Paquito D’Rivera and Mario Ismael Espinoza share an improvisational jam during Eduardo Vilaro’s Danzón at Ballet Hispanico’s season at The Joyce. Photo by Christopher Duggan.
Ballet Hispanico, some forty years after its founding, continues to challenge concert dance morés by drawing from the rich and varied Latin cultures. Not content to just inject traditional jetés and pirouettes into the sultriness of the Rumba or add a splash of flamenco duende to balletic maneuvers, this company celebrates long-established Hispanic values. Raven-haired, tightly rehearsed, and brimming with good humor and technical brio, the dancers of Ballet Hispanico fully embody the idea of familia. Pieces—which usually feature upwards of ten dancers—resemble family reunions, and traditional gender roles are asserted: Macho men swagger and women sizzle intoxicatingly.
The B program (there are three) opens with Nube Blanco, choreographed by Annabelle Lopez Ochoa. A witty take on flamenco, the piece commences with Mario Ismael Espinoza posing in a rectangle of light, legs snapped together and back arched like a comma. His red shoes exact a rapid tattoo while his body undulates sinuously. The balance of the company joins him, chattering in rapid-fire Spanish. Humorous motifs alternate with grandstanding displays of flamenco pyrotechnics. A woman prattles on the phone, using a red shoe as the receiver, and the men employ their white tops as matador capes. Nube Blanca provokes laughter, but never undermines the beauty and drama of flamenco.
Tango Vitrola, created by Alejandro Cervera, laboriously brandishes all the hallmarks of Argentine Tango. Patent leather hair, intricate footwork, and a smoldering presence appear like boxes that must be checked off. The dancers of Ballet Hispanico aren’t gifted tangueros; knees and feet turn out too much, movements jog rather than slink over the floor, and the spontaneous lead/follow aspect that characterizes tango is nonexistent. It’s not the dancers’ fault—tango is a demanding, elusive dance that takes years to master. With no nuance or wit, Tango Vitrola functions as a cliché designed for tourists.
The last number—Danzón with choreography by Eduardo Vilaro and live music by The Paquito D’Rivera Ensemble—marries ebullient dance with the exhilarating rhythms of danzón, the official genre and dance of Cuba. Attired in aubergine costumes, the company performs zesty, jazz-inflected steps. Think of a 21st century Jerome Robbins with Latin roots: pirouettes highlight turned-in legs, bodies imprint flying Xs in the air, and dancers dash into slides that skate across the floor. Hypnotically watchable, it showcases the extraordinary physical and performative talents of Ballet Hispanico. In one crowd-pleasing moment, clarinetist Paquito D’Rivera joins dancer Mario Ismael Espinoza on stage, and the two engage in an effervescent repartee, weaving music and dance into a double helix of passion. While Jamal Rashann Callender and Vanessa Vallecillos are the ostensible leads, the group pulses and shudders companionably as dancers take turns performing solos. This is familia at its best.
It’s a spirited show, and the addition of live music sends the energy through the roof. Tonight, we are family.
This review refers to the show seen on Tuesday, April 23rd at The Joyce.