Ballet Hispánico

 

Ballet Hispánico dance recital performed 2015 at the Mesa Arts Center in Mesa, Arizona (a suburb of Phoenix). Ballet Hispánico is directed by Eduardo Vilaro and has the mission of celebrating Latino culture through dance. It's an important dance group in New York City and one of the few dance companies in the United States to focus on Latin dance and culture. Pieces performed were CARMEN.maquia, choreographed by Gustavo Ramírez Sansano, and Club Havana, choreographed by Pedro Ruiz.

CARMEN.maquia stars Christopher Bloom (Don José), Kimberly Van Woesik (Carmen), Melissa Fernandez (Micaela), and Mario Ismael Espinoza (Escamillo). Cigar factory girls, soldiers, townsfolk, and Gypsies are played by Lauren Alzamora, Martina Calcagno, Shelby Colona, Kassandra Cruz, Mark Gieringer, Christopher Hernandez, Johan Rivera Mendez, Eila Valls, Lyvan Verdecia, and Joshua Winzeler. Recorded music segments, all from Bizet Carmen suites or the Pablo de Sarasate Carmen Concert Fantasy, are stitched together from many resources.  Set by Luis Crespo; costumes designed by David Delfin and made by Travis Halsey and Diana Ruettiger; lighting by Joshua Preston. Because all the music comes from the opera, the ballet must be viewed as a ballet telling of the opera libretto---not an easy task.

Club Havana performers are:

- Son (a Cuban dance popular in the 1930s): Martina Calcagno, Shelby Colona, Kassandra Cruz, Mario Ismael Espinoza, Melissa Fernandez, Mark Gieringer, Christopher Hernandez, Johan Rivera Mendez, Eila Valls, and Lyvan Verdecia. 

- Mambo: Shelby Colona & Lyvan Verdecia; Kassandra Cruz & Johan Rivera Mendez; and Eila Valls & Mario Ismael Espinoza.

- Cha Cha Cha: Melissa Fernandez, Mark Gieringer, and Christopher Hernandez.

- Bolero, Rhumba, and Congo: The Company.

The dances are performed to recorded music composed by Israel López, Rubén Gonzales, A. K. Salim, Perez Prado, and Francisco Repilado. Costumes by Ghabriello Fernando; lighting by Donald Holder.

The Ballet Hispánico group has its home on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. "Lincoln Center at the Movies" (LCatM) is a new resource. LCatM promoters seek American dance content that (1) has cultural significance and (2) can be shown in movie houses around the United States (thru Fathom Events in 2015) and maybe other countries. (It helps perhaps if the dance production has some connection, however slight, to Lincoln Center.) Selling an HDVD would be an additional profit center. (This business model was invented, of course, by Peter Gelb at the Met.)  Produced by Andrew Carl Wilk; directed for TV by Matthew Diamond. Released 2017, disc has 5.0 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: B

You might assume that something sold by "Lincoln Center at the Movies" would have been performed at Lincoln Center, especially if the company performing is from New York City. But this Ballet Hispánico show was performed and recorded live thousands of miles away in Arizona! Here are a couple of shots of the pretty Mesa Arts Center:

Although far from home, Ballet Hispánico managed to attract a decent crowd that showed some enthusiasm. 

CARMEN.maquia

Let's start with screenshots from CARMEN.maquia. (The name CARMEN.maquia is inspired by the word tauromaquia, or bullfighting. The fight about Carmen takes place in the soul of Don José. )

Behold below the city square in Seville as the cigarette factory girls go to work. The designer here has wrenched us away from all Spanish local color in favor of an abstract design in black and white. You can identify the soldiers/policemen by the black stripe across the chest:

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Carmen (Kimberly Van Woesik) gets a black dress and distinctive hairdo:

Don José (Christopher Bloom) is hard to distinguish from the other men---here's a close-up:

The soldiers amuse themselves watching the antics of the factory girls with the local men:

Carmen puts her eye on Don José (no rose in this version):

Below Micaela offers true love. I enjoyed all the dancers here, but Melissa Fernandez is my favorite. Without overacting, she manages to get across the frustration and pain of Micaela:

She doesn't know yet that Don José is bewitched by the Gipsy girl. Don José fears the chains that marriage brings:

The girl fight:

Don José arrests Carmen:

Carmen seduces Don José:

The commander leaves Don José in the stockade. The set is made of paper or plastic that can be quickly moved about and formed in various shapes:

In prison, Don José dreams of Carmen:

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Meanwhile, Carmen is back to her old life. She falls for Escamillo the bull fighter (Mario Ismael Espinoza):

But when Don José gets out of prison, Carmen is ready to take him back:

At first, Don José tries to be a good soldier. But eventually he follows Carmen into the wild life of the Gypsy smugglers:

Sorry, this version doesn't have Frasquita, Mercédès, Le Dancaïre, Le Remendado, or Lillas Pastia. But now Carmen and Don José are in the mountains living as outlaws. Carmen's tarot cards keep turning up her grim fortune: death!

Micaela makes one last effort to win Don José over to a family life. He returns home after Micaela reveals that his mother is dying. But Don José can't get over Carmen:

Carmen takes up with Escamillo (even married maybe). Below Escamillo prepares to enter the bull-fight arena. Finally I get a shot of some of the Spanish designs included in this spare set:

The designs and color scheme reminds one of Guernica, the famous black-and-white Picasso paintingthat hangs now in Madrid:

There's death inside and outside the arena. I thought the design team would end with bright red blood. Wrong again --- even the blood is black:

I ran the numbers on Matthew Diamond's video of CARMEN.maquia. The pace is too fast at 6.5 seconds, but this is offset to some degree by a healthy 72% of clips showing the whole bodies of the dancers. See Footnote 2 to our special article on the Best Ballet and Dance HDVDs for more information how we grade dance video content. The somewhat disjointed recorded music is a weakness also.

But before I give a grade, I should point out how impressive it is that Ballet Hispánico was able to get this title made in the first place. Ballet Hispánico is an established modern dance company with a nice building, a school, an outreach program, and important support from educational foundations. But it maintains, I think, a roster of only 14 full-time dancers. With 4 named stars, only 10 dancers remain to keep the stage full of action in this CARMEN.maquia production. This means all the supporting dancers must handle many roles (such as girls dancing the parts of soldiers). Ballet Hispánico is, of course, primarily a dance company. But it also has a broader mission of improving the image of Hispanic peoples on the vast stage of American life. I think this show contributes to that mission, and I admire the audacity of all involved in making this happen. I normally would make this production down to a C, but I think the quality of the dancing and the importance of the effort earn a bump up to a B, which is a good grade on this website.

Club Havana

Club Havana is a short, sure-fire crowd-pleaser based on 6 Latin ballroom dances. Compared to cabaret dancing you can see every day on TV, it's pretty mild. As you can see in the next 3 screenshots, the emphasis is on elegance and precision in ensemble work while mantaining just enough sizzle to go with the steak. I'll give Club Havana a B grade also:

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The best sizzle comes from Melissa Fernandes, seen below dancing Cha Cha Cha with two guys (Chris Hernandez on the left and Mark Gieringer on the right). Melissa has a broad range as she was also the serious and earnest Micaela in the Carmen production:

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Here's a YouTube clip about this show. (At least some of the dancing in this clip was probably shot in New York rather than Arizona):