The Joyce Theater, NYC
December 1-13, 2009
Reviewed by Robert Johnson
One look at Batucada Fantástica is all it takes to see how Ballet Hispanico has changed since 1982, when Vicente Nebrada’s jazzy piece first entered the repertory. On Program A of their fall season, the dancers pranced and kicked their way through its extravagant solos, accessorized with glittering sequins and heavy-lidded eye makeup (and that was just the men). Bathed in Technicolor spotlights, they shivered to the samba-infused score of Brazilian percussionist Luciano Perrone. Batucada Fantástica is the sex and drug-fueled parties of the 1970s reconfigured for the stage, and when the curtain goes up you feel as if you’ve stumbled into the delirium of a nightclub in the middle of the Amazon.
During the AIDS crisis of the 1980s, however, this party scene unraveled. In 1994 company founder Tina Ramirez introduced Goodnight Paradise, a weightier and more finicky work by Spanish choreographer Ramón Oller, and a new movement aesthetic began creeping into the repertory. Now we have Eduardo Vilaro, who succeeded Ramirez in August, and who just presented his first season as the company’s director.
By reviving Batucada, Vilaro reminded us how much fun people used to have, when no one felt guilty showing off or indulging in hedonistic excess. Batucada looks and feels marvelous, but it would be impossible to watch this ballet today—we would be blinded; it would look dated—if it were not exquisitely balanced by the more sober works that Vilaro has either commissioned or acquired.
Ron de Jesús created Tríptico, a series of taut duets in which the women are launched like missiles or hang from their partners’ rigid frames. Here the color scheme is gun-powder black. The atmosphere sizzles, and Oscar Hernández’s original score for piano and percussion, played live, whips the dancers onward, eliciting strong performances from newcomer Marina Fabila and from company stalwarts Jessica Batten and Waldemar Quiñones Villanueva.
Andrea Miller’s Nací is a round-shouldered, wrist-shaking lament for the homeless Jews expelled from Spain. Here the dancers are postmodern peasants, accompanied by a shuffling playlist. Boisterous folk music by A Hawk and a Hacksaw is especially infectious. Like most of this dance, the image of Jessica Alejandra Wyatt lip-synching a torch song, while held upside-down, is wonderfully bold.
In Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s imported duet Locked Up Laura, the title character, a ballerina fed up with performing, is so limp with psychological fatigue that her caring partner can barely prop her up. Angelica Burgos and Jeffery Hover make “Laura’s” case study compelling, but this is ballet for a tough and cynical age.
On Program B, Pedro Ruiz’s divinely elegant Club Havana took Batucada’s role as the evening closer, setting the audience down softly. Goodnight Paradise, however, substituted props and swathes of fabric for choreographic drama, and it is worth remembering that if real dance values do not inform contemporary work, it risks becoming shallower than a night out on the town.
Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo
Monaco Dance Forum
December 26–28, 2009
Reviewed by Karyn Bauer
There was an oriental feeling to the sparkling lights of Monaco this past holiday season. Here more than anywhere, the 100th anniversary of the Ballets Russes could be felt, in this Mediterranean city the company once called home. The storefronts on Serge de Diaghilev street displayed period costumes, while at the glittering Grimaldi Forum, Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo saluted their Russian ancestors. The triple bill featured Balanchine’s Prodigal Son, Nijinsky’s Rite of Spring, and, in its world premiere, artistic director Jean-Christophe Maillot’s very contemporary version of Fokine’s Scheherazade.
Revisiting Rimsky-Korsakov’s provocative score was a daunting yet exciting idea that Maillot has been secretly harboring for 20 years. The results are hot and spicy, bringing together love, lust, jealousy, and rage. The magnificent Bernice Coppieters dominates the stage as the sultry and enticing Zobeide, one of the Sultan Shahryar’s wives whom the Sultan (a stoic Gaëtan Morlotti), suspects is unfaithful. Indeed, it is Zobeide’s own brother, Sha-Zeman, delightfully interpreted by the droll and compelling Leart Duraku, whose unveiling of his sister’s infidelities leads to an explosive final scene.
The dancers came to life on a colorful yet dimly lit set of pink and turquoise. Their movements, if at times repetitive, were erotic, acrobatic, and passionate. In their billowing costumes of glitz and glitter the many wives and their partners evoked the flavors of the Orient. The Sultan and his brother, in their extravagant wigs and pantaloons, cavorted like circus buffoons, a cherished Monaco tradition. Coppieters was memorable for her extraordinary performance of Zobeide in the throes of passion with the golden slaves Alexis and George Oliveira, until arriving at her violent death under the murderous eye of the Sultan Shahryar. Maillot’s darkly expressive choreography was warmly received by crowds here.
On a more historic note, Balanchine’s 90-year-old choreography for Prodigal Son fit the dancers like a glove. The young and sprightly Belgian dancer Jeroen Verbruggen was convincing and playful in this, his premiere performance as the Son. Coppieters was again riveting as the Siren who, in her majestic white headpiece and flowing crimson cape, enraptures the unwitting prodigal.
The evening closed with a rare performance of Nijinsky’s Rite of Spring, impeccably staged by Millicent Hodgson and Kenneth Archer. From the cotton costumes to the forceful rhythmic gestures and hypnotizing geometric movements, Nijinsky’s spirit seemed to inhabit the Grimaldi Forum. What the dancers lacked in synchronicity, they compensated for with enthusiasm and energy. Maud Sabourin’s final sacrificial dance honored both Stravinsky’s score and Nijinsky’s memory. The production set the stage for a year-long celebration that will keep the essence of the Ballets Russes alive in this scintillating city of Monaco.
Pictured: Ballet Hispanico's Vanessa Valecillos and Yesid Lopez in Andrea Miller's Naci. Photo by Rosalie O'Connor, Courtesy Ballet Hispanico