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Ballet Hispanico opens MOT’s 2017-18 dance season

Greg Tasker
The Detroit News
“Con Brazos Abiertos” showcases the work of choreographer Michelle Manzanales.

The Michigan Opera Theatre opens its 2017-18 dance season this weekend with spirited, contemporary performances by Ballet Hispanico, a dance company that fuses genres to explore the diversity of Latino culture.

Returning to the Detroit Opera House, Ballet Hispanico, the premier Latino dance organization in the United States, will present works that explore flamenco, Mexican heritage and the circularity of the human condition. The works were choreographed by three Latina women, an unusual accomplishment in an artistic community that has historically been dominated by men.

Ballet Hispanico’s “Linea Recta” is choreographed by Annabelle Lopez Ochoa.

“The female has always been the muse in dance,” notes Eduardo Vilaro, an acclaimed choreographer and a former member of the company who is now artistic director and CEO of New York-based Ballet Hispanico. “Now the female is the creator.”

Ballet Hispanico, which last performed in Detroit during the 2009-2010 season, was founded nearly a half century ago by National Medal of Arts recipient Tina Ramirez, who wanted to give voice to the Hispanic experience and break through stereotypes.

“We like to look at what we’re doing from a viewpoint that is not folkloric or traditional, but what is happening now,” Vilaro says. “We hope most people leave with a dialogue about what a Latino can be and might be. The diversity seen from the eyes of these three ladies choices in their works is heart-warming and beautiful.”

The MOT’s 2017-18 dance season also includes the American Ballet Theatre’s production of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” as well as performances by the Dance Theatre of Harlem and the Paul Taylor Dance Company.

Bringing Ballet Hispanico back to Detroit audiences is part of the Michigan Opera Theatre’s commitment to diversity, says Wayne Brown, president and CEO of the nonprofit arts organization. This season marks the dance organization’s third visit to the Detroit Opera House.

“Throughout its history, Michigan Opera Theatre has been committed to representing and serving our diverse communities in Detroit,” Brown says. “We are confident that Ballet Hispánico will resonate with the Latino community and beyond.”

Stephen Lord, principal conductor of the Michigan Opera Theatre, says Ballet Hispanico’s “passionate music and spirited music will enthrall audiences of all backgrounds.”

The program opens with “Linea Recta,” a flamenco work that explores the dance style’s conspicuous absence of physical contact between dancers while maintaining the passionate communication between the sexes. The segment is choreographed by Annabelle Lopez Ochoa and will be performed to an original guitar composition by Eric Vaarzon Morel.

“The fusion of what we are doing will be surprising ... it’s not necessarily what someone might think is Latino. Latino culture comes in all different shapes and sizes,” Vilaro says, noting the 14 members of the production are Latino or Latin-American hybrids. “These are athletic, well-trained dancers who will just captivate you.”

Another work, “Con Brazos Abiertos,” offers a fun and frank look at a life caught between two cultures. The dance showcases choreographer Michelle Manzanales’ experience as a Mexican-American child and explores the iconic Mexican symbols she grew up with, intertwining folkloric details with a distinctly contemporary voice in dance. The piece is set to music that ranges from Julio Iglesias to rock en espanol.

Vilaro says the works play with Mexican icons, which might prompt laughter from the audience, but also realizations. “At the same time, it creeps up on you ... is that how I see Mexicans? We use them to put the questions out there.”

Concluding the program is “Catorce Dieciseis,” choreographed by Tania Perez-Salas. The work draws inspiration from the number Pi to reflect on the circularity of the movement through life. It features intense theatricality and imagery set to music by Antonio Vivaldi and other Baroque composers.

“One of the things that is fantastic is that the piece reaches out to the audience and brings it to them,” Vilaro says. “It has a lot of personality. With the lighting, costuming, it helps develop the environment of a theater. It’s very theatrical.”

Vilaro says having Ballet Hispanico perform in Detroit and elsewhere in America serves as reminder of how necessary diversity is and how it has played such a large part in the fabric of the country.

“We may be Latinos and explore these cultures, but we are an American company. We’ve been doing amazing work. We do a lot of educational work in the community,” he says. “To counter the current rhetoric in this country is necessary. This is a reminder how necessary diversity is.”



7:30 p.m. Sat.,

2:30 p.m. Sun

Detroit Opera House

1526 Broadway, Detroit

Tickets: $29-$89

(313) 237-7464

Master class

Ballet Hispanico will offer a master class from 11 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Saturday at the Detroit Opera House Margo V. Cohen Dance Studio. The class is open to intermediate- to advanced-level dance students ages 13 and older.

Cost is $25 or free with purchase of a performance ticket. Pre-registration is required by email at or call (313) 237-3251.