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Stories Of Love And Loss, To A Latin Beat


15 November 2003
Copyright ©2003
THE NEW YORK TIMES. All rights reserved.

The time: the 1920's. The place: Buenos Aires. Late at night in the smoky light swirling through the dance hall of a brothel, hardened women strike angular poses on the wooden chairs, their dresses sometimes rising or falling away to reveal the bare flesh of the gartered thighs above their hose. Beneath black fedoras, men in tight dark suits and open-collared white shirts, occasional flashes of blood-red scarves at their throats, slouch in. The unmistakable sound of the accordionlike bandoneon propels the music of Astor Piazzolla.

So begins Graciela Daniele's "Cada Noche . . . Tango" ("Every Night . . . Tango"), the sexually charged opening piece in the crowd-pleasing three-part "Nightclub," which is being presented by Tina Ramirez's admirable Ballet Hispanico through tomorrow in the handsome new Jack H. Skirball Center for the Performing Arts at New York University in Greenwich Village.

With Alexandre Magno's "Dejame Soñar" ("Let Me Dream") and Sergio Trujillo's "Hoy Como Ayer" ("Today Like Yesterday"), this program, conceived by Ms. Ramirez, is unified by the brief soliloquies of a narrator (Julio Monge) and the libretto of Jim Lewis. Exploring love and yearning and loss linking generations and styles of Hispanic culture, it arches from the 1920's in South America to the 1950's in Spanish Harlem and onward to 2003 in New York, late at night in an after-hours club.

Mixing tango, modern dance and touches of classical ballet, the 80-minute intermissionless "Nightclub," performed by Ms. Ramirez's versatile, talented, attractive and energetic troupe, derives its potent choreographic pulse from vibrant Latin and Afro-Caribbean rhythms. They include not only the work of Piazzolla, but also the recorded music of Tito Puente, Pink Martini, DJ St. Germain, Gotan Project and X Alfonso.

Ms. Daniele's "Cada Noche . . . Tango" gets the evening off to a riveting start with its sultry tangos, provocative characters, undercurrent of violence and jealousy and erotic central triangle, formed by the arrival of the Outsider (Sarah Skogland). This tall blonde in a red and black dress emerges from under her mantilla and eventually disrobes to her white undergarments to dance in a steamy trio of possession and rejection with the bare-chested Brothers (Pedro Ruiz and Eric Rivera).

Mr. Ruiz and Ms. Skogland are pivotal figures once more in the second work on the program, Mr. Magno's "Dejame Soñar," the tale of a young man – the dreamer, or soñador – whose yearning for New York compels him to abandon his sweet, barefoot Island Fiancée (Natalia Alonso) when he leaves Puerto Rico in the 1950's.

Instead of realizing his dream of owning a bar, he works in saloons and remains in touch with his roots by spending his nights in the social clubs of Spanish Harlem. There, though haunted by his fiancée, he falls under the spell of the Sophisticate (Ms. Skogland) and is finally forced to choose.

Like the other segments of "Nightclub," atmospherically lighted by Peggy Eisenhauer, Howell Binkley and Don Holder, this one is notable for the costumes of Paul Tazewell, as the three principals play out the tale of the dreamer, and the carefree, colorfully dressed ensemble enlivens the night with pulsing, often acrobatic Latin dances.

The third and last piece, Mr. Trujillo's "Hoy Como Ayer," puts Mr. Ruiz in the role of the Stranger among the dancers in a nightclub, where he becomes a rival for the affections of Queenie, a tall, long-legged woman in white (Irene Hogarth). Though not as inventive as its predecessors in its exploration of attraction and rejection, this dance brings the evening full circle.

Reflecting on "Nightclub," one member of the audience was heard to say, "It makes you want to get up and dance."

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