By Sarah Downs

In their recent, all-too-brief appearance at New York City Center, Ballet Hispánico, presented an eclectic mix of classical and modern dance.  The Company demonstrates an impressive stylistic range, with a command of ballet and modern technique.  The exquisite arch of the back and sinuous port de bras moving into strong arabesque; complete relaxation and fluidity contrasting with the control of strong lines – It was so refreshing!

They opened the evening with New Sleep, an abstract, intricate piece choreographed by William Forsythe, set to an appropriately mechanical soundtrack.  Fatima Andere and Antonio Cangiano developed a playful relationship, with gentle humor, verging on the gamine, as Andere danced delicately and confidently en pointe.  Unfortunately, the music track was so overpoweringly loud I actually had to put my hands over my ears.  Indeed, all of the music throughout the evening was way too loud.

New Sleep was followed by Papagayos, choreographed by Omar Román de Jesús, in a brilliant debut for the Company.  A dystopian game of musical chairs, Papagayos has a kind of fluid languor and undertone of danger.  Amanda del Valle, bedecked in colorful fringed rather like an otherworldly jester, introduced the action, cavorting about the stage as she weaved in and around the game.  Charming and fleet of foot, del Valle was both guide and observer of the action – the puppeteer behind the puppeteer, as the game itself was commanded by a male character who dictated the fall and rise of the needle with a gesture of his hat.  As dancers wafted to the ground, they would rise again in various haunting solos and duets.

The second half of the evening featured a beautiful narrative piece, Sor Juana, choreographed by Michelle Manzanales, detailing the life of a remarkable 17th century Mexican feminist, Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz.  The dancers entered stage in a dazzling parade of lusciously colored and detailed period dresses, designed by Sam Ratelle, in rich velvets and taffeta, their gossamer sleeves like translucent wings in the light.  The richness suggested the world of the nobility.

Gabrielle Sprauve, in the leading role of Sor Juana is a marvel, infusing each gesture with emotion and intelligence.  She is exquisite.  As she moved between the agitation of inspired writing to deeply still set pieces, Sprauve established a complete character arc.  Both poet and scholar, de la Cruz became a nun, thus enjoying (somewhat paradoxically) a kind of freedom and agency unavailable to most women outside the confines of its walls.  The score, an amalgam of music, including chorales, Tudor flavored guitar and Indian music, and the sound of furious writing of pencil on paper, drew out this narrative.

Ballet Hispánico is a small company so all of the dancers appeared in each piece in a true tour de force of stamina, culminating in the fabulous ensemble piece Club Havana, choreographed by Pedro Ruiz.  This delightful, upbeat dance, with its fab 60’s vibe, reflected in Ghabriello Negron’s vintage-design, petticoated dance dresses in hues of emerald, crimson and sapphire blue and men in sharp suits, celebrates Cuban music in style.  The women floated by in lift after lift, in a visual rhythm that popped with color.  This celebration extended to Donald Holder’s lighting.

Starting with a deliciously slinky pas de deux of Gabrielle Sprauve and Antonio Cangiano, the dance featured pas de deux and solos in a variety of meters, including Cha-Cha, Rumba and Conga.  Fatima Andere, Antonio Cangiano and Omar Rivéra performed a particularly saucy pas de trois, where Andere once again displayed her talent for the gamine, flavored with tantalizing allure.  The lifts throughout were amazing.  These dancers are strong, so engaging, so alive.  It was the perfect closing.

Ballet Hispánico, Eduardo Vilaro, Artistic Director.  Company:  Fatima Andere, Leonardo Brito, Amir Baldwin, Antonio Cangiano, Ana Estrada, Amanda del Valle, Paulo Hernandez-Farella, Cori Lewis, Dylan Dias McIntyre, Hugo Pizano Orozco, Omar Rivéra, Isabel Robles, Gabrielle Sprauve, Isabella Vergara.

At New York City Center (130 W. 56th St.)