Ballet Hispanico recently crossed a milestone this summer when Tina Ramirez, who founded the company in 1970, stepped down as artistic director. The current season at the Joyce Theater (through Dec 13) was put together by Eduardo Vilaro, who took over as AD, and the early signs are promising. The company’s repertory is surprisingly well-rounded in terms of the number of choreographers whose works are included—more than 50. This can mean a lack of artistic focus, but then again, the company isn’t tied down to one voice. It has, in any case, hewed to its mission to be the foremost Hispanic-American dance company around.
The first of three programs this season included four choreographers. An interesting choice was Andrea Miller, a young choreographer with Hispanic lineage, perhaps best known for the time she spent dancing with Ohad Naharin’s Batsheva Company. She now has a company in New York, which presented a strong season last year at the Joyce Soho, and which will make its Joyce Theater debut this spring. Her style includes a thread of Naharin’s “gaga,” plus strands of more standard modern lyricism. The result is an effective, muscular vocabulary that is visually riveting, although Naharin’s influence never strays far from the mind. Miller’s Nací made its world premiere. The women wear flowered dresses, lending an innocence and gaiety; the men in loose earth-toned shirts and pants. Miller emphasizes gravity’s effect on us in folk-like phrases of shuffling and stamping feet; a woman held upside-down lip synchs bravely.
Another world premiere was Tríptico, by Ron de Jesús, with live music by Oscar Hernandez. It showed off the company’s confident ability in bold, clean cursive phrases, often done by pairs, but it at times felt like a cold technical demonstration. By contrast, Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s Locked Up Laura, a New York premiere, contained some intriguing psychological turmoil. Between its simple spoken phrases alluding to presumably different meanings of “call,” and the woman’s shifting persona from on and off stage, it was always dramatically compelling.
Vicente Nebrada’s Batucada Fantástica (1982) was revived after twelve years. He has choreographed more for Ballet Hispanico than anyone else. And yet this dance, a celebration of Brazil’s Carnival, feels like an anchor on too short a chain. The dancers wear sequined, feathered neon-hued leotards as they pound through gymnasticky routines peppered with showy jazz hands and forced smiles. Perhaps the main problem is that the work feels dated; it may profit from a few more years of age. (This happens with the Ailey company too, when they revive an older work by Ailey that has been dormant for a while.) But the addition of fresh talent such as Miller is an exciting plus for this somewhat predictable, yet talented troupe.
Watch a clip of Ballet Hispanico performing:
Image: Ballet Hispanico Company Members perform Nací, photo by Rosalie O’Connor