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Ballet Hispanico.

The Joyce Theater, NYC

October 7-19, 2008

Ballet Hispanico continues to bring the Latin sensibility and tradition to the dance world. The two programs at The Joyce had an extra poignancy, as founder Tina Ramirez announced that she would be stepping down as artistic director of the company she founded 38 years ago.

Graciela Daniele's Stages, the first piece on Program I, provided a fitting farewell since it was based on Ramirez's own life. Ramirez made a cameo appearance at the end of the dance, but that didn't save it from a certain triteness. A young girl plays the piano until she hits a false note repeatedly. The rest of the work narrates her life from aspiring dancer to mature choreographer. It's a touching story, a slightly souped up Broadway number.


The highlight of the night was Descarga para Tito, a live music interlude composed by Jose Madera and performed by The Latin Rhythm Percussion Ensemble. Later in the evening, playing along with company members, they lit up William Whitener's otherwise ordinary Tito on Timbales.

Carlos Sierra Lopez's world premiere, Destino Incierto (Uncertain Destiny), is based on a fascinating premise: to isolate the characters Carmen, Escamillo, and Don Jose and have them interact directly with one another, devoid of storyline and sets. The piece would be stronger without a few of its more overbearing moments, such as Escamillo and Don Jose sliding under Carmen's red dress, a visual metaphor for you-know-what. Angelica Burgos as Carmen, Rodney Hamilton as Don Jose, and Eric Rivera as Escamillo were outstanding, and the music by Rodion Shchedrin, after Georges Bizet (originally written for Alberto Alonso's Carmen for Plisetskaya), provided an interesting variant on the original. I hope this 12-minute piece is perhaps a first sketch and that Sierra Lopez will eventually clarify his ideas: What is he saying about Don Jose? Is he honorable enough to take on Escamillo rather than stab Carmen? Is Escamillo a hero? Is Carmen as independent as in the original?

The company came alive in Program II. The world premiere of Tres Bailes-choreographed by Jean Emile to music by Astor Piazzolla, Gotan Project, and Alberto Iglesias--showed off company members to good effect. Rivera and Hamilton performed with their usual strength. Candice Monet McCall was a revelation, dancing with precision, sexiness, and verve--she electrified the proceedings. Group Portrait of a Lady, by Vicente Nebrada, was pleasant to watch, though it didn't sizzle with inventiveness.

I must admit to being stumped by Ann Reinking's 1997 Ritmo y Ruido, a bizarre combination of Latin and Fosse. Half the time the dancers performed riffs on flamenco and the other half they shook hoof and limb in pale imitation of All That Jazz. The starkness that made Fosse's jazz idiom unique was undercut by the livelier Latin sections: They didn't complement each other, they competed for your attention. I liked that Reinking took a risk, but the result would have been more successful if the parts had felt more organically or thematically linked.

However, the audience on both nights I attended seemed enraptured and gave the company standing ovations. The choreography Ballet Hispanico presents isn't always of the highest order, but the company delivers upbeat pieces with brio and technical proficiency.
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Author:Atamian, Christopher
Publication:Dance Magazine
Article Type:Dance review
Date:Jan 1, 2009
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