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Flash Review 2, 11-30: The Banality of Pop
...But New Oller, Energetic Dancers Make Ballet Hispanico

By Susan Yung
Copyright 2001 Susan Yung

NEW YORK -- Ballet Hispanico's program at the Joyce Wednesday included "Besame," choreographed for the company by Spaniard Ramon Oller, in its world premiere run. It shared the program with David Rousseve's "Somethin' From Nothin'" and Pedro Ruiz's "Club Havana." Most of the evening's music came in the form of suites of pop songs, adding an inadvertently monotonous tone to an otherwise energetic program.

"Besame," three stories about love to a set of Latin American songs (and an excerpt of music by Arvo Part), opened and closed with appearances by long-time company member (and choreographer) Pedro Ruiz, who suffused the simplest movements with meaning. It almost seemed like an optical illusion, but in the same arm movement as other dancers, he had a way of somehow willing his arms to extend further and seem much longer than their actual length. With Jennifer DePalo as an exuberant partner (but young for what was supposed to be an "older couple"), Oller depicted love as it passed through stages of sheer joy to painful loss, shown as sort of grim reapers. The performers used the onstage table and sofa as diving platforms, allowing Ruiz to frequently catch DePalo in states of rapture or distress.

A giddy slapsticky episode saw Irene Hogarth, Yarden Ronen, Nicole Corea, and the funny Solomon Bafana Matea pair up only to switch partners at the whim of capricious hearts. The third story involved Jae-Man Joo as a figure of romantic fantasy (dressed in frilly shorts and a corset), attempting to cheer up the morose Hector Montero. The statuesque Joo clearly relished his time before an audience, milking each technically wrung-out phrase to the nth degree. He combined his showy ballet skills with a dash of MTV, to dramatic effect. "Besame" was an intriguing study of the highs and lows of love, done in a symbolist, surreal style.

A charming suite of dances made up "Club Havana," choreographed by Ruiz to a group of songs representing different styles of social dance, such as Mambo and Rhumba. In elegant, sparkling costumes and beehive hairdos for the women, the five couples could have stepped out of a nightclub from decades past. Ruiz built the dance on a classic ballet vocabulary which included the most traditional partnering work of the whole evening. The dancers, in particular Natalia Alonso, were precise, economical, almost surgical in their movements, at times imparting the atmosphere of a top-flight ballroom competition.

The program notes for "Somethin' from Nothin'" included the curious addendum that the beginning of the piece was changed from David Rousseve's original, and so the piece no longer reflects his original intention. The current version begins with an answering machine's messages being replayed, with RSVPs for the night's party and out-of -proportion complaints by needy friends, as well. This is in stark contrast to the original tape, in which a former slave discussed horrifying events. The appropriate tone of either situation giving people a reason to dance the night away is to be settled down the road between artistic principals, apparently. In any case, Rousseve's flair for theatrics complemented Eddie Palmieri's lively score. Ruiz quietly commanded attention in his brief solo segments. Snaky hip swivels alternated with bold ballet moves, which stuck out as somewhat rigid in this eclectic style.

Under Tina Ramirez's artistic direction, Ballet Hispanico, now in its fourth decade of existence, showed its solid technical foundation and flashes of brilliant dancing. More balanced programming and reconciling artistic visions will only add to the already winning mix.

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