Ballet Hispanico makes its prime-time moves

Times Staff Writer

It’s inevitable that such hit network TV series as “Dancing With the Stars” and “So You Think You Can Dance” would influence American concert dance -- and the two-part program by Tina Ramirez’s Ballet Hispanico at Cal State L.A. on Saturday certainly looked like a prime example.

One work assembled from previously choreographed showpiece duets and another focused on exhibition ballroom dancing displayed the company’s prowess in the kinds of challenges that TV audiences have come to appreciate. But right at the beginning of the evening, in a suite titled “Features I,” dancer Candice Monet McCall flowed into a supported extension so lyrically pure and so technically extreme that you’d never mistake her for a talented amateur or beginner.

A compendium of excerpts from Hispanico rep by Spanish choreographer Ramon Oller, “Features I” exploited a number of daring gambits: McCall rapidly, weightlessly rolling on the floor up into Eric Rivera’s arms and onto a table in one duet from “Besame”; Natalia Alonso and Iyun Harrison suddenly coming together for unusual lifts and just as suddenly separating in a sequence from “Eyes of the Soul,” as if they had never really touched one another but dreamed or imagined their contact; Nicholas Villeneuve lying on his back in an excerpt from “Bury Me Standing” and supporting Sara Kappraff in one gymnastic ploy after another with his extended legs.

In another duet from “Besame,” the daring was not so much physical as expressive: the contrast between the free-spirited, ultra-flamboyant James A. Pierce III and the uptight, conservative and very unhappy Rodney Hamilton.


If Oller demanded unusual physical and emotional resources from Hispanico, Willie Rosario’s “Palladium Suite” merely wanted lots of energy for its puerile character stereotypes and zesty Afro-Cuban ballroom maneuvers. Sometimes the 11-member cast performed unison routines, Broadway-style, and sometimes they danced independently as if we were indeed watching all the inhabitants of a nightclub or dance hall at play.

The shifts in emphasis proved as arbitrary as the ever-changing partnerships. So it never mattered whether the sailor ended up with the socialite or the spitfire got her groove. Only McCall and Hamilton as a warring and reconciling professional dance team found glints of real feeling in the expert but empty choreography.

Everyone else looked terrific, though a few exceptional soloists seemed to be trying to burst out of their roles -- especially Waldemar Quinones as the resident nerd. He danced as if this piece couldn’t hold him -- that he was made for bigger things.

And so, in fact, was Ballet Hispanico.