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Sleek Lines and Fat Cigars (if You Got Em)

Pedro Ruiz's "Club Havana" has become a signature work for Ballet Hispanico, and on Tuesday night at the Joyce Theater it was easy to see why. Hot and cool, the ballet takes Latin ballroom dances brought to the United States since the 1920s and artfully sews them together in choreography that could be performed only by classically trained dancers.

Ballet Hispanico looks terrific in "Club Havana," to Latin music by five composer. The dancers, led by Eric Rivera, Irene Hogarth-Cimino, Waldemar Quinones-Villanueva and Natalia Alonso, have a coolly funny sense of timing, particularly when they brandish and smoke cigars. Their bodies stretch into long, sleek ballet lines suggesting that these men and women know how to deal with transitory passion.

On paper the evening looked like a company director's dream. Talley Beatty's "Caravanserai" has its long moments, but pairing it with William Whitener's "Tito on Timbales" is astute programming as well as a lesson in how disparate influences can create distinctive style.

Founded in 1970 and directed by Tina Ramirez, a Venezuelan-born dancer whose programming tends to be adventurous, Ballet Hispanico is also filled with dancers of wide experience. Yet the company is unmistakably itself.

Still, the crisp attack and authority of the dancing in "Club Havana" were largely missing in "Caravanserai" and "Tito on Timbales." "Caravanserai" is essentially a processional of fast stage crosses accented with high, skewed lifts. The dancers seemed oddly hesitant and rooted to the ground in the piece, to music by Santana. Steps and gestures looked more discrete than flowing. Mr. Beatty's concept of dance that is one with light, air and the universe sounds like a difficult assignment. And the performers seemed not yet to have settled into "Caravanserai," staged for the troupe by Merle Holloman.

"Tito on Timbales," Mr. Whitener's hip postmodernist encounter with Latin syncopation, with music by Tito Puente (performed live onstage by the Latin Percussion Rhythm Ensemble), looked almost academic. There was plenty of juice in the individual bodies, which oozed and swayed satisfyingly. But that flow ended when the shifting clusters had to travel through space. A bit of extravagant exuberance, here and in "Caravanserai," would have saved the day.

Source: New York Times