Eva Perón has had many names and titles. A saint, a first lady, a savior, and a dancehall girl–aka prostitute. There are more names and epithets than I can include here for “Evita,” Argentina’s most controversial First Lady. Ballet Hispánico brings the legend and the truth behind the image into sharp focus with their 50th-anniversary show–Doňa Perón.
The opening dance has Eva Perón elevated on a pedestal in homage to her famous last speech to the descamisados–her shirtless ones. Eva is dying and literally hoisted up to make one last appeal to the throngs of people who made her an icon. Dandara Veiga as Eva was beautifully backlit with a flowing white dress spread across the stage. The descamisados are waving white banners and then segue into unwinding Eva from the platform using the skirt as a tent and a wrapper.
The audience is taken back to Eva’s childhood when she is rejected by her father and his legitimate family. Nina Basu is an emotive and graceful dancer playing the child clinging to her father and desperate for his love. To be an illegitimate child was a great shame in a deeply Catholic Argentina. Basu is heartbreaking in expressing the grief and determination of Eva wanting to have power, acceptance, and love.
The dance covers Eva’s life in progress from using her seductive powers as a dancehall girl to taking on more wealthy and powerful men. A dancehall girl was considered no more than a prostitute, especially if they were dancing the tango. Tango is a term for music and the dance that accompanies it. It is very sensual with complicated twists and uses the legs to seemingly entangle the dancers. Tango was performed mostly by formerly enslaved Africans and mixed-race people on the wrong side of town. It did not become the national dance of Argentina until after WWII.
Choreographer Anabelle Lopez Ochoa weaves elements of tango into traditional ballet. It has an expressionistic effect that emphasizes the movements as architectural and kinetic. Light and set designer Christopher Ash’s work beautifully accentuates the muscular and liquid movements of the dancers. The costumes are khaki and drab colors, putting Eva and Juan Perón into a dramatic relief against the dance troupe.
The sparse set and lighting contribute to the rise of Eva to Argentina’s First Lady. The performance is more of an homage and except for the dancehall scenes, it does not refer to the more controversial themes of Eva’s life. I have always been fascinated by the history and movements of South America. Politics tends to be more delineated and military-influenced than in the USA. The Peróns were accused of looting the treasury so that Eva could dress well and live luxuriously, but she also gave away clothes and food to her descamisados and they were fervently devoted. That is what is portrayed in Doňa Perón.
I would be remiss if I did not mention the beautiful live music that accompanied the performance. The authentic tango sound was courtesy of Héctor Del Curto on badoneon (concertina) for that accordion sound so ingrained in tango music. Ahmed Alom Vega was on piano, Brian Shankar Adler on percussion, Sami Medinian on violin, and Jisoo Ok on cello.
It is no simple feat to put together a performance to live music. Dancers and musicians were in perfect sync for a beautiful telling of the life of a complex and iconic figure on the world stage. I encourage you to go see Ballet Hispánico the next time they swing through Chicago. It is worth the time and a treat for the eyes and ears.
Ballet Hispánico played at the Auditorium Theatre March 26 and 27. More information about the troupe can be found on the website.
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