Tito and tutus
Ballet Hispanico brings Latin dance and music to Dana Center
By Bill Copeland firstname.lastname@example.org
Ballet Hispanico will bring its celebrated combination of ballet and Latin dance numbers to the Dana Center on Friday, Nov. 2.
The company features dancer Irene Hogarth-Cimino, a South African trained in ballet at the University of Cape Town. In her 20 years of professional dance with several name companies, Hogarth-Cimino got most excited about Ballet Hispanico.
“It’s very different from any of the other companies I’ve danced with before,” she said. “When I got my first professional contract, I was in South Africa. The company was very classically oriented.”
Among the school’s alumni are actress (and singer and dancer) Jennifer Lopez and actress Leelee Sobieski.
Diversity from the ethnic choreographers didn’t happen much in South Africa until apartheid was abolished and Nelson Mandela was released from prison.
“There was really outreach to more diverse ethnic choreography, ethnic dance. Before that, we would have purely classical programs and work with big art organizations, orchestra and theater, opera houses, and ballet companies in these big government-funded arts organizations.”
When Hogarth-Cimino came to America she joined American Repertory Ballet. After leaving that company, she did not want to leave New York City, so she auditioned for Ballet Hispanico.
“I’d seen them performing, and I saw a ballet by a choreographer called Roman Oller. He created a ballet called ‘Bury Me Standing.’ When I saw this ballet in December in 1999, I fell in love with the company, the movement of the body, the undulations of the spine, the lower body, the classical background as well as a little bit of the Spanish. I played in South Africa five years of Flamenco but [had] never been able to utilize it in the repertoire I had been dancing before. And here it was; all those years of training in Spanish and Flamenco dance with this beautiful movement with ballet in the background. It all came together for me,” she said.
During the Dana Center appearance Hogarth-Cimino will perform in pieces called “Tito On Timbales” (a percussion-based dance number), “Ballet Hispanico Excerpts” (a sassy, sexy Fosse-based number) and “Club Havana” (a Cuban dance based on nightclub lifestyles in 1940s Cuba).
“Club Havana” will showcase Latin rhythms and ballroom cha-cha-chas, beautiful dresses and, of course, cigars.
Hogarth-Cimino needs to be an actress as well as a dancer in all her numbers, being a different character in each number.
The numbers “are very theatrical,” she said.
“We try to show the Latin culture. Every piece we transform. When we’re changing costumes and hair, we’re also changing characters. Every piece we do in a different character, different personality, different era. One of the things that drew me to the company, it’s not just dance for nothing, it’s dance that has meaning. You have to become somebody and bring humanity to a role that has a very specific characterization,” she said.
When Hogarth-Cimino joined the company she had to learn to move differently.
“All the years with a classical company, you’re very upright,” she said. “Your back is held. You don’t ever move the hips. You join Ballet Hispanico, you learn to move your hips. You learn to salsa and you learn to bring that Latin flavor.”
In “Tito On Timbales” she’ll don an original costume she describes as beautiful and elegant: “The dresses are long and these lovely neutral colors just flash up gold. … They’re very elegant and gorgeous costumes you want to move in.”
It was not easy to learn the choreography to Cuba’s famous percussionist, Tito Puente.
“You cannot lose count,” Hogarth-Cimino said. “There’s four girls and five men. From the minute you start dancing on stage, you’re counting the bars of music. That entire piece is danced to percussion music. There’s not a melody that you can follow. It’s the beat.”
Working with Ballet Hispanico’s artistic director Tina Ramirez is another treat for Hogarth-Cimino.
“She’s an incredibly inspiring woman. She has a vision for the company and she has a vision for each dancer. She hires us for the way we move or how she imagines we can fit into this company to represent her culture,” she said.