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DANCE REVIEW : N.Y.'s Ballet Hispanico Brings 'Cafe America' to Cerritos


In the wake of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, Ballet Hispanico became the second New York company recently to bring a healing vision to the City of the Angels, as it opened a four-part program Monday at the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts with George Faison's bittersweet valentine to the new world, "Cafe America."

Created in 1990 to the haunting, evocative music of Ruben Blades and Julio Iglesias, the work begins with three immigrants struggling to restart their stalled car and continue their journey to a new life.

They manage to make it to Cafe America--cleverly represented by the propped-up hood of their Volkswagen bug, plus a few bar stools. They don spiffy clothes, dance with unseen partners, bond in ideal camaraderie, fend off a fight with someone outside.

It turns out they were imagining it all. Suddenly, we find two of them back in their work suits, still struggling to start the car. One man has disappeared. Maybe Immigration authorities got him, as implied in one sequence.

But lo and behold, the car does start and the two set off to find their dreams. We may suppose they find a less happy life, but that's our conclusion, not necessarily Faison's.

As the three guys, Jose Costas, Pedro Ruiz and Ted Thomas danced with such appealing sweetness and open-hearted directness that the emptiness of the choreography and the awkward transitions from naturalistic movement to balletic near-preening mattered very little. We wanted them to find their dreams.

Unfortunately, this vision was not sustained. William Whitener's "Ola Chica" proved little more than a formal series of movement studies danced more strongly by the women (Laura Taber, Lynne Morrissey and Miriam Kescherman) than the men (Guillermo Asca and Eduardo Vilaro).

Amanda Miller's "Two By an Error," a kind of music visualization, was hopelessly obscure, though fitfully interesting. Those who know Eduardo Galeano's novel, "Las Caras y las Mascaras"--said to inspire the ballet--maybe can figure it out.

Far worse was Graciela Daniele's "El Nuevo Mundo" (music by Paco de Lucia), in which, reads a program note, "a band of modern-day street kids recreate history using the culture they have made for themselves in this New World." The kids are named Cristobal, Isabel, Fernando, La Nina, La Pinta and so on. Guess the history.

So the vulgar couplings and trashing of flamenco concert dance forms are their vision of things, not Daniele's. It doesn't wash.

At the end, Isabel takes a jeweled cross hanging from her neck and gives it to Cristobal, but only because he has been her best, most recent roll in the hay. Borne on the shoulders of his friends, he bears the cross aloft--into the New World or onto the next block. The image is not particularly intellectually challenging or stimulating, but it is incendiary and divisive.

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