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Ballet Hispanico at the Apollo, with Live Music by the Paquito D’Rivera Ensemble

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Ballet Hispanico at the Apollo

With Live Music by the
Paquito D’Rivera Ensemble

Ballet Hispanico

167 West 89th Street
NY, NY 10024

Founder, Tina Ramirez
Eduardo Vilaro, Artistic Director
Ross Kramberg, Executive Director
Michelle Manzanales, Rehearsal Director
Gregory Stuart, Company General Manager
Joshua Preston, Technical Director
Diana Ruettiger, Wardrobe Supervisor
Gwyndolyn Kay, Stage Manager

Press: Michelle Tabnick Communications

Special Guests:
The Paquito D’Rivera Ensemble

At the Apollo
253 West 125th Street
New York, NY, USA 10027

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
December 1, 2012

Lauren Alzamora, Donald Borror, Martina Calcagno, Jamal Rashann Callender, Mario Ismael Espinoza, Melissa Fernandez, Roberto Lara, Min-Tzu Li, Major Nesby, Vanessa Valecillos, Kimberly Van Woesik, Joshua Winzeler, Jessica Alejandra Wyatt.

It was back in June of 2003, when I was invited to join Ballet Hispanico, to post articles and photos on its Summer Residency at Skidmore College. Tonight, I watched the Company dance at the Apollo. Its new Artistic Director is Eduardo Vilaro, and the dancers have changed as well. I’m happy to note that Ballet Hispanico is dancing in rare form and with spark and spirit. Tonight they performed three works, two to recorded music, celebrating the tones, dances, and culture of Argentina and Spain, and one to live music, celebrating the tone, dance, and culture of Cuba. The Apollo in Harlem, an inspiring institution of its own, imbued with musical history and uptown refinement, was packed with enthusiastic fans of both the ballet company and Paquito D’Rivera and ensemble, tonight’s Guest Artists.

Tango Vitrola (1987) was a Company Premiere. The choreographer is Alejandro Cervera, music is by Vicente Creco and Roberto Firpo, sound is by David Norfleet, costumes are by the choreographer, and lighting is by Joshua Preston. This writer is a veteran Tanguero, having danced music in the genre for a number of years, and Tangueros are particular about choreographers using authentic Milonga tunes (those used for dancing) in improvisational or contemporary dance, that does not adhere to traditional tango steps. In Mr. Cervera’s case, using popular 1920’s orchestral tango recordings, such as “Rosendo”, “La Cumparsita”, and “El Porteñito”, then creating new steps that highlight the rhythms and soul of the music, without portraying traditional tangos, could be risky.

Yet, for this writer, I found the choreography exciting and full of vibrant vivacity. The men wore traditional black fedoras and exuded hormonal power, the type of typical tango strength that leads and transports women to swoon on the dance floor. In this ballet, the women slid, rather than swooned. The macho, non-verbal cues were gripping, and boléos (whipping of the woman’s leg) were rapid. Mr. Cervera’s black-slip female costumes resembled the attire of early tangos in the Argentine brothels. It is still au courant to wear silky black dresses, with ample, open leg expanse. It appeared that Mr. Cervera extrapolated the essence of the Tango and choreographed a ballet that reveres and relishes its very soul.

A Vueltas Con Los Ochenta (2012) was a World Premiere. The choreographers are Meritxell Barberá and Inma Garcia, music is by David Barberá (“Caldo”), costumes are by Diana Ruettiger, and lighting is by Joshua Preston. This contemporary ballet is an homage to the cultural revolution in Madrid in the 80’s, named “La Movida”. It evokes a sense of youthful spontaneity with shaking, gyrating, and quivering. I found this piece unnerving, annoying, and pretentious. The youthful attendees in the crowd, however, were enthused. The costumes had a kinky leather look, and dancers were swiveling to personal music, through headphones. It was clear the music was electronic pop. When the stage was silent, dancers moved and hummed to themselves. When the music was shared and resounding, dancers related more intimately, with sexual, confrontational, or conflicted gestures. At one point, the men uplifted women, fists through legs. In an effort to further draw the audience in, dancers strutted to stage front and gazed. The performance evoked lust, violence, and self-absorption. With so many rich themes, representing centuries of musical culture and dance from Spain, it was mind-boggling as to the addition of this piece.

Danzón (2009) was a New York Premiere. The choreographer is Eduardo Vilaro (Ballet Hispanico’s Artistic Director), music is rearranged by Alex Brown, costumes are by Diana Ruettiger, and lighting is by Joshua Preston. In a sort of orchestra-audience pit, right in front of my front orchestra, side seat, was the Paquito D’Rivera ensemble. Paquito stood in the wings with his clarinet and sax, with Alex Brown on piano, Zach Brown on acoustic bass, Vince Cherico on drums, Paulo Stagnaro on percussion, and Diego Urcola on trumpet and trombone. The “Danzón” theme was composed by Paquito, arr. by M. Summer, and also included were “You’ve Changed”, by Carey/Fischer and “A Night in Tunisia” by Dizzy Gillespie/F. Paparelli.

Lead Danzón dancers were Jamal Rashann Callender and Vanessa Valecillos, who partnered in a quasi-rhumba. By far, the final work was what the audience was waiting for, and the ensemble and dancers did not disappoint. Right after intermission, the ensemble began to play, and Paquito was busy both on clear clarinet and soaring soprano sax. A mambo mania ensued, and the audience was bouncing in its seats. Later in the piece, Paquito emerged onstage with clarinet, as he serenaded a solo male dancer with mixed Cuban-“Fantasia” tunes. As a ballet, Danzón is exotic, elegant, and ethereal. Immediately, I was looking forward to viewing it again, and soon.

Burgundy silk, brocaded costumes added to the richness of the event. Flowing steps, noble lifts, and hints of Jerome Robbins’ luxurious partnering were evident. The ballet had many shifts in tempo and ambiance, from classical choreography to Latin romance, from contemporary improvisation to Cuban-American jazz, as the ensemble chanted “Salt Peanuts”, on cue. During “A Night in Tunisia”, there were wild bass and trumpet solos, with faint percussion, thanks to Mr.’s Brown, Urcola, Cherico, and Stagnaro. Alex Brown backed the entire work on expressive and vivid piano. But it was Paquito, as much as the dancers, that the audience craved. He enjoyed many curtain calls, as did the Company. Kudos to all.

Ballet Hispanico at the Apollo in
Alejandro Cervera's "Tango Vitrola"
Courtesy of Paula Lobo

Ballet Hispanico at the Apollo in
Alejandro Cervera's "Tango Vitrola"
Courtesy of Paula Lobo

Paquito D'Rivera on Clarinet with
Ballet Hispanico at the Apollo in
in Eduardo Vilaro's "Danzón".
Courtesy of Christopher Duggan

Ballet Hispanico at the Apollo in
in Eduardo Vilaro's "Danzón".
Courtesy of Christopher Duggan

Ballet Hispanico at the Apollo in
in Eduardo Vilaro's "Danzón".
Courtesy of Christopher Duggan

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at