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Indianapolis News/Indianapolis Star

Spanish Steps


November 3, 2002
Copyright © 2002 Indianapolis Star. All rights reserved. 

Ballet Hispanico

One of the nation's leading professional dance companies inspired by Hispanic culture returned to Indianapolis for the first time in more than a decade.

Ballet Hispanico, a 32-year-old company based in New York that Indianapolis choreographer David Hochoy considers "probably the company of Hispanic dance today," will perform Friday at Clowes Hall. It is part of a series of engagements leading to a two-week residency at New York's Joyce Theater.

As its name suggests, Ballet Hispanico performs a repertoire that relies on ballet, while also celebrating the gestures and sounds of various Latin traditions.

"Everything we do has to do in some way with Spanish culture, be it Puerto Rican, Cuban or whatever," said founding director Tina Ramirez. Throughout the company's history, Ramirez has emphasized repertoire that "fuses ballet, modern dance and Latin culture, but the dominant stylistic voice changes, depending on the piece."

As the Venezuelan-born daughter of a Mexican bullfighter and a Puerto Rican teacher, Ramirez herself reflects the company's image of Hispanic multiculturalism. Having moved to the United States at age 7, she began studying Spanish dance in New York. She eventually toured abroad, then returned to New York in the early 1960s with hopes of teaching.

At that time, she realized that "a lot of Latin Americans were coming to New York City and spoke Spanish, but they didn't seem to know there was such a great Hispanic culture. We have great painters. We have great musicians."

By 1970, Ramirez had conceived of Ballet Hispanico "as a company that was educational, but also an entertainment and a place to perform.

"I had been training children, and there was no place for them to go and perform. This was driving me nuts."

Now based in its own facility on New York's Upper West Side, Ballet Hispanico is affiliated with a year-round school that teaches a curriculum based on ballet, modern dance and folk dance. It has a "home season" at the Joyce Theater, and ventured to South America in 1993, Spain in 1998 and Switzerland last year.

Ballet Hispanico has commissioned more than 70 works. Among them are pieces by such well-known choreographers as Ann Reinking, who was a close colleague of Bob Fosse, American modern-dance great Talley Beatty and Venezuelan- born choreographer Vicente Nebrada.

This week in Indianapolis, Ballet Hispanico will give the local premiere of "Slices," a new Rein king suite of romantic episodes. The company will present its own Pedro Ruiz's "Guajira," depicting work and play in the fields of Cuba. It also will revive its 1980s piece "Cada Noche Tango," set in Argentina.

Roots of Ramirez's dream

Ballet Hispanico last performed in Indianapolis during the fall of 1989, when it collaborated with the local contemporary troupe Dance Kaleidoscope. Hochoy, DK's current artistic director, wasn't in Indiana yet but had become well-acquainted with Ballet Hispanico even earlier, when he lived in New York.

"I first started in New York at the Ailey School in 1974," Hochoy said. "Tina Ramirez used to come to the Ailey School quite a lot. Looking back in retrospect, I think she was interested in building a company based on her Latino heritage, in a way similar to the way Alvin Ailey had based his company on his African-American heritage.

Hochoy said Ballet Hispanico has become a leading company of Hispanic dance "because artistically, it has grown and grown. Its dancers are really incredible right now."

Not surprisingly, Ballet Hispanico's artist roster is multicultural. Dancers of Latin heritage include Ruiz, a 17-year company dancer and choreographer born in Cuba, and Eric Rivera, a native of Puerto Rico. But dancers Jae-Man Joo and Chan Koo Paik hail from Korea, Walter Cinquinella from Italy and Rodney Hamilton from St. Louis.

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