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Review: Ballet Hispánico's Doña Perón Is Not Just a Performance

The company’s explosive portrait of Eva “Evita” Perón is a masterpiece to surpass any previous attempts to bring the iconic Latina figure to the stage.

Review:  Ballet Hispánico's Doña Perón Is Not Just a Performance

There are few things as instantly captivating as Ballet Hispánico's Doña Perón.

Making its New York premiere at the City Center Dance Festival April 1-3, Doña Perón is an explosive and emotional retelling of the life of Eva "Evita" Perón, one of the most recognizable and controversial women in Argentinian history. Choreographer Annabelle Lopez Ochoa, in her first evening-length commissioned work for Ballet Hispánico, has created a masterpiece to surpass any previous attempts to bring the iconic Latina figure to the stage.

Ochoa, in collaboration with theater and film director Nancy Meckler, traces Evita's rise from illegitimate daughter of a prosperous farmer to dancehall performer to Argentina's First Lady -- all before her untimely death at 33. Ochoa's characterization contends with the controversies Evita faced -- she was an activist for the working class who lived a high-class lifestyle among affluent peers who snubbed her -- to portray a woman enthralling and devastatingly vulnerable. In a series of duets where an Evita at the peak of her power must confront -- and comfort -- her younger self (Nina Basu) as she struggles with rejection, Ochoa allows Evita to reclaim her narrative. It is a tender, yet stark reminder that so much of Evita's story was never hers to tell.

Review:  Ballet Hispánico's Doña Perón Is Not Just a Performance

Ochoa's greatest skill may be her ability to ground complicated characters in movement. Her slick, evocative style previously translated Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire into physical form for The Scottish Ballet. The angles, lines and pictures she has chosen for Doña Perón turns the trembling of a hand into a story unto its own. The dancers perform with such raw emotion that scenes of great triumph -- when Evita meets Don Perón -- or despair -- Evita's death -- cling to one's consciousness. Dandara Veiga as Evita, is flawless. This role is not just in her feet, or her face, but in her very soul.

Endeavoring to tell Evita's story in a concise 72 minutes, Ballet Hispánico uses every element of artistry at its disposal. This isn't just a performance -- it is an entire universe. Christopher Ash's production design eschews decadent set pieces or lights to create bright ballrooms and balmy dancehalls, cold jail cells and public squares that feel real enough to touch. Peter Salem's score, performed by just five musicians, propels the narrative while retaining key elements of the Latin sound. Beyond the music, however, it is a shouted phrase, a rhythmic stomping, or a staticky radio broadcast that sucks audiences into the fun and fury of this story.

Review:  Ballet Hispánico's Doña Perón Is Not Just a Performance

No detail of physical appearance is spared -- every female dancer's hair glistens the same and any male dancer with facial hair has the same careful trim. Most exciting, however, is watching how the dancers change out of 80 costume pieces, including 21 different pairs of shoes. Whatever magic buttons or velcro or shoelaces designer Mark Eric has created make the removal of a dress -- mid-scene, sometimes mid-step -- as tantalizing as the dance. While color is critical to how Eric defines the character, in choosing to clothe the ensemble in nude tones his costumes pay homage to the majesty of the human form.

A production this sharp, transformative and fun renders any words written about it unsatisfactory. To understand it, just go see it.


Ballet Hispánico will perform Doña Perón at the New York Center City Dance Festival through April 3rd. Tickets start at $35. Vaccination and ID required for attendance. Masks must be worn in the theater.

The City Center Dance Festival runs through April 10th and features performances from Ballet Hispánico (Apr 1 - 3), The Dance Theatre of Harlem (Apr 5 & 8 - 10) and The Martha Graham Dance Company (Apr 6, 7, 9 & 10). Tickets start at $35. Programs feature live music by the Orchestra of St. Luke's. Vaccination and ID required for attendance. Masks must be worn in the theater.



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