Arts and Entertainment | Dance

Ballet Hispanico: Innovative repertoire brought down by lack of passion from dancers

The dancers of Ballet Hispanico are incredibly skillful. Their technique is superb and their physiques are astonishing. However, the company often lacks the personal, human connection integral to enthralling an audience in a dance work. This lack of a connection glaringly mars the first two works of the night, “Mad’moiselle” and “Hogar,” but the third work, “El Beso,” recovers and showcases the dancers’ true talent in the work’s masterful choreography. 

Through April 27, the dancers grace the Joyce Theater’s stage in Ballet Hispanico’s New York Season, dancing in four rotating programs. The B program, which will be performed from April 24 to 26 at 8 p.m., contains three dances—two of which failed to connect to the audience. 

The first work of the night, is “Mad’moiselle.” Choreographed by Annabelle Lopez Ochoa, the work features six women in garish red bob wigs accompanied by five male dancers. Its beautifully orchestrated soundtrack by Bart Rijnink unites various musical styles through the motif of Maria, progressing from “Maria” from West Side Story to its finale, “Ave Maria.” The soundtrack clearly aims, as stated in the program, to explore “iconic male/female images and gender identity in Latin American cultures.” The choreography and costuming, however, seem arbitrary, in discordance with the music. Steps oscillate between the technical and the experimental, delving into the awkward poses and movements characteristic of the post-modern dance movement. The carnival outfit for dancer Min-Tzu Li trails boas and broad white fans—more strongly reminiscent of Asian than Latin American culture and invoking random and contradictory time periods. The extravagant costuming and stark wigs, while visually enthralling, also exacerbate the dancers’ inability to engage the audience emotionally.

Courtesy of 2014 Joyce Season
bailar | Members of Ballet Hispanico perform as part of their stint at the Joyce Theater through April 27.

The second work of the concert, “Hogar,” choreographed by the company’s artistic director, Eduardo Vilaro, continues this disconnect between the dancers and the audience. Accompanied by live string quintet Ljova and the Pinky Swear Brigade, the dancers fail to feign interest in their movement, leaving the work without choreographic surprises. There remains little doubt that the dancers will complete the challenging steps, the beautiful lifts, and the impressive jumps. However, since they invest little to no personality in the dance, there are no surprises as to what facet of their character they will next share with the audience. Part of this lack of human connection in the choreography stems from the need for the dancers to face downstage toward the audience more frequently. Except for two brief interludes when dancer Jessica Alejandra Wyatt and soloist Jamal Rashann Callender imbue the choreography with their individuality, the dance remains flat and disconnected.

While emotional detachment characterizes the first two works, “El Beso,” a world premiere for the season choreographed by Gustavo Ramírez Sansano, dramatically departs from this flaw. The work juxtaposes classical zarzuela music, reminiscent of the opera “Carmen,” with playful, lyrical, and organic movements to explore the motif of the kiss. The dancers revel in their interactions, parading their enjoyment in the execution of the choreography, making “El Beso” an amusing and delightful performance. A grinning and aggressive seductress weaving webs of exploratory partnering centered on a social kiss and a touchingly somber romantic scene between two male dancers, Christopher Bloom and Jamal Rashann Callender, distinguished “El Beso” as an ingenious character-based work. 

Because of the high energy, spirited nature, and obvious enjoyment of the dancers, as well as choreography that offers a profound exploration of the symbolism of a kiss, “El Beso,” redeems the dance concert. The night ends with a work that showcases the talent of the dancers of Ballet Hispanico.

Ballet Hispanico will perform at the Joyce Theater through April 27. Tickets start at $10. 

arts@columbiaspectator.com | @ColumbiaSpec

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