Ballet Hispanico Harlem’s Night to Remember

What unfolded at this one-night-only event on December 1 was a three-phased presentation of spectacular premieres; each about 20 minutes long and punctuated by brief intermissions.

It was indeed a befitting gesture that Harlem’s World Famous Apollo Theatre, the place where stars are born, would be the venue where the Ballet Hispanico would debut three stellar performances.  
And it must have been a euphoric evening for artistic director Eduardo Vilaro. He is the only person to succeed founder Tina Raminez in the troupe’s 42-year history. The tremendous success of his production, the company’s first at the Apollo, deserves an entry in the annals of this cultural institution and further validates Vilaro as a master of his craft.  

What unfolded at this one-night-only event on December 1 was a three-phased presentation of spectacular premieres; each about 20 minutes long and punctuated by brief intermissions.  
Attendees embraced these breaks as an opportunity to gush, then hustle back to their seats, to be enthralled once again by the act that followed.
When Tango Vitrola took the stage, it was within a totally black background with dancers clothed in getups noir. A single spotlight highlighted the hues of lithe, pliant bodies, accentuating the provocatively reddened lips of the female dancers.
Choreographed by Alejandro Cervera, it’s theme was “the battle of the sexes;” a tangled web of yin and yang expressed through gorgeous, tango-inspired movements that was propelled by a strain of slightly distorted milango music.  
The lone phonograph ever-present in the background, a sentinel to agile topless men in black hats who would sometimes pirouette and jump solo, at other times swirl ladies through intricate and sensuous twists and turns, then slide the ladies beneath their legs with expertise.  
At one mesmerizing point the struggle was expressed by a seated chair-dance sequence in which the sexes faced-off with dramatic antagonism as they advanced from opposite sides of the stage, sensuality intact.  
As if in defiance of its forerunner, A Vueltas Con Los Ochenta is as strikingly modern as Tango Vitrola is iconic hispanico, the one similarity being their shared black color-palette.  
Frenetic and pop-inspired, dancers donned a variety of hip, predominantly leather creations, each consumed by a beat from individual headphones geared for their ears only, the only sound, an errant and odd occasional outburst that would startle the audience.  
In this kinetic explosion, each moved to a different rhythm uncaring of the discordant spectacle that ensued. This is the attitude that Meritxell Barbera and Inma Garcia hoped to convey with this their first choreography for the Ballet Hispanico.  
It’s a reflection on La Movida, the 1980’s cultural revolution in Madrid which was defined by unbridled freedom of expression and hedonism. Freeing themselves of  headphones and driven by pulsating rock music, these daredevils-all friends hanging out one night, would  jump as if in flight, roll on the floor, move and pose with careless abandon; two mates swayed while facing each for quite some time as if entranced.  
Explorative and in-your-face erotic, male dancers dared to hoist their female partners, airborne on their forearms, the pivot point being the junction of splayed thighs.  
The choice of Danzon as the final performance could well be interpreted as a deliberate return to sanity.  The introduction was a sweet interlude- a live performance by The Paquito D’Rivera ensemble, a serenade to the audience with gems like Dizzy’s “A Night in Tunisia,” Carey/Fisher “You’ve Changed” and his own “Danzon”.  
When the dancers appeared on stage — there was a dance in which ladies wearing diaphanous lilac dresses were coupled with dashing young men delighted to sweep them off their feet effortlessly, then swirl them gently back to the ground; it was the moment that can be described as perfect metaphor for this experience.  
This Cuban-inspired number was Eduardo Vilaro’s offering for the night, closing off this momentous occasion.  
With the encore-worthy performances of Vilaro’s versatile dancers showing such promise, the Ballet Hispanico’s first appearance at the Apollo should only be the beginning of many more.

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