Southern Ballet Theatre

Southern Ballet Theatre turned up the heat with "Spanish Sizzle."
Photo courtesy Southern Ballet Theatre

Southern Ballet Theatre

Jackie Gleason Theater of the Performing Arts
Miami Beach, Florida
November 3, 2001

Reviewed by Guillermo Perez

Southern Ballet Theatre came toSouth Florida, the state's cultural hub, to spread the news of their recent revitalization under Artistic Director Fernando Bujones, the former American Ballet Theatre star who assumed his post almost two years ago. In a program called "Spanish Sizzle," the twenty-eight-year-old company sparked in the stylistic heat that has spiked its popularity at its home base in Orlando.

Three pieces by Bujones confirmed his preference for fast-paced, straight-ahead dancing that whips up a froth to very familiar music. The show biz come-on could get pretty breathless, but definitely pushed forth the dancers' skills at their sharpest pitch.

Pasión y Fuego (Passion and Fire) took from flamenco its pulled-up torso and stabbing or sensuously curved arms, and translated taconeo (fast heelwork) into flourishes of allegro steps. Three sections used the streaming guitar sounds of Ottmar Liebert and the Gipsy Kings to charge various pairings and ensembles, and there was a much less satisfactory slow trio to Rodrigo's Concierto de Aranjuez. The choreography managed plenty of pizzazz but suffered in spots, lacking modulation of smooth transitions; for instance, after the death of a bullfighter (his foe, a bull-like figure portrayed by Israel Rodríguez, a Cuban with decisive force), the scene plunged too readily into a final fiesta. Throughout, images became more vivid thanks to the red and black costumes (by various designers) and the sun-glow lighting by Abel Matus and Gary Rankin, who perked up all the pieces.

Jazz Swing rallied with the same pep to a suite of favorites such as "Georgia," interpreted with nuance by Allison Hart and Rodríguez, "It Don't Mean a Thing If It Ain't Got That Swing" for a percolating male quintet, and "Sing, Sing, Sing" for a finale stirred up by Babil Gandara, a sharply dynamic Texan who trained in Cuba. In this urban street scene, the choreography nodded to the Broadway of Balanchine, with a women's trio to Gershwin even referencing Who Cares?

During his tenure at SBT, Bujones has lured larger audiences to full-length nineteenth-century ballets, and the Esmeralda pas de deux he staged here gave a positive impression of his way with classics. Playing up tradition to mine fine effects from Drigo's music, this let Chiaki Yasukawa triumph with poise and strength; the somewhat raw but talented Andrés Estévez, another Cuban, partnered her with gusto.

An admirer of Béjart, Bujones fashioned his own Bolero as a studied effort. It forged along steadily, building from a single dancer to big group formations (women on an upstage platform; men and then women at chairs, lined up to frame center-stage exclamations). In the reiterated moves exploring Ravel's instrumental spirals, the dancers�by necessity more restrained�still projected great charm. If their trip to South Florida showed SBT as a company that hasn't yet fully arrived, these performers are on a track that makes their progress worth watching.

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