What Alvin Ailey was to African Americans in terms of creating a meaningful presence in the world of ballet and modern dance, Tina Ramirez was to the Latino community in the US. The Venezuelan-born daughter of a Mexican bullfighter and a Puerto Rican immigrant rights activist, she landed in New York City as a young girl and studied Spanish dance with Lola Bravo and Luisa Pericet, classical ballet with Chester Hale and Alexandra Danilova and modern dance with Anna Sokolow. She went on to dance professionally with Spanish dance companies and Xavier Cugat’s orchestra, at Italy’s Spoleto Festival, on Broadway and on television.
In the 1960s, Ramirez became a passionate educator, using federal anti-poverty funding to create an intensive dance training program for young Latinos. By 1970 that effort had blossomed into the cultural institution now known as Ballet Hispanico, which went on to perform for millions of people across three continents. Ramirez served as artistic director of the troupe for nearly four decades, winning the National Medal of the Arts in 2005. Her outreach program in dance and Hispanic culture still reaches some 15,000 students annually.
Now 85, Ramirez retired in 2009, but passed the torch to an able acolyte: Eduardo Vilaro, founder of Chicago’s Luna Negra Dance Theater. Under Vilaro’s direction, Ballet Hispanico continues to uphold its reputation as the nation’s premier Latino dance organization, performing a rich and diverse repertory of more than 100 works – many of them commissions – fusing Latin and contemporary dance by top-shelf choreographers and emerging artists alike.
The troupe will perform four of those works this Saturday at the Bardavon 1869 Opera House in Poughkeepsie. Vilaro himself choreographed Asuka (2011), a celebration of the music of Celia Cruz, the “Queen of Salsa.” Also on the program are Nacho Duato’s Jardi Tancat (2013), based on Catalonian folktales; Cayetano Soto’s duet on the theme of fate, Sortijas (2013); and Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s Sombrerísimo (2013), inspired by René Magritte’s Surrealist paintings of men in bowler hats.
Curtain time for Ballet Hispanico’s performance at the Bardavon is 8 p.m. on Saturday, March 15. Tickets cost $60 for Golden Circle seating, $45 for general admission, $40 for Bardavon members and $20 for students. They are available at the Bardavon box office at 35 Market Street in Poughkeepsie, (845) 473-2072; the Ulster Performing Arts Center box office at 601 Broadway in Kingston, (845) 339-6088; or via TicketMaster at (800) 745-3000 or www.ticketmaster.com. For more information, visit www.bardavon.org.
Ballet Hispanico, Saturday, March 15, 8 p.m., $60/$45/$40/$20, Bardavon, 35 Market Street, Poughkeepsie; (845) 473-2072, www.bardavon.org.