The immensely talented and exciting Ballet Hispánico was back in L.A. at The Broad Stage in Santa Monica on Friday, March 22, and Saturday March 23, 2019.  In the “Year of the Woman” Ballet Hispánico and Eduardo Vilaro, Artistic Director/CEO, celebrate the brilliance of three very individual and outstanding female choreographers;  Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s Línea Recta is a highly individualized exploration of indirect communication between male and female, delivered in the captivating fire of the Flamenco style.   Michelle Manzanales’ Con Brazos Abiertos (With Open Arms) explores and embraces her Mexican/American heritage with loving emotional delicacy, weaving the folkloric with her contemporary voice of dance.  And Catorce Dieciséis (fourteenth) by Tania Pérez-Salas who was inspired by Pi, 3.1416 the never ending number of Pi, which reflects the circularity of movement through life.

As Lopez Ochoa’s explains, one of her inspirations for Línea Recta, came from the art of Columbian-born photographer Ruven Afanador.  The blood red ruffled bustle and train around the thrilling Melissa Fernandez’ waist flows nearly half the length of the stage and is, as Lopez Ochoa describes, “like a river.”  The supple gypsy movements of Fernandez mesmerize, intertwines yet keeps the distance and tension of her matadors in red, Lyvan Verdecia, Jared Bogart, Raúl Contreras and Omar Rivéra.   The brilliant configurations they manage with the skirt is like another partner with its own identity and temperament.   Fernandez, and the adept maneuvering of her partners, weaves her blood red ruffled train so expertly among the bodies of the matadors that it appears to be the true and explosive communication of the seduction.

Ballet Hispánico in Lopez Ochoa’s Línea Recta - Photo by Paula Lobo

Ballet Hispánico in Lopez Ochoa’s Línea Recta – Photo by Paula Lobo

The next section finds three women, Shelby Colona, Jenna Marie, and Eila Valls with arched backs and snake-like arms and hand movements, rapidly gliding into a Flamenco Adagio with large fans.  Their elegant backs to the audience, expresses the heat of the eventual encounters with their male partners.  This variation leads to a percussive piece with the four dazzling men’s legato and staccato movements in diagonals, circles, with Rooster-like stature and heel work as to hypnotize the audience.

The last variation is like filigree with the lacing of movements and Zapateado (heel work) of the couples together to end the form with one last pose, and the audience responding with enthusiasm to this feat of artistry.

Con Brazos Abiertos, named after a moving poem by Maria Billini, a Dominican American Bilingual poet, blending her “urban mix of music, Spanglish, and the art of the spoken word” and conceived and Choreographed by Michelle Manzanales with Artistic Collaboration by Ray Doñes.  It is a mix of the many faces of Manzanales’ Mexican-American heritage.

Ballet Hispánico in Con Abrazos Abiertos by Michelle Manzanales - Photo by Paula Lobo

Ballet Hispánico in Con Abrazos Abiertos by Michelle Manzanales – Photo by Paula Lobo

This sensitive, moving and exciting exploration begins with defenseless humanity.  Females in white lace halter tops and briefs, males in grey and white shorts at the start.  In the middle of swirling dancers, there is silence as lights go down.  A spotlight cuts through the darkness and a soundscape with the voices of Cheech and Chong, makes clear the dilemma of the Mexican-American:

Being a Mexican- American is tough!…We gotta be more Mexican than the  Mexicans … and more  American than the Americans, both at the same time.  It’s exhausting!”

And with that, strains of Mariachis, with lines of men and women in high waisted Mariachi pants, red, yellow and white sombreros covering their faces, dance with such energetic enthusiasm, the unison footwork and complicated patterns puts the audience on the edge of their seats.  The excitement moves on, leaving a single female dancer to express the heartrending poetry of Billini that is so clearly fighting for balance, and identity:

Estoy Acqui…
Con Brazos Abiertos,
Without criminality or apologies,
Without the heat of shame,
Without chains, or borders,
Or green paper work,
Instead there are green pastures,
Sombreros, torillas, familia, maiz,
Arroz con frijoles,
Newspapers, musicá, inventions,
Libros and blue prints.
Engineers and painters,
Poets and lovers.

Then a transition to nostalgia with a stylized traditional Folk Reel including the entire company and relaxing into a sense of community.  Hand in hand, facing toward and away from each other to a rough wailing voice, they circle their partners, they are silhouetted in a red and black screen behind them.  Lost in the subtle beauty of a cooperative culture created an emotional reaction for this stunning moment, and the fear of that loss in the complexity of integrating dual cultures.

Man to man – lifting and throwing – Woman to men, running, lifting, couples together.  And with a sudden swirling of white oversized silk Folkloric skirts worn by both men and women, floral patterns explode with such abandon it made the heart rush at the brilliant dynamic ending of this beautiful art piece.

Ballet Hispánico - Photo courtesy of the company.

Ballet Hispánico – Photo courtesy of the company.

The last gift, reflecting 16 and 17 century musical choices by Vivaldi, Couperin, Pergolesi, Frescobaldi and Marais made this thrilling piece, Catorce Dieciséis by Mexican choreographer Tania Pérez-Salas, the dessert for the evening.  Pérez-Salas is known worldwide for her intelligent brilliant work.  Her choice of inspiration was the mathematical concept of Pi, (3.1416), which reflects the circularity of movement through life.

The dancers in black, grey, and white state the themes, at first walking then taking off with their variations circling and resolving the stated ideas.  Two men facing the audience then work in couples, men to men, and then men to women.

The fugue and choral moments are stunning and transcend the mundane choreographically with near spiritual intent.  At one point the women, dressed in black, reveal themselves in crimson.  Then the fallen black skirts become primal tools as the dancers swing and beat the rhythms on the floor.  All stunning in design.  Eventually the dancers create a single line to the choral masterpiece that then transforms the mundane into a moment of transformation.  Pérez-Salas’ work is transcendent and Catorce Dieciséis is the perfect finale for a brilliant uplifting and revealing evening of dance.  Ballet Hispánico is one of our truly exceptional gifts to today’s dance world.  With the standing ovation and curtain calls, it appears this audience felt the same.

For more information on Ballet Hispánico, click here.

For information about The Broad Stage, click here.

Featured image: Ballet Hispánico – Linea Recta by Lopez Ocho  – Photo by Paula Lobo