Photo by Bruce Laurance
Ballet Hispanico, whose premier of Orfeu in the Carnaval of Souls is at the Joyce through December 11, explores Latino cultures through ballet, world, and modern dance.
A Latin twist on a Greek classic
By Sara G. Levin
The premier of Alexandre Magnos Orfeu in the Carnaval of Souls, a Brazilianized version of Orpheuss descent into the underworld by Ballet Hispanico, was splendidly seductive on Tuesday, November 29.
Delighting in the inherent melodrama of all Greek tragedies, the opening scene features Death (Eric Rivera), standing like a 1920s gangster with a cocked white fedora behind an ominously echoing metronome. The tale follows the guitar-playing Orfeu (Rodney Hamilton), who grows up in a favela (a Brazilian ghetto) and falls in love with the beautiful Eurídece (Natalia Alonso). In one duet the lovers are so entangled in swings and splits, they look like they could get lost weaving through each other. Magno, who has his own California company Personna Dance, and has choreographed for the likes of Madonna, strikes a balance between making moves too slick and overly contemplative.
At times, the movement seems so effortless its easy to forget the troupe is melding drastically different techniques. Jazzy leaps seamlessly blend with African-esque contractions and Latin samba steps. In that respect, Ballet Hispanico finds itself in a similar realm with Alvin Ailey, whose Revelations practically made African based pulses part of the classical repertoire. But founder and director of Ballet Hispanico Tina Ramirez, a recent recipient of the National Medal of Arts, has forged a technical and stylistic reputation for the group that stands on its own.
Eternamente y un Día (Forever and a Day) is another example of how the company strives to explore Latino cultures through ballet, world, and modern dance. Choreographed by Peter Pucci, the dancers reinterpret Mexican rituals such as a funeral and Aztec rite of passage to the music of the Kronos Quartet. Unfortunately, the movement and aesthetic often succumbs to Broadway showiness. Embroidered sequins, for example, are more reminiscent of an ice skating competition than a dance performance.
Costumes are another aspect that call attention to Carnaval of Souls. Black skirts cut in blind-like drapes by designer Anita Yavich, hang over the knees of the dead chorus like samurai folds. Queen of the underworld, Perséfone, played by Irene Hogarth-Ciminowho does a hysterical impression of a chicken in the Pucci piecewears a shorter, cookie-cutter skirt that accentuates her hips, which seem to lead her every move.
Perséfone enters the stage like an evil version of the Nutcrackers Mother Ginger. The height of two men, she wears an enormous black skirt from which several ghouls emerge. They throb together, breathing like an organism until Eurídece is revealed and surrounded as if by a pack of hungry wolves. The music, a wonderful collection of samba, waltz, and Spanish guitar, changes to match the creepy mood, setting an uneasy tone to contrast the willowy love scenes.
Individual performances, especially those given by Alonso and Rivera, are piercing. Alonsos steps are so light, in one scene it is hard to believe she is wearing stiletto heels. Riveras intensity makes it believable that the women he nears feel the pangs of death. Hamiltons movements are also sharp, as are those of McCall, whose solos were regrettably short. And Hogarth-Cimino is great at being the villain you love to hate. Above all, though, it is Ballet Hispanicos dramatic and audience-pleasing style that makes Orfeu in the Carnaval of Souls so strong. While the companys theatricality may be too corny for other pieces like Eternamente y un Dia, Orfeus Broadway-style performance adds pizzazz to this classic story and delivers compelling, convincing characters.