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Vibrant and Versatile

There are few dance companies as versatile as Ballet Hispánico. The company, which is the largest Latine/x/Hispanic cultural organization in the United States, prides itself on its far-reaching celebration of the Latinx diaspora with a school that offers training in flamenco, salsa, and Afro-Caribbean, in addition to ballet, jazz, and more. While many major ballet and modern companies are branching out from their specialized styles to include commissioned work in a range of genres, it is rare to find a company like Ballet Hispánico, whose dancers, thanks to their training, can truly execute a diversity of genres comfortably and without compromising the integrity of each style.


Ballet Hispánico: Annabelle Lopez Ochoa's “House of Mad'moiselle” / Gustavo Ramírez Sansano's “18 + 1” / Eduardo Vilaro's “Buscando a Juan”


New York City Center, New York, NY, April 28, 2024


Cecilia Whalen

Ballet Hispánico in Annabelle Lopez Ochoa's “House of Mad'moiselle.” Photograph by Rosalie O'Connor

Annabelle Lopez Ochoa's “House of Mad'moiselle” from 2010, which premiered second on the company's closing program of their New York City Center season, was a perfect example of this adaptability. The piece uses a number of songs all sung about “Maria,” and explores gender identity in Latin American cultures.

There is Leonard Bernstein's “Maria” from “West Side Story,” Oro Solido's upbeat merengue, “Maria Se Fue,” and of course, in conclusion, “Ave Maria.” Adam Dario Morales led as the piece's star and Mad'moiselle, wearing a thick set of high heels, sparkling tights, and a black, leopard-print leotard (costumes by Diana Ruettiger and Lopez Ochoa). Morales was a captivating presence, strutting and lip-syncing, even at points exclaiming out loud. The dancers, meanwhile, wearing bright red wigs, crowded around him, shifting with ease between Latin social dancing, balletic partnering, and theatrical miming.

Gustavo Ramírez Sansano's “18 + 1” to music by Cuban orchestrator Pérez Prado (dubbed “The Mambo King”), concluded the afternoon. Similar to Lopez Ochoa's, this piece moved smoothly between jazzy steps, leaps, turns, and mambos, often in contrast to the sound of Prado's upbeat big band.

Opening the program was artistic director Eduardo Vilaro's new piece, “Buscando a Juan.” Inspired by a recent exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the piece investigates the life of artist Juan de Pareja, a seventeenth-century Afro-Hispanic artist who was enslaved by Diego Velázquez and also served as the painter's assistant. Vilaro's piece imagines de Pareja's life struggles and resilience, and his relationship to one of Spain's most famous artists.

The piece begins with a manipulative duet between de Pareja and Velázquez, danced by the engrossing Leonardo Brito and Antonio Cangiano, respectively. Cangiano slithers around Brito, latching on to his arms and torso. Brito is stoic and patient, allowing Cangiano to instruct his movements with little resistance—at first.

Ballet Hispánico in Eduardo Vilaro's “Buscando a Juan.” Photograph by Rosalie O'Connor

Soon, the audience is offered a glimpse into Brito’s internal anguish as the ensemble enters to Osvaldo Golijov's rich vocal and orchestral score. To chants and swelling harmonies, the ensemble prays with Afro-Caribbean-inspired undulations and clasped hands. They strike poses with flamenco-inspired arm movements, then bounce on the floor on their knees, occasionally reaching up towards the heavens with lifted chests. 

Brito is met by an angelic figure, danced this afternoon by Cori Lewis, whose gaze rested eternally on the horizon. Brito lifted and carried Lewis, who offered a sense of hope in spite of the lingering presence of Cangiano.  

“Buscando a Juan”—or “Looking for Juan”—was inspired as much by mystery as it was by discovery. Vilaro said what intrigued him most was the lack of information about Juan de Pareja. Little has been written or documented of de Pareja, though scholars have been curious about his life for many years, in part due to a portrait of the artist that was painted by Velázquez, himself. (The portrait is on view at the Met). 

De Pareja, who appears slightly off-center in the portrait, is clad in a grayish-green coat and looks directly at the viewer. Vilaro ends his piece with a nod to this document which began his research: His dancers slow down until they form a tableau. At the end, they are still and silent, but behind them radiates a story that has only just begun.

Cecilia Whalen

Cecilia Whalen is a writer and dancer from Charlotte, North Carolina. She is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and holds a bachelor's degree in French. Currently, Cecilia is studying composition at the Martha Graham School for Contemporary Dance in New York City. She lives in Brooklyn.



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