nostalgia for art and created the perfect fusion of "Father Knows Best" with Cuban nightlife. There is nothing offensive about this. It is dumb fun, the audience loved it, and the dancers look absolutely smashing doing it. But having seen these dancers in "Flabbergast", we already know that they are capable and that they are waiting for something more challenging.

This concert did an excellent job of revealing who these dancers are: a group of talented artists who are in desperate need of worthy choreography to expand their artistry. Rather than relying on sure-hit populist entertainment, Ballet Hispanico's leadership should invest in finding vehicles that allow the artists to dig deeper while revealing greater facets of what it means to be Latino.

Photos by Paula Lobo

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