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The good life -- full-tilt

November 21, 2005|Victoria Looseleaf | Special to The Times

Although there was very little ballet Friday night at the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts, there was much in the way of hot-blooded Latino dance culture searing the stage as New York-based Ballet Hispanico performed the Southern California premiere of its 2003 "NightClub."

Which is not to say that the three-part opus -- conceived by company artistic director Tina Ramirez and choreographed by Graciela Daniele, Alexandre Magno and Sergio Trujillo -- is high, thought-provoking art. But "NightClub," set to music that includes Astor Piazzolla, Tito Puente and Pink Martini, is sultry fun, with 13 gorgeous bodies operating at full-tilt.

The story, aided by guest artist Julio Monge's narrative bits, spotlights three Latin dance eras, beginning with Daniele's smoke-filled 1920s Buenos Aires, "Cada Noche ... Tango."

Pulverizing the floor with lunges, splits and swift kicks through partners' legs, couples oozed desire. Especially titillating: the Brothers -- Pedro Ruiz and Eric Rivera -- sparring over a Hitchcock-type blond, Sarah Skogland, who lets her hair down and her legs up -- way up.

Magno's "Dejame Sonar," a tribute to 1950s Spanish Harlem, harks back to a simpler time, one bursting with mambos, cha-chas and Desi Arnaz's "Babalu"-like rhythms.

Gals swirl in petticoated shirtwaists as hip-swaying men in skin-tight trousers (Paul Tazewell's costumes are couture-worthy throughout), salute la buena vida. Ruiz as the Dreamer leaves Puerto Rico and his Island Fiancee, barefooted Natalia Alonso, for New York's slithery barrooms, eventually succumbing to the Sophisticate, siren Skogland, their torrid partnering crushing that era's repressed sexuality.

Trujillo's "Hoy Como Ayer" features a high-flying, barrel-turning Rodney Hamilton as the DJ. It's Studio 54 redux, with sex, drugs and glam people pulsating passionately, including Skogland, who sports studded leather capris and ballet slippers, frequently zooming backward in bourree mode. But Ruiz, wearing a suit and glasses, ultimately falls for Queenie (Alonso) as the corps offers showy lifts, slinky jazz kicks and booty-shaking galore in a frenzied finale bordering on overkill.

"NightClub" sparkles with eye-popping performances, but, after all is danced and done, this bubbly brew feels a bit flat.

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