The Art of Identity, Discovery, and Passion: a Ballet Hispánico Review

By Emma Gerber

From the moment the first curtain went up to the second the last curtain went down, Ballet Hispánico’s show on November 10th and 11th, 2018 at Playhouse Square was a resounding hit.

On November 10, a group of HB girls climbed into a van and traveled down to Playhouse square to see Ballet Hispánico, a dance company that performs Latin American dance fused with classical ballet in a way that is truly unique. Despite the bitter cold and windy darkness outside, we made our way down to the theatre, where we sat in the very last row. Though we were seated far from the stage, the radiating energy of Ballet Hispánico made it seem like we were sitting in the front row. The show was divided into three pieces, which functioned almost like acts in a play. There were short breaks in between each piece.

The first piece was called Sombrerísimo, which was choreographed by Annabelle Lopez Ochoa. It featured six amazing female dancers: Shelby Colona, Melissa Fernandez, Jenna Marie, Gabrielle Sprauve, Eila Valls, and Dandara Veiga. Sombrerísimo was instantly intriguing to me, as much of it utilized the works of René Magritte, a Belgian painter who often featured men in bowler hats in his most recognizable pieces. The piece started with all six dancers on stage, trading and swapping bowler hats through complex formations and interesting patterns. Though many interpretations of the piece are possible, to me the hats seemed to represent power or responsibility, an obligation that comes when you are some sort of leader. Through an interesting series of dances and patterns, the hats all end up on the head of one dancer, who was left alone on the stage. She made it clear through her movements that the weight of all of these hats was quite heavy, which to me represented the weight of all of those responsibilities literally over her head. Another woman came on stage, and in a moment of comedic an choreographic genius pretended to attempt to pull the woman with all of the hats, who was now lying on the floor close to the edge of the stage, off of the stage. She also pretended as if all of the heavy hats had made this girl too difficult to move. Though it was a small piece of the dance, the dancer really made it into a unique moment that really stood out to me. The next really distinct part of the piece that I remember started as a less memorable piece, but to odd music. As the piece continued, however, it became much more intriguing. The music turned into a mix of sounds in a horror movie, and the dancing grew to match it. Most visually interesting, however, was the appearance of large shadows of the dancers on the back wall of the stage. It was clear the choreographer was paying attention to the choreography of two dances – one of the actual dancers and one of their shadow counterparts, looming behind them. That was a super interesting idea that I’ve never seen before, and I really enjoyed it. Finally, to finish off the piece, the women changed into an array of brightly colored shirts and danced to more Latin sounding music. This seemed like the part where the dancers were having the most fun, and you could certainly feel it from off of the stage. At the end of the piece, each dancer had a unique bow, which also really stood out to me because it seemed to reflect their individual personalities. Overall, the first piece was fantastic and definitely a brilliant start to the show. I loved the creativity in the choreography and the amazing way these six fantastic females were able to execute it. It seemed as if they really understood the meanings of what they were dancing, which helped the audience to really feel and understand the emotions behind the piece. The other thing that I liked was the fact that despite the fact that the beginning of the piece was based off of paintings of men, Ochoa, the choreographer, chose to use a cast of exclusively women in her piece. Overall, the piece was absolutely fantastic and one of my favorite that I have ever seen. The creativity, passion, and use of symbolism made this piece truly a fabulous stand out that I am grateful to have seen.

Though the first piece was absolutely brilliant, the second piece was my favorite. It was called Con Brazos Abiertos and was choreographed by another excellent female choreographer, Michelle Manzanales. As well, this piece was performed by the entire company of Ballet Hispánico, which was a lot larger than I had envisioned. However, the volume of people not only filled out the stage more but provided much more material for interesting formations. The piece was based off of the identity struggles that Manzanales faced growing up as a Mexican-American in Texas. It started with several audio clips, all discussing what it was like to be Mexican-American, while a dancer danced in a spotlight in the middle of the stage. Some of the audio clips were hilarious, while some were quite serious. However, they all had a strong underlying theme of the tension that Mexican-Americans struggle with because of heritage and what that means for their life and identity. The audio clip that I remember most distinctly was the phrase “You have to be more Mexican than Mexicans and more American than Americans.” This simple phrase really summed up a lot of the real life tension that the piece successfully encapsulated. It was moments like this in the piece made the piece so powerful and resounding. Another symbol the piece played with was the sombrero. Each member of the cast had a huge sombrero, which to me also represented struggling with identity and how we fit into a society. The piece was also filled with amazing duets and smaller group dances, but the piece that really amazed me was the dance at the very end in which the entire cast performed a dance with these amazing large white circular skirts. As they spin onto stage, the skirts whirled out into a huge rotating circle, fluctuating and wavering in beautiful harmony with the other skirts. This section was a pure moment of pride, which seemed to me to represent that even though society creates a struggle for those with Latin-American heritage, Manzanales still feels pride and joy to share this heritage. Con Brazos Abiertos was my absolute favorite piece, delivering a both dazzling and thought provoking image of Latin-American heritage, struggles with identity, and the beauty that lies behind it all.

The Third piece was called 3. Catorce Dieciéis, and was choreographed by Tania Pérez-Salas. Like Con Brazos Abiertos, It incorporated the entire cast. All of the music was composed by Baroque composers, including the piece Stabat Mater by Pergolesi that the Bravuras are currently working on, which is a cool connection. The title 3. Catorce Dieciéis is a reference to the mathematical concept of Pi, which is an interesting idea to base a piece off of. However, the theme of Pi but did not come across as strongly in the piece to me as the theme of religion did. The piece seemed really religion focused – a lot of the songs were religious, and the dancers often danced in these long rectangles of light that resembled the light cast in a church by long stained glass windows. This created an interesting layout for the piece, as a lot of the piece happened in and around these pools of light. One moment that I remember really distinctly was the moment when some female dancers in long black dresses reconfigured their dresses mid-turn, revealing a ruby red dress of the same cut concealed inside the folds of the black fabric. That was stunning moment which I still distinctly remember. Though this piece had a lot of great moments, it was my least favorite out of the three. For me, it was much harder to understand the message being portrayed in the piece. However, my lack of strong ties to religion may have influenced this assessment as well, considering the piece had such strong religious themes. It was still an enjoyable and fascinating piece however, and a worthy companion to the earlier two.

The show ended with an extensive set of bows and then finally the last curtain. Overall, this show was my absolute favorite dance concert I have ever attended. It was filled to the brim with hidden meanings and brilliant moments of choreography. However, the thing that struck me the most was the way it was able to address common societal issues in such a thought-provoking way without ever really speaking at all. I also really loved the experience of going to see it with the other HB girls, who were brilliant companions on this adventure and who are some of my favorite people around. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed it and would recommend seeing it to anyone who ever has the chance.