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Haunted by Old Demons

Lauren Alzamora and Rashann Callender in Cayetano Soto’s “Sortijas,” set to a song by singer/ songwriter Lhasa de Sela. | PAULA LOBO

Lauren Alzamora and Rashann Callender in Cayetano Soto’s “Sortijas,” set to a song by singer/ songwriter Lhasa de Sela. | PAULA LOBO

BY GUS SOLOMONS JR | On the first of three different programs in its two-week season at the Joyce Theater, Ballet Hispanico danced three works by Spanish dance makers –– a 1983 work by Nacho Duato, a new duet by Cayetano Soto, and a 2012 theatrical concoction by Meritxell Barberá and Inma Garcia.

BH, founded in 1970 by Tina Ramirez and now led by Eduardo Vilaro, has historically been a company of excellent dancers hamstrung by uneven repertory. Its mission is to promote Hispanic choreographers and dancers –– a laudable goal. And the company serves the Hispanic community with school shows and its dance school.

Ballet Hispanico’s brilliant dancers hobbled by their material

But what’s sadder than a professional company of skilled performers without good choreography to showcase their gifts? Opening night couldn’t transcend the company’s traditional choreographic Achilles heel.

The program opened with Duato’s “Jardi Tancat” for three couples wearing peasant costumes in warm, earth tones by the choreographer. A dozen fence posts of varying heights ring the stage, surrounding the close-knit group as they act out prayers for rain, evoking toil, frustration, and endurance in a compositionally predictable framework. There are interesting physical connections, especially in duets, but the support structure of the dance consists mostly of canons, like a dance version of “Row, row, row your boat.” The 30-year-old piece creaks with age.

The closing work, “A Vueltas Con Los Ochenta” (“Back to the Eighties”), looks like choreography by committee. In this case, it’s a two-person committee, Barberá and Garcia, and sadly, neither of them appears to have been in charge of actually creating movement. The piece is “meant to evoke the sights and sounds of Madrid’s 1980s cultural revolution, known as ‘La Movida.’”

It’s meant to be theatrical rather than kinetic, but it remains static, a kind of nostalgic collage stalled by its own self-consciousness. Plus, it’s an odd choice to end the show. When we want all-out dancing, these scenes build neither dynamic nor kinetic tension.

But Diana Ruettiger’s costumes rock! The five men and five women wear sleek, gold-trimmed black outfits. Leather pants, vests, and miniskirts, metallic belts, patterned hose that look like spider webs or tattoos, and sheer mesh shirts all have an intriguing, retro, urban edginess.

In the opening passage of calculated chaos, everybody’s wearing headphones and rocking out to their own individual beats. For the remainder of the ballet, angular tableaus alternate with jazzy, generic classroom routines, driven by the pulsing house beat of music by David Barberá –– perhaps a relative of the choreographer –– and Josh Preston’s animated, disco-influenced lighting. Lights move up and down on battens, shine in our eyes, sometimes saturate the dancers with color, and even flash strobe, all drenched in stage smoke. It looks like a Goth club scene from a movie.

The program’s most impressive dance is a brief pas de deux by Soto, “Sortijas” (“Rings”), set to a song by American-born singer/ songwriter Lhasa de Sela. Munich-based Spaniard Soto –– who also conceived the too-dim lighting, punctuated by blackouts cued by the lyrics –– shows his Euro-contemporary ballet sensibility but it’s, happily, less vehement than most other practitioners of the style. And again, the costumes –– in this case, by Munich-based designer Talbot Runhof –– rule.

Lauren Alzamora, wearing a flashy, silver spangled tunic and black briefs and socks, and Rashann Callender, bare-chested and in tight tuxedo pants and socks, are a gorgeous pair who bring enormous physical commitment and refinement to Soto’s movement.

As the legendary dance educator and mentor Bessie Schoenberg used to say, “A blackout is a cop-out,” and Soto’s seemingly arbitrary blackouts merely interrupt the flow he’s otherwise establishing. It’s a device borrowed from William Forsythe, whose influence on contemporary ballet is ubiquitous. But Forsythe knows how to use it effectively; not everyone does.

No matter how enthusiastically this opening night program was received by the BH fans who filled the audience, the evening was choreographically disappointing. Such terrific dancers deserve more substantial repertory to showcase their technical and expressive skills. Let’s hope there’s sturdier stuff on the season’s other programs.

BALLET HISPANICO | Joyce Theater | 175 Eighth Ave. at 19th St. | Apr. 18-20, 25-27 at 8 p.m.; Apr. 21 & 24 at 7:30 p.m.; Apr. 20-21, 27-28 at 2 p.m. | $10-$69 at joyce.org or 212-242-0800

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0 Responses to Haunted by Old Demons

  1. Bill Brina October 17, 2013 at 2:57 pm

    Contrary to the impression this article gives, Sean Patrick Maloney's district is NOT gerrymandered. Nor is Dan Maffei's. Yes, most Congressional districts are, and in the past NY's have been. However, in 2012, our famously dysfunctional Legislature could not reach any agreement on Congressional District lines, so the Federal Courts re-drew the lines in a way generally considered to be fair and non-partisan. Here's a good synopsis from the Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/20/nyregion/judges

    Yes, Maloney's District is competitive. However, it is a district a strong Democrat should be able to win. John Hall, a progressive Democrat, won that District in 2006 and 2008, back when the lines WERE gerrymandered to benefit the Rs.

    Any attempt to excuse/justify Maloney's votes on the grounds that his district is gerrymandered against him are, to put it politely, disingenuous.

    I respect, though I don't necessarily agree with, those who argue for a one year delay in the implementation of the requirement that individuals purchase insurance.

    I cannot, however, respect a vote that prevents a bipartisan majority from passing a budget on a timely basis and prevents Congress from taking necessary action to avoid a default. The only purpose behind the October 1 rules change in the House was to empower the Tea Party types to take the country hostage for two weeks, which they just did. And the only likely reason any moderate, let alone allegedly progressive Democrat, would cast a vote to empower right wing crazies is in return for some implicit quid quo pro, e.g., informal assurances that Right Wing Super-PAC monies wouldn't flood into the District in 2014. And, for what it's worth, such assurances are never worth the paper they aren't written on.

    Reply
  2. etseq97 October 31, 2013 at 4:00 pm

    I agree that we should be thankful for those gay radicals that paved the way for the rest of us but why do you taint an otherwise thoughtful eulogy with sectarian generational politics? You discount the amazing political and social transformation of the last few decades because it fails to meet your own personal utopian ideal. Radicals have no more claim to authenticity than liberals or even the stodgy old centrists/conservatives. In fact, like every other social movement before us, the initial radicalism quickly gives way to more mundane political realities of securing civil rights and legal equality. In a western liberal society, most people, even repressed minorities, aspire to what you would probably consider bourgeois respectability, even marriage. I can certainly understand being politically frustrated but you conflate homosexuality with radical politics and thus effectively essentialize sexuality as a historical transgressive force. What an incredibly elitist and condescending view of the LGBT "prols"

    From what little I know of Mitzel he had a more hopeful view of humanity and that should be celebrated rather than lamenting that the kids are sell outs….

    Reply

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