Star Qualities

Performers Illuminate New and Traditional Choreography

Ballet Hispanico opened its Joyce season (through December 9) with the premiere of Ramon Oller's Bésame. Oller fills Arvo Pärt's floaty music with the gentle passion of idealized love. Jennifer DePalo and Pedro Ruiz inhabit a couch, chairs, and a table in domestic harmony. Ruiz arches and curls; DePalo plunges from the table to him. Lying on the couch, he lifts her outstretched body on his feet. They move in luscious, full swoops. To love songs from Latin America, Ruiz extends his whole body toward her in a kiss.

It's too unrelentingly lyrical. DePalo mimes the words of a song about her home, her mother, an earthen patio. Two masked figures hold the lovers apart. A voice growls a tango about death in Buenos Aires. DePalo cuts loose, leaping into the arms of a man who carries her off, leaving Ruiz holding white flowers.

Act II lightens up. Two young couples hold silver cups to lips, pinkies out as they entwine and entice—a swap story, with spread-leg lifts and hurtful glances. Nicole Corea and Yarden Ronen tangle with flair and heat while Irene Hogarth corkscrews and pitches her long body to the strains of "Bésame Mucho." She and Solomon Bafana Matea flirt haltingly. After so many ardent duets, their naturalism charms. The riveting Jae-Man Joo punctuates the fluidity of Oller's movement, unabashedly playing the she-man to Hector Montero's white-suited macho. Joo finds edge and weight in the dancing, the right combination of spark and softness. He prostrates himself to the earnest Montero, crucified with love, elbows and knees bent, eyes wickedly alert.

Jae-Man Joo (top) and Hector Montero in Ramon Oller’s Bésame
photo: Carolina Kroon
Jae-Man Joo (top) and Hector Montero in Ramon Oller’s Bésame

Pedro Ruiz, distinguished in this company of excellent dancers, is also a fine choreographer. His Club Havana completed the opening-night program. I prefer his more nuanced and earthy Guajira, which recalls his early years in the Cuban countryside.

Club Havana evokes '50s casinos and crinoline. Dancers puff cigars as they strut. Smoke wafts from the stage to perfume the house, bringing us the club. Spiked heels shimmer; in sequined skirts and creased black suits, it's more ballroom flash than dancefloor sweat—lots of splits, ladies swept aloft to the strains of son, mambo, and bolero. Matea digs into a short rumba riff—heels, hands, and hips flying. Only when Natalia Alonso dominates Joo and Eric Rivera in a "cha cha" (sic—in Havana there are three chas) do the dancers stop doing it right and start having fun. Alonso knows this dancing is about sex, and nails it with a retro feline pounce. She lets rhythm rule—the truest Cubanism of all.


Revisiting New York City Ballet in George Balanchine's Nutcracker after a decade, I thrilled to the overture, growing tree, and golden (six-pointed) star on the painted scrim. Yet the most popular production of this celebrated company feels lackluster.

The poised Ojela Burkhard danced little Marie; Ghaleb Kayal played her rambunctious brother Fritz. Well-dressed guests attend a Christmas party. My almost-13-year-old companion opines, "It's a little slow." Herr Drosselmeier, portrayed by spritely Robert La Fosse, upstages the entire company by lounging on a couch, yawning.

Harlequin, Columbine, and the Toy Soldier dance with sparkling precision. But these thoroughbreds are forced to walk. NYCB's legendary technique is held in check. Snowflakes skitter through cascades of confetti, repeating the same classroom combinations. The grown-ups have moments of sloppiness—or disinterest—but the student dancers are impeccably rehearsed in steps that reveal the master's imagination and whimsy.

Narrative was not Balanchine's passion, or his forte. In the Land of Sweets, Marie and the princely Ryan Cardea essentially watch a series of dances. We glimpse virtuosity briefly. Kathleen Tracey is all sinuous sensuality as Coffee, and Benjamin Millepied holds the comic center of Tea. Stuart Capps deploys shameless camp as Mother Ginger. Tom Gold flies through hoops as Candy Cane. Yvonne Borree's Sugarplum Fairy is technically sound but tense in her upper body, attentively partnered by Damian Woetzel, who dances with ease and palpable joy. As Dewdrop, Jennie Somogyi pulls the stops out. She slices through footwork, snaps out turns, and lifts her long legs silkily. That's still what dancing Balanchine is all about.

 
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