Ballet Hispanico

Due to some back issues, I wasn’t really able to comfortably sit and write this out the weekend before last when I saw Ballet Hispanico perform at the Rialto.  I generally don’t get around to completing a writeup if I don’t get to it within a day or two, but I really wanted to make sure that I got something down so that I will be able to remember them since I enjoyed the show so much. In particular, I want to remember to keep an eye out for works by choreographer Michelle Manzanales, whose Con Brazos Abiertos opened the program.

Manzanales’ piece was an exploration of the Mexican symbols that Manzanales was “reluctant to embrace” while growing up in Texas. It alternated between expressions of alienation and celebrations of aspects of Mexican culture. For example, in an early scene, a dancer was alone in a bright, harsh light in the middle of the stage while others danced past her. A later scene involved a dancer banging her head against man’s chest in frustration and ultimately being lifted up by him. These were interspersed with exciting and fun dances with costuming that referenced traditional Mexican clothing and music that did the same. I felt that it very effectively expressed the tensions from the contradiction between wanting to eschew one’s cultural heritage to escape the alienation that comes with trying to fit into mainstream America while still wanting to appreciate that which makes one stand out.

There was a lot of athleticism in the choreography, but it was always exceptionally smooth and graceful to the point that I was more impressed by how slick it looked than how physically strenuous it was. The whole thing was gorgeous. Manzanales paid real attention to beauty in a way that is often shunned by contemporary choreographers and did so in service to celebrating a beautiful culture.

Up next was Línea Recta by Annabelle Lopez Ochoa. This was a kind of exploration of what Flamenco could be if dancers actually touched. The choreography was built on a base of Flamenco but featured the contact and lifts common in modern dance. The costumes were a lot of fun, too, all red with short ruffled skirts and bodices for the women and high-waisted pants in a traditional flamenco cut for the men. The first scene featured a long, ruffled, detachable train that they somehow managed to work into the choreography so that it not only didn’t get in the way but was actually pretty exciting. I like flamenco but generally not enough for a whole evening’s performance of it; a variation like this might be able to totally change my mind, though.

The program concluded with Eduardo Vilaro’s Danzón. This was a sort of lyrical Afro-Cuban dance style with a bit of magic thrown in for good measure. It was a lot of fun and featured some of the smoothest lyrical dance that I’ve seen. The movement had a really great flow to it that added a layer of slick grace to what felt like a giant dance party.

As I mentioned, Manzanales’ piece is what really made me want to remember Ballet Hispanico. If I were to say that the program went downhill from there, it was only a steady decline from absolutely amazing and beautiful beyond belief down to being merely excellent. Every bit of the program featured great performances by the dancers, good music, and was a true delight to watch.

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