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Flash Review 1, 12-12:
Ruiz and Hispanico Colleagues Heat it Up
Clip! Courtesy of Video D Studios. (The video will open
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By Darrah Carr
Copyright 2000 Darrah Carr
During its 30th anniversary
year, Ballet Hispanico could certainly have chosen to rest on its
well-earned laurels. Instead, it's been hard at work, adding to
its considerable repertoire by preparing two world premieres and
several recent works for its Joyce season. Friday evening's program
included "Eyes of the Soul" by Ramon Oller and "Club Havana" by
Pedro Ruiz, premieres this season, as well as last year's "Guajira,"
also by Ruiz.
"Eyes of the Soul" is
an intense theatrical piece, based on the life of Spanish composer
Joaquin Rodrigo, who was blinded by a childhood disease. Ruiz gave
a convincing portrayal of Rodrigo's character, while the role of
the composer's devoted partner was beautifully danced by Jennifer
DePalo. The piece was essentially a series of vignettes, depicting
the various emotions felt by the central character as a result of
his blindness -- anger, melancholy, love for his partner, hope in
his musical vision. At times, these emotions were expressed through
a series of touching duets danced by Ruiz and DePalo. At other moments,
the corps of eight dancers was used to reflect the composer's emotional
state, as he stood motionless on the side, or sat listlessly in
The use of the corps
established an interesting dynamic between the performers and the
audience. Taking the leap of faith that Ruiz really was the blind
composer, we as the audience sat and watched as he sat and imagined.
The corps clearly embodied his musical vision, calling to mind the
metaphor of dancers as instruments, as well as the idea that a work
of art is essentially a private vision that one desires to share.
As the corps danced the music of the composer's mind, I reflected
also on the poignant double meaning of the word "vision" in this
piece -- as both an artistic pursuit and an anatomical function.
My moments of reflection
were interrupted, however, by the incredibly distracting set pieces.
The stage was decorated with three reversible folding screens that
were covered in lovely patterns, with blues on one side and red
hues on the other. At various times throughout the piece, dancers
manipulated the screens to create different settings for the vignettes
- be it a straight line, a diagonal arrangement, or three folded
boxes. A clever concept and a nice design, except for the fact that
the screens were on wheels, so we could see the feet of the dancers
behind them, which ruined the illusion of mysteriously moving set
pieces. I would have rather Oller used the corps to delineate the
stage space, as he did during one powerful scene, when eight dancers
formed a vertical wall that Ruiz's character desperately tried to
break through. In this passage, the audience was called upon to
use its imagination to believe the picture, rather than asked to
use it to ignore the fact that the screens weren't really moving
of their own accord.
In sharp contrast to
the emotional content of Oller's premiere was Ruiz's new work, a
light, upbeat crowd pleaser entitled "Club Havana." Seeing these
two pieces back to back was a like eating sorbet after a rich meal.
As the title indicates, the piece was inspired by Latin social dancing,
its nightclub context, and complex rhythms including the conga,
rhumba, mambo, and cha cha. Given the Joyce's proscenium arch, I
felt like I was looking into a diorama of a nightclub, as the dancers,
resplendent in fine suits and flashy cocktail dresses, smoked cigars,
flirted, and danced under a spinning disco ball.
The dancers were impressive
and their upbeat presentation was infectious. The choreography,
however, became predictable by the end, as most of the work was
done in partners, unison, and triangular formations. One notable
exception was a clever trio danced by Arleane Lopez, Eric Rivera,
and Curtis Glover. Lopez's femme fatale character oozed sensuality
as she enjoyed the attention of two suitors. Ruiz created very inventive
partnering with rambunctious playfulness. This love triangle was
certainly more interesting than the triangular formations that came
before and after.
I was glad that Ruiz's
"Guajira" was also on the program, for it showed his range and depth
as a choreographer to a greater extent than "Club Havana." Like
"Club Havana," "Guajira" is a collection of five pieces of music
and dance reflecting Cuban culture, but here the focus is on aspects
of women's daily life in the countryside. Ruiz did a beautiful job
of blending pedestrian work gestures and social dance steps with
conventional ballet partnering and modern dance technique. "Guajira"
could be said to exemplify Ballet Hispanico's mission of interpreting
Hispanic culture in the United States through a fusion of ballet,
modern, and Latin dance forms. Indeed, students in its training
program receive comprehensive instruction in each of these forms.
Ballet Hispanico is a
unique company, an invaluable part of the dance community, and a
performance worth seeing. Its New York season continues through
December 17. For more information, please visit the
Joyce web site.
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