Opening Ballet Hispanico's bill at the Apollo, Gustavo Ramirez Sansano set his Flabbergast to the music of Juan García Esquivel and made the most of the Mexican composer’s whimsical sense of fun and flair. Musically it’s a mash-up of fifties lounge pop infused with Latin rhythms which is infectious when coupled with Sansano’s gleefully nostalgic humor. The ballet is a series of vignettes set on 50’s era suitcase-carrying Hispanic immigrants that makes the most of the dancers’ acting skills. Shelby Colona’s turn as a woman who loses her man to another woman was particularly comical. After being rejected, she falls into a daydream in which she gets her man back. During an extended dream sequence, she and her man dance together in fulfillment of her erotic fantasies. As she emerges from her reveries, she is embarrassed to find that everyone is watching her make out with her suitcase.

Ballet Hispanico in <i>Flabbergast</i> © Bicking Photography
Ballet Hispanico in Flabbergast
© Bicking Photography
In another scene, a young woman is pursued by a young man who dances like a peacock to get her attention. She’s not impressed so he has to try harder. Another young man sees what’s going on and decides the throw himself into the competition. Soon there are four young men but she’s having none of it. She decides to go off with another woman who is more to her liking. The dance setting of Mucha Muchacha, an Esquivel classic, was purely wonderful with the dancers singing along.

Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s Línea Recta was a première performance. In this piece, the peripatetic choreographer explored the world of flamenco accompanied by Eric Vaarzon Morel, a Netherlands born flamenco guitarist and composer. Inspired by a recent flamenco performance, Lopez Ochoa has imagined a world in which the men and women partner with each other the way they do in ballet. In traditional flamenco they dance together but don’t touch. The piece opened dramatically with Melissa Fernandez in a scarlet costume with a long, frilly bata de cola vividly designed by Danielle Truss. Fernandez began a flamenco style braceo with her back to the audience. Her arms wound and twisted like cobras, conjuring up the energy that is essential to flamenco. She was so forceful that she had to be partnered by four men to balance her energy. The long tail of her costume became a fetish object as she wound it around herself, used it to lure the men, pulled them around the stage, brought it up between her legs and waved it about. It was an eye-opening re-imagining of what the bata de cola is for the women of flamenco. Following the opening, the other dancers took the stage and proceeded to tear it up with gypsy-inspired passion. It was exotic, vibrant and so much fun to watch Ballet Hispánico’s dancers take a dip into flamenco as conceived through a ballet choreographer’s eyes. This is fertile ground that deserves to have more work done in it.

Ballet Hispanico in <i>Danzon</i> © Christopher Duggan
Ballet Hispanico in Danzon
© Christopher Duggan

Eduardo Vilaro’s Danzón closed the program with a fun, albeit less thrilling take on the Latin ballroom. These are lovely dances that celebrate the special heritage of Latin popular music and their accompanying dances. Even if you’re not a fan of Latin music, it’s surprising how many of the tunes you recognize. The ballet hit its peak with the Danzón, a silky and elegant dance that played out under a mirror ball.

Ballet Hispanico at the Apollo was a fun-packed show. There are several new dancers since the last time I saw the company and while the look and style remain the same the energy seems more elevated. With its distinctive combination of great dancers and Hispanic pride, the company offers a powerful cultural statement about the vitality of the Latin-American community in New York City. It’s by no means limited in its cultural identity but is rather enriched by it. Ballet Hispánico represents more of the wonderful diversity that makes this city a great place to live.  

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