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Ballet Hispanico Returns to Joyce

Ballet Hispanico returned to the Joyce Theater for a two-week season (Dec. 5-17) with two world premieres—Ramón Oller's "Eyes of the Soul," and "Club Havana," by Pedro Ruiz. Also on the Dec. 10 program was Ruiz's "Guajira," which premiered last season.

"Eyes of the Soul" was created to honor the great Spanish composer JoaquÍn Rodrigo—who was blinded by disease in early childhood—on the centennial celebration of his birth. Oller's plot commences with a woman leading a blind man across the stage and exiting. Dancers come onto the scene unaware of the pair passing previously, and go through some decorative paces combining both ballet and Spanish influences. Their exemplary training was immediately apparent and truly awesome.

When they fade out of the picture, we see the blind man seated and appearing in utter despair, while his devoted partner keeps circling around him. Whether she is wife, lover, or nurse is not clarified, but she is intensely devoted. She circles constantly, as if willing him to pull out of his wretchedness.

As if sensing her concern, he begins to move ever so slowly. Initially, he begins some beautifully rounded arm movements, and then commences to move his body slowly, almost as if performing a dance while still seated.

When he finally rises and reaches for his partner, an adagio of wonderful proportion ensues. Even as the desperate man keeps reverting to his initial state, dancers in the background make visible the frustrating thoughts going through his mind.

The most heart-rending scene occurs when the blind man attempts to find his partner. He keeps groping his way desperately through a group of dancers. His partner may have distanced herself, not because of any cruel intention, but in order to see whether he will find the impetus to seek her out on his own. He finally manages to find and embrace her.

This scene offered intensely dramatic staging, mirrored in choreography of startling originality, all superbly performed by Jennifer DePalo and Pedro Ruiz.

Perhaps the production should have concluded at this point, for everything that came after seemed anti-climactic. The blind man still sensing torments in his mind as illustrated by the group of dancers could not surpass the foregoing scene. This in no way faults the insightful choreography, which drew on the composer's inner vision and was truly reflected in "Eyes of the Soul."

"Club Havana," generally encompassing the night life of that city, displays the dances emanating from Cuba that have become popular here—Mambo, Cha Cha Cha, Rhumba, Conga—but Pedro Ruiz forms them into a unique, stylized format. So don't go with the expectation that his dances are similar to the ones you have seen executed in U.S. dance halls. Do go to give yourself a treat and to enjoy Ballet Hispanico's perking young dancers— Jennifer DePalo, Irene Hogarth, Curtis Glover, Nicole Corea, Hector Montero, Jae-Man Joo, Dawn Noel Pignuola, Solomon Bafana Matea, Arleane López, and Eric Rivera.

Cuban-born Pedro Ruiz experienced the rural life, and his "Guajira" salutes the women of the Cuban countryside by celebrating their labor and their love of dance. They are hard workers, but their partying after work adds zest to what might otherwise appear to be drab lives. Ruiz's reminiscences resulted in a work of pure pleasure, with all of the afore-mentioned dancers rating cheers.

Zakharova in NYC Ballet Debut

Svetlana Zakharova and Igor Zelensky, principal dancers with the Kirov Ballet, performed the roles of The Sugarplum Fairy and Her Cavalier in New York City Ballet's The Nutcracker on Dec. 15 and 16. Zakharova has been a member of the Kirov Ballet since 1996 and has performed in their productions of The Sleeping Beauty, Giselle, and Swan Lake, among others. She has also danced in the Kirov productions of Balanchine's "Apollo," "Symphony in C," and "Serenade." Her performances of The Nutcracker mark Zakharova's debut with New York City Ballet.

Zelensky joined the Kirov Ballet in 1989 and has performed leading roles in their Don Quixote and Swan Lake, as well as the male lead in Balanchine's "Theme and Variations." He also performed with NYC Ballet from 1992 through 1997 as a principal dancer, appearing in varied roles within the company's repertory.

Of course, the presence of the Kirov ballerina will bring on the inevitable argument as to which dancers are superior, the Russians or the Americans. Speaking for myself, I can state: "It's like comparing apples and oranges. They both are delicious."

Zakharova possessed a lovely presence and her every movement spells elegance. Zelensky certainly supplied her with all the nobility required of an ideal Cavalier. He was also splendid in his solos.

Let it be known that we have seen NYC ballerinas who were quite unforgettable as the Sugarplum Fairy. In our own era, Kyra Nichols and Darci Kistler always brought a vibrant warmth to the role, and when the ballet was first presented, two legendary ballerinas, Maria Tallchief and Melissa Hayden, brought their own memorable luster to it.

Perhaps the competitive spirit reigned at the performance seen on Dec. 16, as every one of the principals and soloists involved seemed to outdo themselves.

Jennie Somogyi as Dewdrop brought cheers from the onlookers as vociferous as those accorded Zakharova and Zelensky. Also receiving plaudits were performances by Monique Meunier as a highly sensual Coffee, Antonio Carmena as the highly bounding Tea, Stephen Hanna as the ebullient Mother Ginger, and Daniel Ulbricht, who led the Candy Canes in the intricate hoop dance.

Even the first act at the home of Dr. and Frau Stahlbaum seemed to take on a new life, thanks to those portraying their children: Ojela Burkhard as Marie (later on The Little Princess) and Shimon Ito as Fritz, her bratty brother and general troublemaker. Best of all the children was Zakary Yermolenko as Herr Drosselmeier's Nephew. Yermolenko subsequently turned into The Nutcracker, and then into The Little Prince who escorts Marie in the fantastic journey to The Land of Snow and The Land of Sweets. The lad was certainly well trained in his mime.

Even the mysterious Herr Drosslemeier, who is both menacing figure and godfather to Marie, was well portrayed as a many-faceted figure by Stuart Capps in a peppery little dance.

We have been seeing Balanchine's The Nutcracker since 1954, and the Dec. 16 performance was one of the most memorable to date.

NYC Ballet in Repertory

After 48 performances of The Nutcracker, NYC Ballet opens its repertory season Jan. 2 and continues for eight weeks through Feb. 25. For general information on tickets for any NYC Ballet performance, call (212) 870-5570.

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