"Con Brazos Abiertos" explored the immigrant experience, feeling like an outsider in an unwelcoming world.
I’m not exaggerating when I say Ballet Hispanico is one of the most exciting dance ensembles in the nation.
That was evident to everyone on Friday night at The Egg when the tight-knit troupe of 14 bowled over the audience with its hypnotic power. Their gripping magic was wrought from the dancers’ gigantic technical and artistic talents in three female-made works that exposed the true power of dance – to move hearts and minds, to speak the unspeakable and elevate one’s spirit like nothing other than music can do.
I loved every minute. And so did everyone else. Here’s how it went down.
The company, directed by Eduardo Vilaro, opened with “Linea Recta,” a work from Annabelle Lopez Ochoa that was commissioned and premiered at Jacob’s Pillow in 2017. The all-red dance was an homage to flamenco and instantly intrigued the audience when the curtain opened on a lone figure – a woman with a long ruffled dress train. Danced by Melissa Fernandez, the soloist was in charge –flicking her arms and legs and knocking around her train with a superb control, sharpness and intent.
Four men, in high-waist pants and bare chests, charged and challenged her to what appeared more of a dual than a dance. It was a stalemate as all five hit their marks without a quiver. Each one exuded power supreme.
The work, to elaborate and urgent flamenco guitar by Eric Vaarzon Morel, continued with a group of women, trailing shorter skirts and snapping fans. They too, tangling with the men, stood their ground for a tense and straightforward rumble in which no one won.
The alluring “Con Brazos Abiertos,” a dance by Michelle Manzanales, followed. To an fascinating and sometimes humorous soundscape that included Carla Morrison, Cheech & Chong, Julio Iglesias and Edward James Olmos (among others) Manzanales explored the immigrant experience – that of being other.
Jenna Marie, the work’s soloist, meandered through lonely sections that clearly underscored the pressures of duality – being true to your heritage while assimilating a world that is not always welcoming. Marie was spot on – physically and emotionally.
But the finale, to music by the Mexican Institute of Sound, brought it all home with a delicious celebration with the dancers metaphorically scooping the audience up with their giant, swirling skirts.
The evening concluded with the smoky “3. Catorce Dieciseis,” a baroque-inspired work by Tania Perez-Salas. The dancers, split up in two and threes, but frequently merging as an unified ensemble, asserted a mystery as if trying to impart ancient, life-affirming wisdom. They were elusive and gorgeous creatures that one wants to pursue for no reason other than enchantment.
Most noteworthy in all the works was the dancers’ unification. They were synchronized in every way and were willing servants to the whole. The outcome was a stunner.
TAylor'S GENIUS LIVES ON IN HIS DANCES
Paul Taylor Dance Company performed Taylor's final work "Concertiana" on Friday at The Egg.
I love the Paul Taylor Dance Company. Every time I hear of an appearance in the Capital Region, I happily anticipate the event – mainly because I know its artistic leader, Paul Taylor, will show me something grand, something deep, something that will resonate to my toes. To me, and many dance devotees, Taylor stands atop the heap of choreographic genius.
Yet it was with a lamenting heart that I attended Friday’s night’s showing of the Taylor company at The Egg. This would be my first time seeing these marvelous dances and dancers without the man I have so admire. Taylor died in August at 88. Dancer Michael Novak was named Taylor’s successor just one month earlier. I was worried – could it possibly be the same ensemble without Taylor.
With Novak in the director’s seat, the future of the company is secure. What kind of company will it be? That remains an unknown. But on Friday night, the company was still firmly Taylor’s – dancing three of his works – the formal, but animalistic “Cloven Kingdom,” the ever-popular “Company B” and most touching, Taylor’s last and final work “Concertiana.”
Dance number 147, “Concertiana,” feels like a farewell, a love letter to his dancers, an embodiment of his artistic efforts for 64 years. (Yes, amazingly the company is that old.)
Set to music by Eric Ewazen’s both rousing and emotive “Concerto for Violin and Strings,” the piece lifts the viewer by going back to basics – with lines and circles, sometimes created by simply walking. They sweep up minds and eyeballs with lyricism and crystalline patterns that are sometimes cut out in shifting silhouettes.
What is most touching are the breakout solos and duets for the company’s newer dancers. Here, you see Taylor offering up a precious gift for his youngest members so that they can cherish a memory – a time when this massively influential artist created a spotlighted moment especially for them.
Most memorable is Heather McGinley’s solo. She is enchanting as she reaches upwards and flings herself to the floor as she tries to grab onto the divine.
Alex Clayton too makes an impression as he flies around, eating up the space around him.
But mainly, it’s uplifting to see the sensitive and fearless ensemble work – sometimes with dancers sliding along on their bottoms or a unified bounce in the air. This is trademark Taylor. Let’s hope it lives on for years to come.