At the turn of the 20th century, the popular ballets told stories—usually, magical ones. In The Nutcracker, Clara falls asleep after a family Christmas party and awakens in a world of snowflakes and sugarplums; in Giselle, a jilted folk girl saves her true love by fending off a group of ghostly spirits. The production for these ballets was spectacular. Stagehands at the Russian Imperial Ballet, for instance, made ships sink onstage and castles appear out of nowhere. Then the 1900s ushered in modernism. In mid-’50s New York, the so-called “plotless ballet” reigned. The era’s most celebrated dances were performed in simple leotards and tights with minimal set design. But in the 21st century, the pendulum has swung back. Story ballets have exploded again—this time, with Broadway-style tricks adorning the classical steps. One of these is Doña Perón, a 75-minute production choreographed by Annabelle Lopez Ochoa for Ballet Hispánico. The ballet depicts the life of Eva Perón, the First Lady of Argentina from 1946 until her death in 1952, and features 80 costume changes, 21 pairs of shoes, 10 gowns costing nearly $2,000 each, and a live band. The sets range from sweaty dancehall to decadent ballroom, jail cell to public square, all evoked through creative lighting and minimal set design. The wife of Juan Perón, “Evita” is polarizing. In Argentina, she remains beloved, a saintly figure who championed the poor and received a state funeral after dying of cancer at 33. Yet the Peróns also had ties to the Nazis, reportedly allowing war criminals entry into Argentina after World War II, among other acts. “We wanted to present her backstory without judgment,” says Ochoa. This is a key difference between the story ballets of the past and today. Where the old narratives left viewers with a moral, the new narratives present the complicated reality. Doña Perón tells the story of a beautiful, beloved woman who cared for the Argentine people, whose government aided and abetted Nazis, who died young and in pain. Doña Perón runs Nov. 30 to Dec. 3 at the Kennedy Center. kennedy-center.org. $35–$129.
For more dance recommendations, check out our calendar.