Ballet Hispánico shares stories of Latinx culture at New York City Center season 

Ballet Hispánico in Michelle Manzanales' 'Sor Juana'. Photo by Erin Baiano.
Ballet Hispánico in Michelle Manzanales' 'Sor Juana'. Photo by Erin Baiano.

New York City Center, New York, NY.
June 2, 2023.

Ballet Hispánico completed a three-day run at New York City Center in early June, presenting five works, including two premieres. Ballet Hispánico was founded in 1970, by Tina Ramirez as a vehicle to uplift, educate and inspire Black and Brown dancers at a time when opportunities were even more limited than they are now. In 2009, Edudaro Vilaro took over as Artistic Director and continues to further the goals of the founder with the company, the school and community outreach programs. 

The company, with many newer dancers, danced strong and beautifully. It was a pleasure to see such commitment to the movement, dedication to the vision and execution of technique onstage. The program was a bit harder to consume, though still enjoyable. On the night of my attendance, they danced New Sleep (Duet) by William Forsythe, Sor Juana by Michelle Manzanales, Papagayos by Omar Roman de Jesus and Club Havana by Pedro Ruiz. 

New Sleep (Duet) was performed in tribute to Tina Ramirez. Forsythe’s work is always exciting and bold, requiring strong technique and fearless dancing. The dancers performed brilliantly in that regard, and it was an excellent opener to the program. 

Papagayos tells the tale of a shapeshifting character and the power of control. It opens with a dancer asking the audience if they have seen her hat and continues on down the path of the absurd, both dark and comical. The work explores the complexity of the human condition, noting particularly how the worst of us often wins. 

Sor Juana explores the life of 17th century Mexican feminist, poet, scholar and nun, Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz. It was visually lovely, particularly the opening with light shining through the costumes from behind. Portions of the music were also composed by Sor Juana herself. For an audience member unfamiliar with the history of Sor Juana, the piece was a little confusing, but executed with enticing competency. 

Last on the program was Club Havana, a light and entertaining end to the night, with dancers in twirly dresses, heels, suits and cigar-filled imagery. Despite its cliche (or perhaps the way we see the world now verses 23 years ago when it was choreographed), it offered an easy to consume bite of dance entertainment. 

The value and opportunity Ballet Hispánico brings to the dance world in the way of promoting Black and Brown artists of all kinds is undeniable. Both Papagayos and Sor Juana were made possible via the Instituto Coreografico program, which supports Latinx artists to create culturally specific work through dance. 

While the middle of the program felt like a lot to take in (like reading a dense but interesting piece of literature), the entire night was so well danced one could still be entertained. With so many newer company members, it’s exciting to think about how they’ll grow and evolve and be able to tell even more stories that showcase Latinx culture and heritage. 

By Emily Sarkissian of Dance Informa. 

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