The swirling skirts and exposed garters so sensuously torment the dark suits and black fedoras in Ballet Hispanico’s “Nightclub” that Paris Hilton looks a prude by comparison.
At the Shubert tonight for one performance only, “Nightclub,” conceived by Ballet Hispanico Artistic Director Tina Ramirez, is a blend of ballet, Latin and modern dances in three acts.
Ramirez warns that “Nightclub” deals with dark subject matter, but says the program is so beautifully danced that audiences tend to miss the social commentary subtext.
“I think good art should have a message,” Ramirez said Thursday, “but not so loud and clear that you become deaf.”
The evening opens in Buenos Aires in the 1920s, at the time when the first wave of Latin social dances are breaking across the United States. “Cada Noche — Tango” (Every Night — Tango), choreographed by Graciela Daniele and set to the music of Astor Piazzolla, unfolds in a South American brothel.
Ramirez said one audience member was outraged that a female director would stage such a scene, complete with violence against women. Others complained that the third act, set in a nightclub in New York in 2003, promoted drug use. But Ramirez defended her artistic choices.
“My medium is the stage and I’m putting it on here because I want you to see it and do something about it,” she said. “I’m not promoting it, I’m showing it. We do it in very good taste.”
The second act, “Dejame Sonar” (Let Me Dream), choreographed by Alexandre Magno, dances to the rhythms of Tito Puente and Pink Martini of the 1950s — the era when the second wave of Latin dances, the conga and rhumba, crashed New York dance halls. Here, audiences are introduced to a young man who has abandoned his fiancee in Puerto Rico to take a stab at life in New York.
Sergio Trujillo choreographed the final dance “Hoy Como Ayer” (Today Like Yesterday), set in contemporary New York. In this act, the man catches the attention of Queenie, a mysterious woman in white, under the pounding tunes of DJ St. Germain, Gotan Project and X Alfonso. The man must reconcile his attractions with the regret of leaving loved ones behind.
Themes of love, temptation, betrayal and loss–as well as sparse narration and Jim Lewis’ libretto–unify the generations.
When “Nightclub” premiered at New York University in November, a New York Times critic described the dance troupe as “versatile, talented, attractive and energetic.” “Nightclub” will have two performances in Connecticut, with the second in Stamford Feb. 6, before it travels along the Sun Belt en route to California.
While Latin music and dance have been adopted by mainstream culture, Ramirez is concerned that the Hispanic population is still considered to be “the other” in the United States.
“I want people to see our humanity and don’t look just at the dancing,” she said.
But she does see the seeds of the Hispanic population starting to take root in middle-class America.
“It took about 10 years for Hispanics to come see my work,” Ramirez said of the audiences at the Ballet Hispanico, a New York-based company she founded in 1970. “It’s hard to work 16-hour days, come home, put on a tie and go to a cultural event.”
Now, she said she consistently sees mixed audiences.
Regarding her efforts to bring her work to the Hispanic community in New York, she said she tries, noting that if some angel would donate “a pot of money” to the company, her efforts could be improved markedly.
Tickets to the show at the Shubert range from $17-$37. Half-price student rush tickets are available beginning at 6 p.m. Two discounted tickets per valid student ID will be sold.