On a warm November 11th  evening, The Irvine Barclay Theatre hosted the ever-inventive and exciting Ballet Hispánico, thanks to the sponsorship of Toni and Terry McDonald and an anonymous fund of the Orange County Community Foundation.

Artistic Director Eduardo Vilaro, and the soulful and beautiful company of dancers, in spite of the Pandemic, have kept the company alive and creative. Through this difficult time, they have remained deeply committed and resolutely dedicated to their mission: Bringing communities together to celebrate and explore Latino cultures through innovative dance productions, transformative dance training, and community engagement. Vilaro, without question, has persisted in honoring and acknowledging the Founder, Tina Ramirez, by working to expand her legacy and encompass the changes and development of the Hispanic culture and its dance.

This evening comprised of three pieces. The first, Arabesque premiered in 1984, choreographed by Vincente Nebrada, restaged by Linda Celeste Sims, (Alvin Ailey) who trained at Ballet Hispánico. This piece brings out the lyricism, fire and classic movements of Flamenco, Sarabande, Jota, Mazurca, and other historic Spanish folk dances. All blossomed with the heart rending music of Enrique Granados. The dancers not only presented the spirit and character, but the beauty and line of ballet technique. The tasteful flowing female costumes reconstructed by Diana Ruettiger ascended from the originals by Randy Barceló. Delicate colors of lime, yellow, violet and crimson red, juxtaposed the men’s attire of black tight pants and shirts that offset the rainbow of colors. The opening featured the mesmerizing solo of dancer Laura Lopez, bathed in light and harkened back to classic gypsy Flamenco. Then one by one, the company presently broke into woven duets, trios, and group pieces, with stunning performances by the ensemble of dancers: Jared Bogart, Simone Cameresi, Antonio Cangiano, Amanda del Valle, Alexander Haquia, Paulo Hernandez-Farella, Laura Lopez, Omar Rivéra, Dandara Veiga, and Lenai Wilkerson. This was a true feast for the eyes and heart.

Ballet Hispánico in Anabelle Lopez Ochoa's "Tiburones" - Photo by Paula Lobo

Ballet Hispánico in Anabelle Lopez Ochoa’s “Tiburones” – Photo by Paula Lobo

The next piece, Tiburones was choreographed in 2019 by the prolific and creative Annabelle Lopez Ochoa. The music for Tiburones was by Pérez Prado, Dizzy Gillespie and the Funky Lowlives, and the wild and whimsical costumes were designed by Mark Zappone. Lopez Ochoa’s invention explored the world of performance trapped in the continuous surveillance of movie-making with its camera, lighting and clap-board director’s constant oversight. Such oversight soon lead to manipulation and revolution of the workers. It managed to take a turn and soon became a send-up on West Side Story’s Dance at the Gym, with a sudden appearance of two male dancers caught in Tony and Maria’s pas de deux, replete with snaps. There was a clever section using brightly colored high heeled pumps and much of the staging was beautifully designed and executed. The spirited dancers were strong and jocular. However, the piece itself was often cryptic in its messaging of the multitude of stories it tried to tell.

Ballet Hispánico’s Shelby Colona, Dandara Veiga, and Lenai Wilkerson in Gustavo Ramírez Sansano's "18+1" - Photo by Christopher Duggan

Ballet Hispánico’s Shelby Colona, Dandara Veiga, and Lenai Wilkerson in Gustavo Ramírez Sansano’s “18+1” – Photo by Christopher Duggan

The last offering 18+1 was a delightful tongue in cheek and rhythmically unique piece by Gustavo Ramirez Sansano, originally premiered in 2012. The opening starts with menacing drum rolls and rim shots. A lone dancer in a stylized charcoal and black shabby tuxedo performed dynamic percussive and random movements. Behind her, a group of motionless dancers await. Then with the suddenness of her movements, the strains of Pérez Prado’s musical romp instigates the clever and amusing mambo moves, that awakens the group and surrenders to ingenious pedestrian traffic with its clever formations, surprise reversals and dexterous place changings.

When watching the moment and this powerful company, it made me reflect on our need to break out after our nearly two years of sequestering.  And with that, the floodgates of enthusiasm opened and the audience, who so needed dance and art as an expression of joy in our world today, stood, yelled and applauded in recognition.  It was the perfect piece to end the evening and welcome back Ballet Hispánico to Southern California with hopes of their return very soon.

To read more about Ballet Hispánico, please visit their website.

To learn more about the Irvine Barclay Theatre, please visit its website.

Written by Joanne DiVito for LA Dance Chronicle.

Featured image: Ballet Hispánico performs Tiburones choreographed by Annabelle Lopez Ochoa – Photo by Paula Lobo, courtesy of The Music Center