In the 1960s, I noted a surge of hybrid dance works that I thought of as “balletomodern”; their choreographers joined the heft and drama of modern dance with muted ballet chops (think Glen Tetley et al.). These days, I’m tempted to think of the latest mixed breeds as “pomoballetic.” Anything kind of goes with anything. As long as it’s sexy, glamorous, and virtuosic—perhaps with allusions to pop culture—it doesn’t need to make sense in any even semi-traditional way.
A number of pieces in Ballet Hispanico’s current Joyce season could be linked with this trend. The company also has to provide a sufficiency of Latin-tinged works, in order to live up to its name (some of these have been very striking). Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s Mad’moiselle, one of two premieres presented during the company’s 40th anniversary season at the Joyce, is striking all right, but not in a resoundingly deep way. How to interpret its opening image? A cry of “Maria!” ushers in Bart Rijnink’s score, and there’s Min-Tzu Li, wearing a form-fitting, crotch-length, black sheath; a flame-red, Louise Brooks wig; and super-high-heeled red boots that reach almost to her knees. She’s hot. Smoldering, in fact; quantities of smoke billow up from the puff of red net that acts as her tail. I give up.
The company’s five other female performers are garbed like Li, except that they wear black socks, instead of boots (so does she, later). At one point, they pass through, trailing red feather boas and glowing against Mary Louise Geiger’s red-lit cyc. After ditching the boas and unfurling large white fans, they entrap Nicholas Villeneuve and smack him lightly with the fans folded, like unserious dominatrices. Lopez Ochoa may have intended a comment on gender roles, and that could also be true of the duet between Villeneuve and Jessica Alejandra Wyatt (who seems unhappy about something a lot of the time). She pulls her wig forward over her face, he dons a blue one, and, side by side, they dance (fluffily faceless, but, apparently attuned).
Lopez Ochoa’s choreography has some felicitous moments, but Mad’moiselle‘s principal effect is akin to that of a runway show on a loop, which has been set against musical references to darker works. The melody of Leonard Bernstein’s “Maria” from West Side Story is heavily sampled in the score (in addition, the cast members line up and, one by one, cry out the name). The throaty singing voice of Mexican singer Chavela Vargas also rises from the collage of music and sounds. Finally, inexplicably, “Ave Maria” floats up. So, did Rijnink simply enjoy himself by cleverly intermeshing all the musical Marias he could find? Or, wait—could that smoke emanating from Li’s bustle have been incense?
Puntos Suspensivos, the other new piece commissioned by Eduardo Vilaro in his first year as Ballet Hispanico’s artistic director, is grayer—both in terms of the simple blue-and-gray costumes (designed by Vilaro and Diana Ruettiger) and the general mood. A single dancer (Li) is prone on the floor when the curtain rises and again at the end. Once, the five other performers fall into that position. Gabriela Lena Frank’s effective music for violin, viola, and cello (played live) features spare, plucked tones and moments of silence, countered by full-voiced, hortatory passages. The vivid, expert performers (Lauren Alzamora, Donald Borror, Rodney Hamilton, Jeffery Hover Jr., Vanessa Valecillos, and Li) stamp and lunge in furious, but orderly unison and tangle in diverse ways. There are some intriguing passages—notably a duet in which Li jams her head against Borror’s chest, and they travel along, stuck together, in order to explore other crabbed connections. The work gives off dramatic sparks, but it’s hard to discern an emotional core. People walk calmly offstage and re-enter, as if they’d just gone for a sip of water. For a few moments, when the women are dancing, the men lie down and take a nap. Sometimes the dancers watch one another, sometimes they don’t.
This program, the first of three during Ballet Hispanico’s Joyce season, began with Jean Emile’s 2008 quintet, Tres Bailes—all hot-eyed stares, mannequin-posing, wonderful leaps for the men, and kinky maneuvers (like a woman whipping one leg down on her bent-over partner’s neck). The men start out wearing handsome long, black skirts (by Anita Yavich), then ditch them. The opening night also featured a guest artist: American Ballet Theatre principal Herman Cornejo performing his Tango y Yo to (what else?) one of Astor Piazzolla’s pieces. He begins slouched under a hat, looking somewhat like Baryshnikov in the prelude to Twyla Tharp’s Push Comes to Shove—slippery of body and crisp of foot. Seconds later: a huge split jump. The choreography isn’t major (virtuosic pirouettes and leaps alternate with what seems to be a love affair with the hat, or what it stands for), but Cornejo can make every step he takes look sincere and fully entered into, as if perfection were an unwritten and loving contract between him and Terpsichore.
At villagevoice.com, read about Jonah Bokaer’s Anchises and the Alvin Ailey Dance Company