Earlier this year, the Kennedy Center hosted an all-out Iberian festival. In the same spirit, although came The Washington Ballet's Latin Heat program, the lead act in Septime Webres new multi-year concept, entitled ‘Project Global’. The Cuban-American’s ideas are nothing if not bubbly and energetically conceived: he relishes what he calls that ‘wonderful mash-up which happens when cultures collide’. It’s sometimes hard to take the smell of the ‘West’ from balletic form, but Webre does so with enthusiasm, and the fusion, creole nature of Latino culture has him in his native element.

The Washingtom Ballet in <i>Five Tangos</i> © media4artists, Theo Kossenas
The Washingtom Ballet in Five Tangos
© media4artists, Theo Kossenas
The evening started pre-concert with a musical welcome from the Mariachi Los Amigos, which had even the ushers tapping their feet. Austerely staged and dressed in black and red costumes were Hans van Manen’s 5 Tangos, an almost forty-year old creation. The attack – the dangerous edge of tango form with its pulsing evocation of street life – was not convincingly conveyed here. Partners did not smoulder; body lines were rather genteel – too white-gloved for Buenos Aires. It took time to warm up. Sona Kharatian’s lead brought stronger lines to 'La Mort', whilst Jonathan Jorden gave us a supremely light-footed performance in 'Vayamos Al Diablo'. The fugal counterpoint of steps was an effective riposte to classical ballet’s more usual reliance on absolute synchronicity in 'Resurreccion del Angel'. That final glissando into dissonance came with a properly defiant thrust of the heads outward. The gauntlet was thrown down.  

A musical interlude followed – as with the welcome, it's the only live music of the evening. Here Radio Jarocho brought authentically Mexican zapateado with a raucous edge to the occasion, the instrumentalists, singers and dancer working the audience into a frenzy, clapping along. Latin Heat started to heat up.

Luis R. Torres in <i>Sombrerísimo</i> © media4artists, Theo Kossenas
Luis R. Torres in Sombrerísimo
© media4artists, Theo Kossenas
There followed the ‘odd one’ out – Don Quixote Grand Pas – a sop perhaps to traditionalists who would be pleased with Petipa’s name on the program? Maki Onuki and Rolando Sarabi performed creditably with lissom agility though Onuki’s self-consciousness here took away from her capacity to relate to her partner or any kind of passion narrative. Despite the polished technique, the temperature dropped rather.

With Edwaard Liang’s La Llorono (the Weeping Woman), we were back on track. This was a bijou pas de deux, danced by Sona Kharatian and Brooklyn Mack with emotional depth. The partnering privileged a pliant fraught dynamic, with bodies twisting, pulling apart and clinging. Her long white dress with its sheer skirt became a prop in the dance, held out full and weightless, although her sorrow weighed her down – a rather lovely paradox in motion.

Belgian-Colombian Annabelle Lopez Ochoa presented us with the most conceptually rich work of the evening, Sombrerisimo choreographed to music by Band Ionica. Put 6 men on stage in tank tops and bowler hats and what do they do? They make sport. If they happen to be ballerinas, they make sport, well, rather more stylishly than usual. There followed a quite extraordinary suite, horseplay re-imagined in a highly stylised idiom, cartwheels, tumbles, leaps and tableaux succeeding one another with dazzling speed, the large shadows of these strangely-hatted men (bourgeois heads, proletariat bodies) etched against the background. At the heart of the work, there was an apparent death of a man, crushed by his work-(play?) mates’ hats, the evocation of Belgian René Magritte's surreal paintings never more obvious. Then the music shifted back to more vivacious Latin mode, and, donning luridly-coloured shirts, the men left Euro-surrealism behind, and all was pulsingly hot and excitingly chaotic, the men finally tossing their hats off only to be showered with more from above. There have surely not been so many men’s hats in DC since Kennedy made the accessory unfashionable back in the sixties.

The Washington Ballet in <i>Bitter Sugar</i> © media4artists, Theo Kossenas
The Washington Ballet in Bitter Sugar
© media4artists, Theo Kossenas

The whole pleasure of the relationship between the sexes is that, to paraphrase G.K Chesterton, it is a perpetual crisis. In the world première of Mauro de Candidas Bitter Sugar, that is precisely what we got: Eroticism always on the verge of a brawl – verbal sparring punctuating the dance relationships between 6 couples. Not quite sure whether the unisex costumes – black tinsel trousers, and nude-colored backs really did it for me (but one got the point – not even unisex wear can take away the tension between the sexes). Still, the whole had a laisser-aller quality and liberating energy that compelled. The white confetti strewn over the stage was sheer exuberant devil-may-care fun, and the way it was thrown up (slid in or dragged through and so forth) became part of the dance. There was a fine solo from Jonathan Jordan (can you actually have that much fun? It seems unfair), and trained classical physiques delighting in acrobatic contortions to the legendary Cuban music of La Lupe.

Latin Heat? Hot, mostly.