HARLEM—Despite having traveled around the world for the past 40 years relaying its mission of promoting Latino culture through dance, Ballet Hispanico has never performed at the Apollo Theater, just miles from its Upper West Side home.
All of that will change Saturday when the group debuts a 90-minute show at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. featuring three performances based on the music of two people who knew a little something about Harlem and the Apollo Theater, Tito Puente and Celia Cruz.
"We want to bring Ballet Hispanico to more of the people. We've had a wonderful run downtown but we need to be accessible to everybody and this is the kind of music and dancing that are community thrives on," said the group's artistic director Eduardo Vilaro.
Founded on the Upper West Side 41 years ago, Ballet Hispanico is a contemporary dance company that "fuses classical movement with Latino movement," said Vilaro, who was a dancer in the company in the 1980s.
"It's called Ballet Hispanico because ballet means dance in French but that doesn't mean we are just about tutu's," he said. "When you see a piece, you will see things that are recognizable to Latino culture and some of it not. It adds to the idea that culture is not static."
Vilaro will also debut his first original work for the company called "Asuka." The work, commissioned by Goya Foods to celebrate their 75th anniversary, honors the legacy of Cruz, who died in 2003 but was known as the "Queen of Salsa."
"It's about the music of Celia Cruz. I used a lot of her earlier recordings and remixes of her music to create images," Vilaro said. "Contemporary dance is about creating images and letting the images tell the story."
"Tito on Timbales" also pays homage to Puente, an "Apollo Legend." The piece focuses on how Puente's "sophisticated patterns and impassioned rhythms move us to this very day," said Vilaro.
The third piece "Club Havana" is choreographer Pedro Ruiz' re-imagining of a club playing Conga, Rumba, Mambo, and Cha Cha — dance and music styles of Cuba.
Both "Club Havana" and "Tito on Timbales" will be performed live by the Grammy-winning Arturo O’Farrill and the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra.
"We are expecting for people who love this music and the Apollo to come out for this exploration. We want people to experience us for the first time along with those who already enjoy us," said Vilaro. "I think this is going to be the start of a really wonderful relationship with the Apollo."
TIckets for the performances are $28-$48. Futher information can be found on the Apollo's website.