Ballet Hispanico’s goal has always been to elevate the voices of Latino artists. Over the years, now all 47, the ensemble did more than convey thoughts and feelings exclusive to Hispanic artists. It has connected those ideas to a universal audience.
The company is flaunting its chops in its week-long stay at Jacob’s Pillow. Onstage at the Ted Shawn Theatre, the 13-member Ballet Hispanico glides across the boards in a showcase that proves it can do it all – quirky contemporary works, stylish Spanish-infused dancing and jazzy jams – and do it well.
The residency is highlighted by the premiere of a Pillow-commissioned dance by Annabelle Lopez Ochoa. The saucy “Linea Recta” or straight line is a flamenco-inspired ensemble work that was the evening’s favorite.
Moving to the wild strumming of traditional flamenco guitar as performed by Eric Vaarzon Morel, Melissa Fernandez cut a smart and sharp figure as the woman who opens “Linea Recta.” Wearing a ruffled red train, a cutaway of a flamenco gitana dress, she is striking. She manipulates the train, swinging it around one leg or her body and even holding in her teeth, as she steps and swirls with sexy attitude.
Four men, Christopher Bloom, Mark Gieringer, Lyvan Verdecia and Joshua Winzeler enter like matadors, chests thrust forward and arms cocked back, they lift and whisk her about in a courting dance the respects and reveres her authority.
As Fernandez leaves the stage, the men assert their virility until four women with fans return to continue this razor sharp strut that pays homage to the ancient song and dance of the gypsy.
The evening opened with “El Beso” or kiss choreographed by Gustavo Ramirez Sansano to a compilation of Zarzuela music by Tomas Breton, Ruperto Chapi, Reveriano Soutullo, Juan Vert and Amadeo Vives, was not what one would expect.
I anticipated a romantic interlude for two. But instead, the ensemble piece is constructed like a puzzle with dancers moving in and out of the group with precision to give a peck here and there on a cheek, arm or forehead.
The opening, with Johan Rivera Mendez, was a stunner. Mendez, as also seen in the final work “Danzon” has a unique style of moving that no dancer could replicate. He is a body without bone – twisting, bending, falling and springing back onto his feet like not dancer I know.
The evening concluded with Artistic Director Eduardo Vilaro’s “Danzon,” to reorchestrated jazz pieces by Billy Carey and Carl Fischer, Paquito D’Rivera and Dizzy Gillespie and Frank Paparelli. Incorporating Afro-Cuban dance with ballet, the piece felt too distilled, making it difficult for the audience to grab on and buy into what felt like a subdued celebration.
Still Fernandez and Verdecia were gorgeous in a shadowy duet, expressing a simmering sultriness that was hypnotic.
Ballet Hispanico will continue its run at Jacob’s Pillow until Sunday, July 30.
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