Ballet Hispanico unleashed a whirl of color and the contagious rhythms of Latin dance music at George Mason University on Saturday night with its opening piece, "Dejame Sonar," which is part of "Nightclub," a longer work set in Spanish Harlem's legendary social clubs. Choreographer Alexandre Magno and costume designer Paul Tazewell created a visual delight with women in bright 1950s full-skirted dresses partnered with men in colorful cabana shirts. The sexy, upbeat, hip-swaying, ballroom-style dancing was captivating, and showed off the company's strong theatrical corps.

But the work, a series of vignettes that tried to tell a story, never quite held together, seeming like choreography that has been excerpted from a longer Broadway musical.

The evening's other work was more successful, eschewing storytelling for movement evocative of the human condition. "Bury Me Standing," choreographed by Ramon Oller using traditional Gypsy melodies, revealed the sensual yet strife-ridden world of the nomadic Roma people. The flowing peasant costumes by Willa Kim, in muted tie-dye colors, beautifully accompanied the willowy shantytown stage set by Eugene Lee. Crawling and sliding along the floor, the dancers began their work with insect-like grace as if skimming a pond. They ebbed and flowed into a sea of flesh only to be dispersed like the wind.

Near the end of the piece, the dancers scurried on their knees onto the stage, frantically searching for something to give them hope and sustenance. They settle for ritual, incantations, animal noises and perfunctory signs of the cross. They watch and they wait -- a convincing portrayal of a culture lost in time.

-- Barbara Allen

Ballet Hispanico performed "Bury Me Standing" at George Mason's Center for the Arts.