Performing Arts: The Ballet’s Noche de Pasión

by John Arundel

The Washington Ballet ends its 2011-2012 season with plenty of passion and talent.

By Sarah Valerio

The Mexican Cultural Institute set the stage for an evening of passion. (Photo by Tony Powell)

“¡Noche Latina!” debuted last month at the Kennedy Center as a reflection on Hispanic culture through the lens of ballet.

The Washington Ballet’s latest production led by Artistic Director Septime Webre kicked off with a “Noche de Pasión” benefit, and the night of Latino passion truly lived up to its billing.

Diplomatic patrons Mexican Amb. Arturo Sarukhan his wife Veronica Valencia de Sarukhan hosted the lively evening with Pilar O’Leary and Isabel Ernst serving as co-chairmen. Proceeds benefited Washington Ballet’s dancers and scholarship funds for students.

Mexican Amb. Arturo Sarukhan with Washington Ballet's Artistic Director Septime Webre. (Photo by Tony Powell)

Guests were treated to a glamorous dinner-dance after-party inspired by the 1940s Golden Age of Mexican cinema with music by New York City deejay Pitch One, margarita bars, tequila tastings and a Latin menu created by Fujimar Restaurant and Lounge.

Black-and-white images of sultry Latin divas adorned the velvet-draped walls. Guests packed the dance floor, staying well after 2 a.m. dancing to the hottest songs from Mexico City, Bogotá, Ibiza and Rio. “It was one of the best parties I have ever been to in D.C.,” said O’Leary, a veteran of the Washington charity circuit.

The highlight of the evening was the world-premiere performance of “¡Noche Latina!”. An inspired production blending classic and modern ballet with Hispanic flavor, it appeals to both serious ballet aficionados and casual theater-goers. The mixed repertory, three-movement program marked the close of The Washington Ballet’s 2011-2012 season.

Evening host Veronica Valencia de Sarukhan with co-chairmen Pilar O'Leary and Isabel Ernst. (Photo by Tony Powell)

Those lucky enough to witness the show were in for a treat as the curtain opened on “Sueño de Marmol” (“Dream of Marble”) choreographed by Annabelle Lopez Ochoa, which made its world premiere May 10 at the Kennedy Center. The performance depicted a sculpture garden come to life and intermingled both classic and modern ballet.

The performance drew a stark contrast between the strong, dominant and powerful performance of feature dancer Luis R. Torres, who danced primarily modern ballet in a colorful costume, while the other dancers — the sculptures in white — danced a more classic style.

Meredith and Michael Cymerman. (Photo by Tony Powell)

Then unexpectedly, a rainbow of sombreros rose from the depths of the orchestra pit, revealing Grammy Award-winning Colombian Totó la Momposina y Sus Tambores. La Momposina belted out up-tempo Latino hits in traditional, colorful attire as the band accompanied her on guitars and bongo drums, intermittently getting the crowd to clap along to the beat, barely able to keep from dancing in the aisles.

The company slowed things down with “Like a Samba” choreographed by Trey McIntyre. Infused with more subtle tones and simple, straight-forward dances, the piece, set to the music of Astrud Gilberto, culminated with a number to “The Girl From Ipanema.”

Guests enjoy the Casa Dragones Tequila Tasting Bar. (Photo by Tony Powell)

But the true climax of the program had to be the final movement.

The Edward Laang-choreographed “La Ofrenda” (“The Offering,” which also premiered worldwide May 10) delved into the spirit of life, the beauty and sadness of death, as well as the timeless nature of love through an ethereal grace that brought audience members to tears.

“Coyita,” tells the story of a passionate love and depicts Mexico’s Day of the Dead, performed to perfection by exceptionally talented feature dancers Torres and Maki Onuki, who mesmerized with her smooth swan-like grace. You couldn’t tear your eyes from her flowing movements, which elongated her body far beyond its diminutive frame.

A mariachi band provided lively tunes. (Photo by Tony Powell)

Internationally renowned Spanish painter and sculptor Cristobal Gabarron‘s set provided a colorful, abstract backdrop for “La Ofrenda.” Sculptures featured in the set design are to be sold to raise money for the ballet company’s Latino dancers and outreach programs.

When the curtain finally closed, audience members rose to their feet, rewarding the dancers and choreographers with a well-earned standing ovation every bit as enthusiastic and full of passion as “¡Noche Latina!”, carrying well on into the night at the “Noche de Pasión” after-party.

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