Ballet Hispánico. Don’t let the name fool you. It’s not a ballet company – although the dancers are beautifully trained in both ballet and contemporary dance – and it’s not folkloric either. According to the company’s artistic director and CEO Eduardo Vilaro: “We are the child of both in a very contemporary way.” Replace the word Hispanico with Latinx and you’ll be closer to this company’s heart.
Two of the three works we’ll see at Santa Monica’s Broad Stage March 22 and 23 were on the company’s program at the Luckman Theater at Cal State L.A. last September: the Mexican-flavored “Con Brazos Abiertos” and the darker, more abstract “3.Catorce Dieciséis.” I’m guessing not a lot of Westsiders braved the traffic to Cal State L.A. last fall, so here’s a rundown of all three.
First is “Linea Recta,” new to Los Angeles. Set to flamenco guitar, it’s grounded and gorgeous with a woman at the center of the action. Choreographer Annabelle Lopez Ochoa pairs the sensual floreos (flamenco arms and hand work) with contemporary partnering. And those full-length, flowered flamenco frocks we know and love, in context, are gone. Here the woman has bare legs and one long, red tail of a skirt that she uses as a source of sensuality and empowerment. “This work is speaking about the past but moving us into the future,” says Vilaro. “It’s a fusion.”
It would be easy to draw on flamenco tropes and clichés in a work like “Linea Recta” but Lopez Ochoa sidesteps them by deconstructing both familiar dance vocabulary and the culture itself. “Con Brazos Abiertos” does the same, only more so. It opens with the company wearing large pink sombreros – and unisex underwear. A saucy wink to the ubiquitous hats. At the end, both men and women wear long, full white skirts that billow around them as they turn, transforming the concept of traditional folkloric skirts into something modern and gender neutral. “We use the iconic representations in ways that make the audience question,” explains Vilaro. He’s not against using the occasional movement cliché – he admits they get the applause – but in moderation and at the right moment.
We’re so close to Mexico geographically, and Mexico so close to us culturally, that “Con Brazos Abiertos” will likely touch hearts and minds here. Choreographed in 2017, it makes the political deeply personal, expressing the nuances and identity struggles of being a Mexican-American woman in the U.S. today. It is Michelle Manzanales’ first work for the company – she is Director of the Ballet Hispánico School of Dance in New York – and let’s hope it’s not her last.
“3.Catorce Dieciséis.” This title refers to the unending number Pi and uses a range of music by Vivaldi and other Baroque composers. Choreographer Tania Pérez-Salas has her own company in Mexico City – Compañía de Danza – and it’s interesting that even though she lives and works in Mexico, her vocabulary is more abstract and less culturally specific than that of Manzanales, who’s based in New York, and Lopez Ochoa who works in both Europe and the U.S.
And yes, all three choreographers on this program are women. Is this still news? Maybe. At this performance female dance makers are tearing through the tendu ceiling.
Gillian Anne Renault has written about dance for the Los Angeles Daily News, Herald Examiner and artsATL in Atlanta .