Dance con Corazon

"What I want," says Ballet Hispanico artistic director Tina Ramirez, "is that when people see a Hispanic person in the street, that people have respect for that person. That they don't just see a stereotype."
Certainly there is nothing stereotypical in Ballet Hispanico's movement vocabulary. Innovative and eclectic, the company incorporates flamenco, classical Spanish, popular Latin American and traditional Caribbean dances with ballet and modern techniques in works that reflect Hispanic themes. Ballet Hispanico is far from an ethnic company; it is most heavily influenced by ballet, if by any one thing. Yes, here is a hint of a flamenco arm, there a measure or two of zapateado. But wait, surely those arms remind us of Alvin Ailey, while that hitchkick looks like something from a Broadway musical.

Ballet Hispanico's concert this weekend opens with Stages. Based on the career of Ramirez (who appears in a cameo role), Stages traces the life of a dancer. Second on the program is Farewell, a depiction of the fragility of human relationships. Following Farewell is the sober and dramatic Two by an Error, loosely based on Uruguayan Eduardo Galeano's Las Caras y las Mascaras. The evening will close with El Nuevo Mundo; set to music by Paco de Lucia, it retells the tale of Christopher Columbus with the help of a group of young street kids.

Ballet Hispanico, which Ramirez founded in New York in 1970, uses the work of a number of choreographers, not all of whom are Hispanic. Ramirez choreographed for the company in the beginning, but time constraints and her original vision for the company led her to seek out other choreographers. "From the beginning, I saw Ballet Hispanico as a repertory company," she says. "Two of Ballet Hispanico's choreographers have been members of the company. Others were choreographers I approached. Some of them have been from Latin America themselves or studied with teachers such as Katherine Dunham, who of course used a lot of Caribbean rhythms. But you don't really need the vocabulary of, say, flamenco. You just need exposure to the music. It's all in the music. Susan Marshall has just done a piece for us which uses flamenco music, and it's simply gripping."

Equally important to the performing
company -- which has toured the United States, Europe and South America -- is the Ballet Hispanico school. More than 1,000 students are enrolled in year-round professional training, supported in part by a Challenge Grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.

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For Ramirez, her work with young people is her investment in the future, part of her long-range thinking. "I want to make my students terrific teachers, to prepare them for leadership positions in the dance world. I want to develop our own choreographers. All this takes a long time. To choreograph, you have to know music, lighting... how to dance! You have to know literature, philosophy... And, to be a good work of art -- we must not forget the heart."

The Society of the Performing Arts presents Ballet Hispanico's Houston debut Friday and Saturday, March 11 and 12, at 8 p.m. in the Cullen Theater of the Wortham Theater Center, 500 Texas, 227-

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