Saturday, February 21, 2009

Ballet Hispanico, Merce Cunningham Dance Companies


One of the problems in having touring dance companies come into the Cleveland area is that they perform only one of two days. Reviews mean little for locals as the companies may not return for years, or ever again. But, for the record, it’s interesting to give picture snap-shots of the various companies’ performances.


Dancing before three sold-out performance audiences, BALLET HISPANICO, whose appearance was co-sponsored by DanceCleveland and Cuyahoga Community College, presented a mixed-bag program. Pieces varied from traditional Hispanic dance, including the mambo, cha cha cha, bolero, rhumba and conga, to modern and contemporary pieces.

Those coming to the programs expecting folkloric presentations of dancers in traditional costumes were probably disappointed. Those knowing the reputation of this world class company got what they expected, a combination of Hispanic sounds and movements blended with balletic and contemporary moves.

The highlight of the program was the closing piece, ‘RITMO Y RUIDO,’ a contemporary number choreographed by Ann Reinking, a protégé of Broadway choreographer Bob Fosse. Known for her appearances in ‘PIPPIN,’ ‘CHORUS LINE’ and the movie ‘ALL THAT JAZZ,’ Reinking is as dynamic a conceiver of dance as she was a performer. Many of her moves are patented Fosse. Quick hand and head movements, pelvic thrusts, gymnastic moves were combined in ‘RITO Y RUIDO,’ with traditional Hispanic steps and body positions, to create an exciting and audience-pleasing dance.

The rest of the program was not as successful as the Reinking piece. Though generally well danced, there were lapses in synchronized movements and the pieces often were not dynamic enough to hold the audience’s attention.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: Those who left the Ballet Hispanico program after the first two-thirds of the program, and, unfortunately, there were quite a few at the Friday night offering, missed out on ‘RITMO Y RUIDO,’ the highlight of the evening.


Merce Cunningham is a dance legend. His choreography and dance programs are either revered or hated by both critics and audiences alike.

Very contemporary in intent, the pieces are often danced to atonal sounds which defy the description of “music.’ Many audience members were seen at the company’s late January Cleveland performance, with fingers firmly thrust into their ears during much of the program. In fact, for the last number, ‘SOUNDANCE,’ Dance Cleveland, the show’s sponsor, provided foam ear plugs for the attendees.

Cunningham’s choreography features precision combined with randomness. They are static, non-story pieces, with posing, slow and controlled movements, and the melding of bodies. After a while, the whole experience results in tediousness, at least in their local program.

To really appreciate Cunningham, it is necessary to let loose of traditional understanding of the movements of dance and literally “tune out” and let what happens happen. He proclaims to be an inducer of meditation. But, but how does one meditate when the ears are being accosted by a combined cacophony of screeching sounds of lawnmowers melded with motorcycle engines being amplified to piercing ear shattering tones?

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: I found myself, during the MERCE CUNNINGHAM COMPANY dance concert, thinking like the patron of an art show looking at a palate of a black on black painting, and asking myself “what is the positive shouting all about?” I need to feel some pleasure during an artistic experience, not thinking that I need to get an appointment to have my audiologist daughter check my hearing for potential injury due to the sounds of the program.