The Washington Ballet’s “Latin Heat” program began with a mariachi band welcoming us into the Kennedy Center Eisenhower Theater with bright, chirpy brass. It ended with dancers in black plastic merengue pants diving into white confetti, the stage transformed into a snowy Slip’N Slide.
This was all part of the “great, glorious mash-up” of Latin culture, as Washington Ballet Artistic Director Septime Webre described it in brief remarks to the audience Thursday. Webre knows the mash-up well, coming from a Cuban American family that seems to have possessed its own touch of magic realism. Anyone who knows Webre has undoubtedly heard hilarious stories of the aunts and assorted elders whose grand appetite for life informs his own.
True to that spirit, a certain pluckiness and sense of adventure colored the evening. In cabaret style, Hans van Manen’s “5 Tangos,” a meandering piece with too much overdrive, was followed by Radio Jarocho, a Mexican folk band whose members rose like Venus from the pit on an elevator platform. Then came a little snippet of the war horse ballet “Don Quixote.” This was like an odd fish bone in a casserole, completely out of place even for a mash-up.
Finally, three contemporary works fit in nicely together. In Edwaard Liang’s “La Ofrenda” (“The Offering”), the elusive Sona Kharatian slipped like silk through the hands of Brooklyn Mack. Together with the ensemble ballets “Sombrerisimo” by Annabelle Lopez Ochoa and “Bitter Sugar” by Mauro de Candia, at last we had a cohesive array of experiences.
In this region, we have been fortunate to see numerous works by Lopez Ochoa, through her work with the Washington Ballet and last spring’s visit by the Scottish Ballet, performing her “Streetcar Named Desire.” “Sombrerisimo” is one of the best by this highly imaginative Belgian-Colombian choreographer. It’s a reflection on the surrealist world of Belgian painter René Magritte, with Latin-inspired music and lots of bowler hats.
The men wearing them were at times tensed and drawn inward like dreamy prizefighters; at other moments they flew into acrobatic flips, smacking their thighs, breaking out of their static poses with uninhibited glee. Candia’s “Bitter Sugar,” with the merengue pants and the confetti, caught this atmosphere and took it devilishly onward and upward — and downward — proving that sheer, goofy joy can even be discovered in a belly flop.
The Washington Ballet performs “Project Global: Latin Heat” through Sunday at the Kennedy Center Eisenhower Theater. Tickets $30.50-$102. Call 202-467-4600 or visit www.kennedy-center.org.