On Friday, October 7, 2022, The Wallis debuted Ballet Hispánico, a trailblazing company and leading example for social change. America’s treasure celebrated their 50th Anniversary on the stage of one of L.A.’s noted presenters of dance, The Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills, California.
The opening piece, Con Brazos Abiertos, “With Open arms” choreographed by Michelle Manzanales is a captivating exploration of a young woman suspended between two cultures, Mexican and American. It is a beautifully lyrical piece. The singular protagonist performed by the stunning Dandara Veiga wends her way between the two complex often disparate ways of life. It bridges the joy of Folklórico with its signature sombreros and pantalones de charros, the lovely spring hues of dirndl skirts in folk lines and rounds, moving to the swirling and expressive use of Veracruzian-like white silk skirts used by both men and woman to create dynamic emotional patterns reaching clearly to the heart.
The spoken word with masterful soundscapes underscored the dance with voices of Carla Morrison, Cheech & Chong, Julio Iglesias, Edward James Olmos, Gustavo Santaolalla, Michelle Manzanales, Juan Carlos Marin Marin, Ember Island, Mexican Institute of Sound and created stunning tension, sense of humor and nostalgia.
The lithe and wily dancers: Antonio Cangiano, Amanda Del Valle, Alexander Haquia, Paulo Hernandez, Farella, Cori Lewis, Hugo Pizano Orzco, Omar Rivéra, Isabel Robles, Dandara Veiga, with Lenai Wilkerson, a former member of BH, (who jumped in at the last minute) brought us along, guiding us through a journey that could not be beat for their stunning technical, interpretive and meaningful beauty.
In her Tiburones, Annabelle Lopez Ochoa reaches us with exciting characterizations and dance but at times is quite cryptic. Its stylized messages attempt to reject the stereotypes in the business of movies and art. Clarity often seems splintered and at times unresolved. It seems to depict a kind of nightmare, with strong obvious statements bursting forth in the middle, yet not quite clear as to the final point.
The dance segments however had plenty of fire with shadows of West Side Story looming as a subtext and sneaking into the form and movement; the male version of Maria and Tony’s pas de deux performed by the sensuous Antonio Cangiano and Omar Rivéra entertain with powerful athleticism. Certainly, it made this tryst interesting to watch and proved its point that Latins exist in an un-static world of differences of gender, colors and experiences.
Lopez Ochoa is a genius of designing musicality of movement and emotion in dance, assisted in this piece with music by Perez Prado, Dizzy Gillespie and the Funky Lowlives. But in spite of the fun music and multi colored costumes by Mark Zappone which keep the audience interested, the unexamined bridges from one statement to the other needed structure so as not to come off as an in-joke.
Of course there was the audience pleaser; Antonio Cangiano, Paulo Hernandez-Farella, Omar Rivéra, Hugo Pizano Orozco, and Alex Haquia in wild colored stiletto heels tipping quite expertly and was a dynamic delight. The dance then ended in the building of an icon statue of heels as wedges that easily fell apart at the end of that section.
And for a reality check, Dandara Veiga’s allusion to the conventionalized casting couch, and the barking clapboard by the ill-tempered director, (Johan Rivera), made a clear point of abuse and disrespect, to say nothing of stalking the unwilling prey. The potential of the powerful statements made, if delved into, will produce an exciting testimony of the times leaving no questions unanswered.
18+1 by Gustavo Ramírez Sansano in celebration of his 19th year of choreography, definitely celebrated the joy of movement…of dance – this was a blithe piece made up a mostly pedestrian movement, very well-rehearsed and performed.
At the top of the number, foreboding military drums set the scene for complex solo movements in front of seated and stacked gray and black tunic-ed bodies. They seem be acting as a human backdrop. In front was a remarkably agile dancer executing a cross between pedestrian, hip hop, and modern moves, reminiscent of Aszure Barton’s Busk.
So when the breakout came with Tito Puente’s infectious cha cha cha, the surprise was titillating and fun. The dancers were remarkably in sync with each other seeming to never miss a beat. Then we see the revealing of an alluring crimson silk tunic on Amanda Del Valle telling her seductive story. Lenai Wilkerson, Paulo Hernandez-Farella and Antonio Cangiano with their remarkable weavings captured our attention and led us to the finale of the evening sending the audience to their feet.
This piece acted as a bridge to again fall in love with the beautiful eclectic company of dancers and creators of every hue and dynamic. It called for a celebratory glass of wine for Ballet Hispánico’s 50th Anniversary.
Happily, the Wallis did it again in presenting the best of dance. The rough couple of years did not show in Ballet Hispánico’s amazing technical prowess of gifted dancers and choreographers and the pride and beauty of the multi-faceted Latin cultures. It was a wonderful evening of ebullient dance, in the best presentational way. Congratulations to Ballet Hispanico and Eduardo Vilaro, Artistic Director & CEO, for gifting L.A. with the joy of both dance and culture.
To learn more about Ballet Hispánico, please visit their website.
To find out The Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Art’s full season lineup, please visit their website.
Written by Joanne DiVito for LA Dance Chronicle.
Featured image: Ballet Hispánico: “Con Brazos Abiertos” by Michelle Manzanales
(pictured) Ballet Hispánico company dancers – Photo by Lawrence K. Ho