BWW Review: Phenomenal Ballet Hispánico Rocks The Apollo
Watching Ballet Hispánico perform at The Apollo Theatre on November 22nd made one aware of how much there is to feel thankful for in this politically tumultuous time where Latino cultures are frequently maligned by those currently skulking in the White House. Here was the country's premier Latino dance organization celebrating community and furthering what it means to belong, while simultaneously laying to rest the angst over "how to give women choreographers opportunities"--by giving women choreographers opportunities--and showcasing the diversity of the Hispanic Diaspora in refutation of the fallacy that variety in hiring means compromising talent. Most wonderfully, this performance illustrated artistic director Eduardo Vilaro's long term strategy for broadening the company's repertoire while continuing to engage its base.
Vilaro opened the fête alongside a representative from the season's sponsor, with a rousing curtain speech that connected GOYA's mission to satiate the community's appetite with Ballet Hispánico's goal for feeding its artistic soul. The dancing began with Michelle Manzaneles' ardent rumination on identity politics. Though Con Brazos Abiertos focuses on her perspective as a Mexican American, it offers infinite entry points to viewers of all backgrounds.
Brazos follows the growth of its leading ballerina as she is plagued and nurtured by wanting to belong even as she feels excluded from her family's culture. This struggle comes to a head during the central pas de deux, wherein the ballerina and a man in her life grudgingly support and drag one another across the stage until they enact a confrontation of collisions with no response. Lyvan Vedericia was wonderfully stoic (as he always is), communicating a desire to offer more even as he lacked the emotional means to do so. Dandara Veiga answered with a contrasting swell of rage and helplessness as she grappled with him for an acknowledgment that went beyond being physically present. As the first Afro-Latina that I have seen dance this role, I was struck by how revolutionary it feels, even in this era, to observe two dark skinned protagonists performing in wildly complicated parts. More of this please.
Reworked since its 2009 premiere, Andrea Miller's symbol-laden Nací still registers as a sophomore's effort. The program notes about her American, Spanish, and Jewish heritage were etched in through Paulo Gutierrez toiling across the stage with an orange tree on his back--the wandering Jew--early breezes of Sephardic flavored music, and a collection of folk dancing. How Miller's inclusion of lip-syncing--which appears in many of her ballets, to diminishing effect--factored in is anyone's guess. What felt aimless with an upside down singer devolved to tripe with the inclusion of three additional wailing lip-syncers. On RuPaul's Drag Race, contestants "lip sync for their lives" in order to remain on the show. One does not require a direct connection of this scale to have a meaningful experience. But asking an audience to arrange wet sketches of movement--that have been hurled at the stage in the hope that something will stick--into coherence was too much. Perhaps the picture coalesced for someone else. As for me, all I could think was "sashay away".
Anabelle Lopez Ochoa's Tiburones (Sharks) deconstructs West Side Story's Spanish happenings by transporting its actors to a Twilight Zone dreamscape wherein composer James Bigbee Garver's musical reductions of Leonard Bernstein's legitmotifs cued episodes of revolt against a sadistic director's campy antics.
Pooling a wide range of sources--including Club MTV, Janet Jackson's Rhythm Nation, and George Balanchine's Ivesiana--Ochoa took a crack at the unanswered question about the reduction of Latin culture in popular culture. Tiburones is less a response than it is a canny subversion of tropes through dance theatre. Without slamming the audiences over the head, it invites one to look at portrayals of Latin culture--and by proxy, Ballet Hispánico's traditional dance works--while reveling in cheeky escapades. Speaking about what took place in further detail would give it all away--and I think you should see it all for yourself--but I'll leave you with this tidbit: have you ever noticed that Latin ballroom and salsa are just as ostentatious for men as it is for women? Ochoa has and what she does with that es riquisimo.
In these uncertain times, one thing feels for sure: Ballet Hispánico is on sure footing. Eduardo Vilaro's ten year strategy has paid off with a rejuvenated repertoire, beautiful dancers who represent the richness of the Hispanic Diaspora, and innovative initiatives that enrich the community even as they expand the company's coffers. Whatever he and his board are doing, one hopes that other companies will take notice and attempt to replicate the success. L'Shana Haba'ah B'Yerushalayim.