Ballet Hispanico’s New Choreographic Talent, Juilliard’s Future Stars

Next year, Ballet Hispanico will celebrate its 40th anniversary. Under the direction of Tina Ramirez, the company grew from a small group emphasizing a folkloric base into an ensemble of dazzlingly accomplished dancers with a variegated repertory that displays its Latin-American identity in ways both familiar (tango dance hall passions) and subtle, such as Andrea Miller’s brand new Nací.

The tiny, vibrant, redoubtable Ramirez retired at the end of last year’s New York season. The new artistic director, Eduardo Vilaro, danced with BH in the 1990s and founded the Chicago company Luna Negra in 1999. Although he only took over BH in August, the two new works and the New York premiere that debuted at the Joyce on Program A were his doing.

In Tríptico, Ron de Jesús, onetime Hubbard Street dancer, has created a sleek, sexy piece for three couples set to music by Oscar Hernandez. Pianist Hector Martignon and percussionists Jimmy Delgado and Tony Rosa build up some good-humored heat, with castanets providing additional crackle. Ryan O’Gara’s row of blue lights on the floor at the back and Anita Yavich’s costumes set up the atmosphere for elegant coupling. Min-Tzu Li, pressed into slow, sultry lifts by Rodney Hamilton, wears a sleeveless black tunic, split up the sides, with a web of black cords etched on her bare back.


Ballet Hispanico
Joyce Theater
December 1 through 13

Juilliard Dance
Peter Jay Sharp Theater
December 9 through 13

The three couples engage in similar encounters that show off the women’s long, articulate legs, the men’s power, and the cool intensity of their relationships. De Jesús doesn’t delineate highly contrasting moods among the pas de deux for Li and Hamilton and those performed by Jessica Batten and Waldemar Quiñones-Villanueva, Marina Fabila and Nicholas Villeneuve. Later, all three men launch their partners into flying lifts and flips. There’s one strange moment early on when Li sort of crawls offstage by herself. I don’t think I’ll remember Tríptico forever, but it shows off the excellent dancers in a way that contrasts effectively to the carnivalesque solos in the restaging of Vicente Nebrada’s 1982 Batucada Fantastico.

Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s Locked Up Laura (choreographed for BJM Danse in Montreal) riffs on a not uncommon ballet motif: the dance with a dead body—in this case, a drowsy body. The terrific Angelica Burgos begins prone on the floor beneath an apricot sky, unresponsive to the plucking of a guitar (taped music by Bart Rijnink), and the intermittent voice of a phantom stage manager counting down to performance time. When Jeffrey Hover—interestingly weird in this—attempts to drag her to her feet, she collapses back down; he flips her over and hauls her up by one leg. Finally balanced on pointe, she wakes up sufficiently to execute several perfect developpés, around the time that the voice is announcing, “Fifteen minutes, please.”

The piece is odd and a bit irrational (the stage manager calls Burgos to the stage when she’s already there), but not without charm. Mostly Burgos is either stiff or floppy, and she rejects the little skirt her patient partner puts on her. Oh, well, back to sleep.

Asking Andrea Miller, the director of her own Gallim Dance, to make a work for BH was, to my mind, Vilaro’s boldest and smartest move. Miller is one of the most interesting young choreographers around, and the BH dancers—up for anything—do her proud in Nací. From the minute the curtain goes up, and you see eight figures silhouetted against the sky, you sense that this dance will not be about glamour or conventional virtuosity. The women’s short dresses are loosely cut, and the men are wearing baggy trousers and shirts with the sleeves rolled up. As Vincent Vigilante’s lighting begins warming up the stage, the dresses are revealed as floral prints; two of the three men (Hamilton, Hover, and Yesid Lopez) wear vests, and everyone is barefoot.

The score that Miller has put together includes the rich, percussive “Foni Tu Argile,” by the group A Hawk and A Hacksaw (it’s based on a Greek wedding song); a recorded interview in Spanish with a man who speaks of Spanish Jews and Jewish scholars; a ladino lullaby; and a song, “Nací en Alamo, by Tony Gatlif and an unnamed gypsy. Miller’s people travel the landscape of the stage in bent-over runs, their hands reaching out low to the ground, as if to glean what they can. Sometimes they walk with little steps, but more often you see them spraddled-legged. They gallop and galumph. Laboring, their bodies twist and jerk.

When Vanessa Valecillos dances by herself, hunched over at times, big shadows menace her from the backdrop. Hamilton watches her closely before joining her; so curious is their duet that she can seem sometimes his guardian, sometimes his slave. Little that happens is predictable except the powerful identity of this community. Hover and Lopez hold Jessica Alejandra Wyatt upside down in a pool of light, while she lip-synchs “Nací en Alamo,” the wail of a rootless wanderer, sung in a woman’s high scratchy voice. When she is released, still “singing,” the other women (Batten, Fabila, and Valecillos) open their mouths in silent screams. Miller rinses away any possible pathos or sentimental indulgences to present a raw poetry about survival.

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