Story by Barbara Angelakis
Photos courtesy of Paula Lobo
Ballet Hispánico at the Apollo
I have had a lifelong fascination with dance. When the lights dim and the dancers gather on stage I am transported to another world; a world that flirts with gravity; a world where impossible leaps, lifts, twists and turns challenge the very way our bodies were designed to move; a world that is governed by music and vision. So it was with high anticipation that I attended a performance of Ballet Hispánico performing Carmen.maquia at the legendary Apollo Theater... the term maquia originates from the Greek word tauromaquia, which translates to the art of bullfighting.
The Apollo Theater is an institution in New York City’s Harlem neighborhood where it has held court on 125th Street since it opened. The theater was built in 1913 during the heyday of burlesque, originally as Seamon’s New Burlesque Theater. In 1928 Bill Minsky purchased the theater and renamed it 125 Street Apollo Theater - after the Greek god of music and poetry. At that time Harlem was home to the largest urban black community in the country, and the entertainment mecca of New York City. It was the place to see- and be seen - for the downtown glitterati. During that time the theater catered to an all white audience, entertained by all-white performers. The theater was sold in 1932; merged with The Harlem Opera House; and reopened in 1934 as the Apollo, a musical entertainment venue for African American artists. It was the only theater in New York City that would hire black entertainers, yet the audience continued to be mostly white.
It didn’t take long before the new Apollo found its voice as a beacon for talent and began to stage a weekly “amateur night”. It was during those evenings that talents like Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughn and dozens of others, were discovered and the Apollo became renowned as a venue for launching the careers of some of the greatest. The Apollo now serves a broader community offering world-wide talent as well as newcomers to their stage and the audience reflects the multi-ethnic nature of the whole city.
Ballet Hispánico has been thrilling audiences for the past 50 years but Carmen.maquia is its first full-length narrative dance work. Throw out expectation and memories of all the Carmen’s seen in previous dance, theatrical, or musical performances, and with an open mind experience the opening salvo of an explosive solo by Chris Bloom as Don José to the stirring music of Georges Bizet.
Clad in an all white clinging body suit in the darkened stage the only reference to Carmen is the well-known music. With flailing arms and legs he dances out the agony of his desire and the tragedy that is about to unfold. As he exits to the stirring marching music, soldiers stride in and the lights go up to reveal white movable islands set against a black background. As the girls from the factory enter wearing long white diaphanous gowns – each one slightly different from the others – except for Carmen, who is dressed in black, it becomes clear that this passionate, vibrant tale will be told in black and white, without the use of flaming red skirts or intoxicating fans to swirl or flirt with. This is indeed a Carmen stripped to its emotional bones.
Gustavo Ramirez Sansano choreographed this exotic ballet, com modern dance, com paso doble with touches of flamenco. Eduardo Vilaro has been the Artistic Director & CEO of this extraordinary group of dancers since 2009 and only the second person to lead the company since its founding in 1970. Mr. Vilaro’s philosophy and choreographic skill have created a world-class company unlike any other.
Clearly the dancers are trained in ballet and their athleticism is apparent with movements fluctuating between ballet and modern dance but more exaggerated with fast quick steps choreographed to the staccato beat of the music. Unlike the ridged postures of ballet, the dancers move from the waist with sinuous leg and arm movements engaging the whole body more evocative of modern dance forms. Comic touches are introduced as when the girls from the factory visually gossip and mock Carmen – one girl starts the action and picks up all the other girls in turn prancing around the state wagging their hips and fingers in judgment of her objectionable behavior.
There is a stunning frenetic and impassioned pa de deux between Carmen, the sensual and sultry Shelby Colona, and the macho and arrogant Lyvan Verdecia as the bull fighter Escamillo. And, another less violent, yet more erotic, pa de deux with Don José (Chris Bloom) as Carmen finally makes her decision to leave him and go with Escamillo. Micaela, as danced by the lovely Eila Valls, is rejected by Don José as she makes a mighty plea to lure him back to his senses in an emotional pa de deux.
The ballet ends as it began, with Don José spasmodic solo of pain and remorse after killing Carmen and before being led away by the solders.
The one jarring note was the occasional slow transition waiting for the pre-recorded music to catch up with the dancers.
For information about the company and scheduled future performances visit www.ballethispanico.org
For information about the Apollo visit https://www.apollotheater.org/
© January 2019 LuxuryWeb Magazine. All rights reserved.