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Review: BALLET HISPÁNICO: DOÑA PERÓN at Kennedy Center

Review: BALLET HISPÁNICO: DOÑA PERÓN at Kennedy Center

The life of the woman you know as Evita effectively told in dance.

If you're going to do a history of Eva Perón based entirely on movement, you'd be sure to include that iconic pose of the Argentine First Lady hands aloft at the radio microphones before adoring thousands.

Annabelle Lopez Ochoa's "Doña Perón" for Ballet Hispánico begins and ends with that gesture and in between a whole life of the South American political diva from modest beginnings and parental rejection to the heights of leadership.

When Dandara Veiga strikes that pose to begin the company's remarkable piece at the Kennedy Center, she appears more than statuesque; she stands more than 10-feet tall - certainly on a pedestal before her celebratory Argentines below her represented by a dozen from the noted New York company.

The radio microphone before her is larger than life, almost like a celestial star for which she's reaching. The first lady's white dress grows and billows below her; her followers eventually safe within its parachute-like cover; then it swirls around, tight on her bodice as the story of her life begins to unfold.

Its telling is quite clear in Ochoa's choreography. The Belgian-born artist, half-Colombian has become an internationally sought after choreographer particularly for her narrative pieces.

Working in the Netherlands, in addition to notable dance interpretations of stories as familiar as "The Little Prince" and "A Streetcar Named Desire," she's created ballets about the lives of figures as prominent as painters Fernando Botero and Frida Kahlo.

Perón's story became more widely known from its creation into the musical "Evita" and its subsequent film version. But it's rarely been presented with such power and sweep as in this production by the country's leading Latin dance company.

Nina Basu portrays the young Perón, raised by her mother in abject poverty after being abandoned by her father (Antonio Cangiano), a wealthy rancher who already had his own family. That rejection is palpable as he flings her away repeatedly as she tries to cling to him.

After a whirlwind life in the city full of nightclubs, high kicking and flung shoes, fortunes change as the she meets Juan Perón (the dashing Chris Bloom), then a cabinet minister, with whom there is a serious attraction. Dancing together, Veiga and Bloom create a certain heat as events around them swirl them into the president's house, where she becomes a spirited young activist determined to help the impoverished from which she rose.

Amid this rise, and reflected in suddenly angular and anguished movements, she is slowly consumed by cancer, whose veiny death are reflected in the projections from lighting and set director Christopher Ash.

Mark Eric's costumes - similar for the energetic male and female dancers, are effective in portraying a strong, united proletariat. Despite the sorrow of her illness (she died as First Lady in 1953 at 33), she remained a pillar of hope for her people, something underscored by the vivid movement, and the effective music of British composer Peter Salem.

Seeing the story unfold through dance is quite a different experience than reading about it in a book or hearing dialog in plays or movies. It seems to make a deeper impression, and travel directly to the soul.

If there was extra unintended movement in the piece on opening night it was due to the camera crews from PBS, capturing the performance for its "Next at Kennedy Center" series, expected to be broadcast in spring 2023.

Running time: One hour, ten minutes, no intermission.

Photo credit: Paula Lobo.

"Ballet Hispánico: Doña Perón" was presented at the John F. Kennedy Center for Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. Nov. 30-Dec. 3. More on the Kennedy Center dance season can be found online.

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