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Ballet Hispanico Offers Contemporary Dance with a Latin Flavor for a Two-Week Run at the Joyce

Opening night of Ballet Hispanico’s 2014 spring season at the Joyce on April 15th once again featured the fascinating fusion of Latin themes with contemporary movement that has become Artistic Director Eduardo Vilaro’s trademark during his four years at the helm. 


The evening’s opener was “Umbral”, choreographed in 2013 by Edgar Zendejas

and set to original music by Owen Belton. A program note explains that the dance was inspired by "Día de los Muertos", the Day of the Dead, that has been a revered Mexican celebration for centuries. The central character, looking spectral with white face paint, appeared to represent death as the ensemble interacted with him. However, the message was never really clear. Why did the women, albeit discreetly and with their backs mostly to the audience, take off their tops? What was the point of the jolt of humor when a phone planted in the audience started ringing and the dancers mocked it by hissing “Shh”? Why was the work mostly somber even though the actual Mexican celebration is a joyous one honoring departed loved ones? Adding to the confusion, the word “umbral” in Spanish means both “shadowy” and “threshold” so the choreographer’s intent could have had something to do with passing over into a netherworld. But maybe not. I know I’m not alone in posing those questions because during the intermission I overheard several people puzzling about what the dance was supposed to mean. The need to do that was consummately distracting so I for one simply gave up on deciphering what was going on and concentrated on enjoying the facility and artistry of the performers.


Next up was “Sombrerísimo”, a 2013 work by Annabelle Lopez Ochoa for six remarkably athletic male dancers who deftly maneuvered bowler hats amid myriad complicated moves and patterns. The audience went wild for this one, and rightly so. The piece, which was commissioned by New York City Center for the 10th anniversary of the Fall for Dance Festival, is billed as making references to the paintings of René Magritte, the Belgian known for images of men in bowler hats.


The closer on the triple bill was the world premiere of “El Beso”, a whimsical and rollicking romp replete with kisses ranging from pecks on the cheek to sweetly amorous encounters. This piece marked the first commission for Ballet Hispanico by choreographer Gustavo Ramírez Sansano, who was honored as one of Dance Magazine ‘s"25 to Watch". He made full use of the troupe’s agility and stage presence. I was less impressed, though, with the costumes by Venezuelan fashion designer Angel Sanchez. They are oddly geometric garments in black and navy blue that don’t complement the joyousness of the dancing at all.


From now until April 27th, you can catch program A, which is the one I saw, or Programs B, C, and D as listed here. Enjoy!


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