Ballet Hispánico debut at Northrop highlights Latina choreographers

Sep 07, 2018

How far would you travel to see great Latin dance? To Cuba? To Mexico? To Spain? How about to Iowa? This spring, my co-workers and I traveled to Des Moines, Iowa, to experience the varied and cross-cultural works of Ballet Hispánico. The company had several events, an evening performance and a matinee at the Des Moines Performing Arts center. It was a chance for us to see the company’s work before they open Northrop’s 2018-19 Dance Season on Thu, Oct 4. 

Minnesota audiences are in for a treat as Ballet Hispánico makes its debut on Northrop’s stage with a program curated specifically around Latina choreographers. While the company is more than four decades old and presents works that explore many Spanish-speaking cultures, Northrop’s performance will have a decidedly feminine flair. The performance we attended in Des Moines included four excerpted pieces, two by male choreographers (including Ballet Hispanico’s Artistic Director and CEO Eduardo Vilaro) and two by female choreographers who will be featured at Northrop: Mexican-American choreographer Michelle Manzanales’ Con Brazos Abiertos (With Open Arms) and Belgian-Colombian choreographer Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s Línea Recta (Straight Line)

Mexican-American choreographer Michelle Manzanales grew up in Texas and explores her “identity struggle” feeling trapped between two cultures—in Con Brazos Abiertos (With Open Arms). The contemporary piece incorporates humor, multimedia clips and pop cultural references to visually move dancers between Mexican and American lifestyles. Audiences will enjoy the playful nature of this piece as well as the complexity of the different cultures. We heard a Selena clip: “We got to know about Oprah and Christina … We got to prove to the Mexicans how Mexican we are, and we have to prove to the Americans how American we are … It’s exhausting.” A later excerpt of a solo dancer with a sombrero captures how these two worlds combine as a poem titled Mira Me (Look at Me) is read in voiceover.

Ochoa’s 2013 piece, Sombrerísimo, is part of Ballet Hispánico’s Oct 4 performance and allows the company’s male dancers to show off their technical skills and have some fun with this sexy, surrealist work that references painter René Magritte, famous for his paintings of men in bowler hats.

Ochoa’s Linea Recta, which I also observed in Iowa,will be part of the matinee program at Northrop on Oct 5. Flamenco dance from Spain, which Ochoa studied as a child, and fado traditional folk dance from Portugal help inform Línea Recta, with its emphasis on a female leading a troop of male dancers and striking red costumes that pop against the stage. A long, red, feathery train on the female dancer’s dress acts as yet another dancer on stage as the dancers spin, swirl and step over the flowing prop in graceful movements. In a different movement, dancers interact with folding fans that hide their faces but help put the focus on the choreography. Overall, the long, lean lines of the fans, the fingers, and the formations fit the title for Linea Recta perfectly.  

The final piece of the Oct 4 performance is Tania Perez-Salas’3. Catorce Dieciséis, which reflects on the circularity of life and movement reflected in the number Pi. I’m looking forward to seeing what cultures and lands we may visit with that performance as well.





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