Review: The Rise and Fall of Eva Perón's Ballet

The Ballet Hispánico, founded in 1970, has been celebrating its 50th anniversary for two solid years. At the inaugural City Center Danc...

The Ballet Hispánico, founded in 1970, has been celebrating its 50th anniversary for two solid years. At the inaugural City Center Dance Festival on Friday, the company presented the final program for the extended celebration, which got off to a rocky start with performances canceled in April 2020. Anniversary events often feel like an empty marching band, but this turned out to be a milestone, a breakthrough: the company’s first one-night production, and a landmark production at that.

The 75 minutes”Dona Peron“, choreographed by prolific Belgian-Colombian dancer Annabelle Lopez Ochoa, is a vivid portrait in 10 episodes of the life of Eva Perón – Evita – the mythical and polarizing Argentine actress who rose from poverty to populist first lady, all before the age of 33, when she died of cervical cancer.

In an interview about work, Lopez Ochoa said, “We really wanted to portray a woman without being judgmental,” an approach she reiterated Friday during a post-show interview with Ballet Hispánico artistic director Eduardo Villaro. Still, it’s hard to walk away from “Doña Perón” without admiring its protagonist, partly because of the storytelling choices – which emphasize the personal rather than the political – and partly because of the brilliance of the main dancer of the opening night cast, the captivating Dandara Veiga.

One of the production’s greatest strengths is its thoughtful integration of movement – ​​the athletic, polished contemporary ballet style of Lopez Ochoa, danced beautifully by the entire cast – with beautiful design elements. This harmony stands out from the first holy image: Veiga alone in the center of the scene, raised on a pedestal in a voluminous white robe, as if in full ascent. (Mark Eric designed the plot-propelling costumes, many of which come and go through seamless scene changes; spare, working set and projections are by Christopher Ash.)

Veiga is soon joined by a chorus of dancers representing Evita’s working-class supporters, the descamisados ​​(or bare-chested), waving white sheets in the air. Their anchored unison phrases compensate for the immobility of his authoritarian posture: arms raised at right angles, framing his face, a recurring gesture that sometimes turns into a frantic movement, echoed by the group. Sounds of a recorded speech and a pep thread through Peter Salem’s dramatic original score (performed live) for bandoneonpiano, percussion, cello and violin.

Lopez Ochoa, who collaborated with director Nancy Meckler, establishes early on that something is wrong: Veiga convulses and sways off balance; his followers catch him. In the second episode, we meet the child Evita (the valiant Nina Basu) and witness her rejection by her father, who had a more well-to-do second family. Young Evita reappears throughout the ballet, sometimes banished by her older sister and sometimes embraced.

The action progresses through Evita’s move to the city, depicting her flirtations with men – a skillful, tango-inspired display of partnership – and her continued rise to fame and power. (Although very different from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical, this retelling of Evita’s story seems to draw inspiration from her story arc.) Chris Bloom, as Juan Perón, is a capable technician but overshadowed by Veiga’s increasingly intense light. Their chemistry, as spouses and political partners, never really clicks.

Theatrically, “Doña Perón” suffers from overworked and undercooked moments. The specter of the disease looms in melodramatic fashion: from time to time, Veiga wobbles and clutches his abdomen, as projections of what look like roots or nerves appear in the background, a suggestion of the internal decline of the body. When her character dies and Bloom tries to revive her, the interaction is almost cartoonish.

But other passages are as touching as flat. Towards the end, Veiga (on stage for most of the work) finds herself alone, shunned by the waltzing upper classes. In silence (the music has died down), she throws her high heels and her diamond necklace backstage and begins to stamp her feet and shout with captivating brutality: “Che! Che!” The ensemble joins her, multiplying their rhythms with their own a cappella calls and body percussion. In this grouping, you see not only a fascinating history, but a company that has reached a new horizon.

Hispanic Ballet

Through Sunday at City Center, Manhattan;

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Newsrust - US Top News: Review: The Rise and Fall of Eva Perón's Ballet
Review: The Rise and Fall of Eva Perón's Ballet
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