Ballet Hispanico: Dance with a Latin Manhattan Beat

By Gladstone, Valerie | Dance Magazine, December 1994 | Go to article overview

Ballet Hispanico: Dance with a Latin Manhattan Beat


Gladstone, Valerie, Dance Magazine


Eight long-limbed dancers undulate across the floor, moving their torsos with the flexibility of cats. Tossing their long, dark hair with abandon, the women throw taunting looks from behind their fans at their suitors, who gently mop sweat from their brows with invisible handkerchiefs. To the romantic rhythms of Cuban songs of the 1950s, and under the direction of distinguished Cuban choreographer Alberto Alonso, the members of Ballet Hispanico are conjuring up Old Havana in a dance created especially for them.

For all those who decry the lack of passion in today's dance, Ballet Hispanico is the answer. The brainchild of Tina Ramirez, this thirteen-member, Manhattan-based company has been strutting its stuff all over the United States and the world for almost twenty-five years. It has danced at the Kennedy Center, Spain's Expo '92, and Jacob's Pillow, in 5,000-seat South American theaters and universities' alternative spaces. The company's combination of balletic lines and the folkloric and movement styles of South and Central America, Spain, and the Caribbean is one of the revelations of dance today. Fortunate New York City audiences can see for themselves when Ballet Hispanico takes to the Joyce Theater stage from November 29 through December 11.

"When we travel to a city for the first time," says Venezuela-born Ramirez, whose mother was Puerto Rican and whose father was a Mexican bullfighter, "the audience doesn't know what to expect--ballet, modern, folklore. Most people have misconceptions about Hispanic culture. After they see our shows, they have a much better understanding."

A small, fine-boned woman, Ramirez has the formidable responsibilities of running both the company, which tours several months a year, and a nine-hundred-student school where mostly minority and disadvantaged children learn classical ballet and traditional Spanish dance. Her mission drives her: "I want my students and company to know the richness of their backgrounds and be proud."

After arriving in the United States at age seven, Ramirez studied with Lola Bravo, the grande dame of Spanish dance, as well as with Alexandra Danilova and Anna Sokolow. In the ensuing years, she toured with the Federico Rey Dance Company and appeared in the Broadway shows Kismet and Lute Song and the television version of Man of La Mancha. What she learned was that Hispanic dancers and Hispanic dance needed higher visibility.

"I wanted to overcome the stereotypes," explains Ramirez. "The Hispanic world is really so complex. Think of the dance forms--flamenco, salsa, rumba, tango, classical Spanish dance. There's so much to work with. Our dancers also represent a broad mix: Puerto Rican, Cuban, Uruguayan, and Colombian, as well as New Yorkers of Hispanic origin, and an Italian. Because of their backgrounds, the feelings and ideas in our choreography are already familiar to most of them when they arrive."

Starting with a limited repertoire provided by choreographers Vicente Nebrada, Graciela Daniele, and Talley Beatty, Ballet Hispanico now has grown to include works by William Whitener, George Faison, Christopher Gillis, and Amanda Miller. This year there will be five premieres: a flamenco work called Solo by Susan Marshall; the still untitled piece by Alonso, with music by Gloria and Emilio Estefan; and Good Night Paradise by the young Catalan Ramon Oller, artistic director of Spain's leading modern dance company, Metros Danza Contemporanea. It is choreographed to the songs of Spain's pop diva Marina Rossell and of Mauricio Villavecchia. Also to be performed will be Miller's Two by an Error and Gillis's "Farewell," taken from his Andalusian Green.

"I'm interested in works that push the art of choreography further," explains Ramirez. "I spend a lot of time looking at the dances of young choreographers, particularly those with Hispanic backgrounds. Dance has to evolve. Influences change every day. We're now into the second generation of Puerto Ricans.

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