With “Doña Perón,” New York-based Ballet Hispánico proves there’s always more to say about a legend, in this case through the kinesthetic arts.
The complex, charismatic and tragically short-lived Argentine first lady María Eva Duarte de Perón, better known to some as “Evita,” has inspired some of the most flamboyant creations in the history of showbiz, notably Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical and its film companion starring Madonna. But the latest production from the 50-year-old Latinx dance institution, choreographed by Annabelle Lopez Ochoa with live music by Peter Salem, puts some exciting new moves on the story nonetheless.
We spoke with Ochoa on Evita’s perennial allure, why COVID-19 wasn’t entirely disastrous for the medium of dance and the next rebellious woman she plans to take on as an inspiration. The answers have been lightly edited for clarity and length.
District Fray: How did you first become interested in Eva Perón and her life?
Annabelle Lopez Ochoa: Five years ago, Eduardo Vilaro, the artistic director and CEO for Ballet Hispánico, mentioned that he wanted us to perform a full-length ballet. He mentioned the name of Eva Perón, and it was an immediate match for me because I love making ballets about historical figures.
What would you like for audiences to know before they attend this show?
The piece is divided into ten tableaux, in which we unveil a portrait of Eva Perón like a kaleidoscope, about who she is and why she became this controversial icon, adored by some and despised by others.
There are four main themes. First, her past haunts her in the form of a little Eva as a child who disrupts some of the scenes and who Eva tries to hide from everyone. Then, there’s the love story of Eva Duarte and Juan Perón: how they met, fell in love, got married and became a power couple. Third, we look at the adulation of the descamisados — the poor people — for their saint and savior Eva Peron. Then, there’s the cancer that slowly eats her up and stops her battle for the poor.
You have an impressive work ethic. How do you keep up your energy and motivation?
Choreography and telling stories are my passion. It never feels like work to be in the studio.
What makes dance such a powerful avenue of expression?
When dance combines poetry, athleticism and beauty, then it reaches many hearts in the audience.
How has your experience of live performance changed in the last few years?
I’m so happy we’re back to live performances, even though the pandemic gave the art form of dance a tremendous impetus to develop dance on camera.
What is your next big challenge?
My next big challenge is a new narrative about Coco Chanel for the Hong Kong Ballet. The piece is a co-production between Hong Kong Ballet, Atlanta Ballet and Queensland Ballet. Mademoiselle Chanel is another historical figure with a complicated story. I can’t wait to start the process in February 2023.
“Doña Perón” plays at the Kennedy Center from November 30 through December 3.