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Ballet Hispanico opens Newman Center’s ‘Convergences’ season Oct. 1

Ballet Hispanico opens the 2011-12 season at the Newman Center for the Performing Arts on Oct. 1.

Those who associate ballet with the stylized moves in Swan Lake or Don Quixote are in for a surprise when they see the fiery performances staged by New York-based Ballet Hispanico.

While the 41-year-old company has its share of graceful dances set to classical music, it also has pieces like “Club Havana” — which is set to a percolating drum score and looks more like West Side Story than The Nutcracker — and “Tango,” which features two couples performing the sensual title dance to a lively combination of guitar, accordion and piano.

It’s all part of Ballet Hispanico’s mission to explore, preserve and celebrate Latino cultures through dance. In addition to its professional company of touring dancers, the organization also runs a dance school and performs educational and outreach programs in New York-area schools.

“In the early days, I just wanted Hispanics to have a voice in dance and for people to get to know us as people,” founder Tina Ramirez told The New York Times in 2008. “Because, you know, you went to see a ballet, and there was somebody crouched with a sombrero, and that’s not who we are.”

Ramirez carried the vision forward for nearly 40 years; when she retired in 2009, Eduardo Vilaro, a former dancer with the company, took over as artistic director. He says he’s still committed to Ramirez’s original vision, but that the company’s focus is different today than it was in the 1970s, when Latinos were still struggling to be heard in the world of the arts.

“We don’t need that same kind of voice. What we need now is for everyone to understand the diversity of that voice,” he says. “There are Latinos everywhere, as everyone knows — you can’t get rid of us — but we’re also fused with the culture. We’re Americans. We marry Americans. There’s something of who we are that’s both Latino and Americano, so how do you show that? What I try to do is continue the exposure of the Latino-Americano experience, but at the same time show the diversity within the Latino cultures.”

To that end, the company now works with choreographers from Cuba, Puerto Rico, Spain and other Latin countries, as well as dancemakers from Europe, Canada and the United States. Ballet Hispanico has more than 90 pieces in its repertory and has performed for more than two million people in the United States, Europe and South America.

When it comes to DU’s Newman Center for the Performing Arts on Oct. 1, the company will perform a 1975 piece, “Tres Cantos,” which explores the history of Mexico; Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s 2010 piece “Mad’moiselle,” which deals with iconic male/female images and gender identity in Latin American cultures; and the brand new “Espiritu Vivo,” by African-American choreographer Ronald Brown.

“It was at Ballet Hispanico’s invitation that he created a work for the company to explore the intersections of the Latin and African diasporas in the New World,” says Newman Center Executive Director Steve Seifert. “There’s a whole culture of the mixed Latin and black experiences in South America, and in Peru it’s especially strong.”

That mix of cultures makes Ballet Hispanico a perfect opener for the Newman Center’s 2011–12 season, which is themed around “convergences,” Seifert says. Plus it gives him the chance to bring Ballet Hispanico to Denver for the first time.

“Dance is by definition active and exciting, and I love to be able to kick off a season with that kind of energy level,” Seifert says. “It fits into the convergences theme because the mission of that company has always been to explore through contemporary dance the many different expressions of Latin culture that continue to grow and change.”

Ballet Hispanico performs at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 1 in DU’s Newman Center, 2344 E. Iliff Ave. A free “Behind the Curtain” lecture begins at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are $33–$49; visit for more information.

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