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Review: Ballet Hispanico at Ahmanson Theatre

June 6, 2009 |  2:20 pm

Ballet Hispanico1 In the 38 years since she founded Ballet Hispanico, artistic director Tina Ramirez has pushed with gusto a credo of all Latino dance all the time, winning her plucky troupe longevity and accolades.

The unintended consequences of this smorgasbord approach have been less rewarding. The New York City company has never cleaved an identifiable focus for itself, beyond the overly broad Hispanic label. The repertory is a befuddling mix, which makes it difficult for the 13 dancers to perform it all exceptionally well. These, unfortunately, were the take-away messages from the company’s first appearance on the Ahmanson Theatre stage this weekend (presented by Glorya Kaufman presents Dance at the Music Center and continuing today and Sunday).

At least Friday’s show ended on the high note of Ann Reinking’s “Ritmo y Ruido” (Rhythm and Noise). Reinking channeled her late mentor Bob Fosse for this 1997 jazz dance showpiece, which was set to an exuberant recorded score by Philip Hamilton and Tobias Ralph.

“Ritmo y Ruido” gave us the trademark droopy hand, the sexy black costumes (designed by Toni-Leslie James), the snapping heads, and those pendulum hips – swinging back and forth, up and down. The group moves were carefully coordinated, an edgy syncopated mass. If the dancers could conclude each phrase with a more-rooted and definitive “kaboom,” they would make it crackle.

Two of the company’s strongest performers, Angelica Burgos and Eric Rivera, sizzled in the work’s engaging central duet. This sensual pas de deux delivered unexceptional coupling, but also some surprising whimsies, such as Burgos “swimming” while lying prone on Rivera.

Reinking concluded with a high-flying section, with enormous grand jetés timed to the cymbal crashes. Rodney Hamilton leapt wondrously for 15 successive side splits. The audience hollered at the curtain call, and the dancers delivered an excerpt for an encore.

But what of the program’s three other numbers? These were an eclectic mishmash, pallid pieces with internal flaws that the dancers could not erase.

Choreographer Pedro Ruiz’s “Club Havana” (2000) traced a well-worn formula of balletic ballroom for lovely ladies and handsome guys in a smoky club. The sexy patrons puffed on cigars, instead of cigarettes, the piece’s one amusing hiccup.

Ruiz picked toe-tapping musical selections from a variety of composers for his score, yet his choreographic mélange became indistinguishable, whether it was mambo, rumba or something else.  A minute didn’t go past when the women weren’t being hefted into the air, which, of course, muted the power of these overly complicated lifts. 

“Tres Bailes” (Three Dances), from 2008, was ritualistic, post-modern piece (to Astor Piazzolla, Gotan Project and Alberto Iglesias) that choreographer Jean Emile originally created for a dance festival benefiting the organization Dancers Responding to AIDS. Three women in red shorts and halter-tops clapped their hands brusquely to awaken two crouching bare-chested men in long black skirts. Their cold, formal interactions and semaphore-style arm gestures revealed little about their relationship. In the evening’s second wardrobe malfunction, Jeffery Hover lost his skirt prematurely, but recovered it at the appropriate moment. 

Carlos Sierra Lopez’s “Destino Incierto” (“Uncertain Destiny”), from 2008, was a dream-like rendezvous for the three main characters from “Carmen,” featuring Burgos, Hamilton and Rivera. Using a sloppily cut excerpt from Rodion Shchedrin’s ballet score, Lopez offered an interesting duet for Burgos, as Carmen, and Rivera, as Escamillo, in which she became his puppet. But, as the title suggested, Lopez had no interest in resolution and “Destino,” like “Tres Baile,” stopped too abruptly, offering little satisfaction.

Ballet Hispanico’s dancers were a likable group, though in need of polishing. Ramirez should be applauded for her heroic job. Ramirez steps down as artistic director in August, and perhaps new director Eduardo Vilaro will give the company the level of repertory it deserves.

-- Laura Bleiberg

Ballet Hispanico, Ahmanson Theatre, 135 N. Grand Ave., Los Angeles; 7:30 p.m. today and 2 p.m. Sunday; $25 to $105; (213) 365-3500, (714) 740-7878 or www.musiccenter.org.

Related:

A new routine for Tina Ramirez

Photo: Angelica Burgos and Rodney Hamilton. Credit: Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times

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