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!Aqui se habla Espanol! (Attitudes).

A FEW YEARS AGO, JULY 1998 TO BE PRECISE, I WAS IN THE MADRID BALLET SCHOOL OF AN OLD FRIEND, VICTOR ULLATE. I REMEMBERED ULLATE AS A MOST ENGAGING DANCER WITH MAURICE BEJART, AND NOTING that he was that rarity, a Spanish classic ballet dancer. Yet here I was at a class full to overcapacity with Spanish classic ballet dancers. I had heard that Ullate had become a major teacher--and indeed, on the walls were photographs of some of his famous former pupils: Angel Corella, Lucia Lacarra, Tamara Rojo, Joaquin De Luz. Right there and then I had what fancy writers call an epiphany, but what I think of as "a kick-in-the-pants moment."

Spanish dancers were not rare anymore; actually, they were busy taking over the dance world. Well, not exactly always Spanish, but Hispanic, Latino, whatever--those fantastic Spanish-speaking dancers from Spain, Cuba, Argentina, Brazil (well, they speak Portuguese, but don't let's be too fussy), Puerto Rico, and, of course, the United States. Were Hispanic dancers destined to be the new Russians--the terpsichorean crowd leaders in crowd pleasers? Would ballet aspirants called Jane or John Smith, who years ago might have considered Russianizing their names to Yolanda Smithova or Jascha Smithakoysky, instead contemplate some Hispanic transmogrification?

Classic ballet dancers from Spain were not just once uncommon, but extraordinarily uncommon. Through Spanish classic court dancing, developing such dances as the bolero, cachucha, and the later gypsy flamenco tradition, there existed a vast culture of what can be called theatrical-style dance. During the twentieth century, what we can call ethnic Spanish swept the world. La Argentina, La Argentinita, Vicente Escudero, Pilar Lopez, Carmen Amaya, Teresa and Luisillo, Rosario and Antonio, Jose Greco, Roberto Ximenez, Manolo Vargas, and Antonio Gades became household names in world dance.

But classic dance, no. Some of the Spanish opera houses employed a few odd ballet dancers, and some ethnic Spanish dancers cultivated a modified ballet technique. But apart from Pirmin Trecu (a Basque refugee trained exclusively at Britain's Royal Ballet School) and Ullate himself, the only Spanish classical ballet dancer I can recall was the lovely young ballerina Trinidad Sevillano, brought into the English National Ballet by Peter Schaufuss in the mid-'80s. It was Sevillano, little more than a teenager, who first made me think that something new must be happening in mainland Spain.

In the United States, of course, we have for more than six decades observed with pleasure the growing input of Hispanic dancers. Slowly and surely they made their presence felt--first and foremost with the great Cuban prima ballerina, Alicia Alonso. Alonso, with American Ballet Theatre and later with her National Ballet of Cuba, was one of the leading dancers of the past century. She had been married to ABT dancer and former director of the NBC Fernando Alonso; her brother-in-law was choreographer Alberto Alonso.

Other Hispanic dancers soon made their presence felt: Nicholas Magallanes from Mexico and Francisco Moncion from the Dominican Republic were founding principal dancers with New York City Ballet; the Chilean-born Lupe Serrano was for many years a brilliant ballerina with ABT; from Venezuela came the lovely Zhandra Rodriguez and the choreographer Vicente Nebrada. In American modern dance one could hardly miss the giant presence of the Mexican-born Jose Limon. And, naturally enough, with the formation of the National Ballet of Cuba, we were constantly made aware of such Cuban skills as those of Alonso's partner, Jorge Esquivel, now a principal character dancer and teacher at San Francisco Ballet.

And it was indirectly from Cuba that perhaps the first indication of the current Hispanic invasion of classic dance really came. Fernando Bujones was born in Florida in 1955 of Cuban parentage, and he briefly went to Cuba for some of his early training. Returning to the United States, he worked with Andre Eglevsky at the School of American Ballet, and in 1970 made his debut alongside Gelsey Kirkland with the Eglevsky Ballet. Two years later he joined ABT, becoming a principal dancer with the company, prior to an international career.

It was Bujones who first told me of the enormous promise of a young Argentinean, Julio Bocca, who joined ABT in 1986, when he was just 19, as a principal dancer. With Bujones and Bocca the new Hispanic onslaught had started--first the men, Cuba's Carlos Acosta and Jose Manuel Carreno, Argentina's Herman Cornejo, Brazil's Marcelo Gomes and Colombia's Carlos Molina, plus Spain's Corella and De Luz, and then the women, Argentina's Paloma Herrera and Cuba's Xiomara Reyes. And that is just ABT and its principals and soloists. Even the almost all-American City Ballet has the 20-year-old Brazilian Carla Korbes and the perky Spanish Antonio Carmena in its corps de ballet.

Leave New York and you find more: San Francisco Ballet's ranks of talented dancers include Lorena Feijoo and Joan Boada (Cuba); Moises and Ruben Martin, Gonzalo Garcia, Clara Blanco, Sergei Torrado, and the soon-departing Lucia Lacarra (Spain); and Pablo Piantino (Argentina). Cincinnati Ballet just snagged Feijoo's sister, Lorna, and her husband, Nelson Madrigal, also of Cuba. And at Houston Ballet, there's Carlos Acosta (Cuba), Mauricio Canete and Fernando Moraga (Chile), Randy Herrera (Mexico), Jose Herrera (Colombia), Leticia Oliveira (Brazil), and Sally Rojas (Venezuela).

And consider this--when that sometime pillar of the WASP dance establishment, Britain's Royal Ballet, offered the first performance of its revival of La Bayadere, the three leading roles were all taken by Spanish-speaking dancers: Tamara Rojo, Acosta, and Marianela Nunez. My case rests--the Hispanics really have become the new Russians, except perhaps in Russia. But wait ... Argentinean Maximiliano Guerra has even danced with the Kirov in New York! Perhaps ...

Senior Consulting Editor Clive Barnes, who covers dance and theater for the New York Post, has contributed to Dance Magazine since 1956.
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Title Annotation:Hispanic dancers
Author:Barnes, Clive
Publication:Dance Magazine
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:4EUSP
Date:May 1, 2002
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