Thursday, July 19, 2012

Latin Flare: Muy Caliente!

To view a set of dance performances through a means of cultural empowerment is truly a beautiful experience. From July 12th-15th at the Dance New Amsterdam Theatre in New York City, The Latin Choreographers Festival celebrated its 5th Anniversary, dedicating the season to the memory of Mexican choreographer, Jose Limon. After hearing the title "Latin Choreographers Festival", a major question popped into my head: is this a Latin event solely presenting Latin dances? However, after looking into the festival's background, I discovered the set of performances was an opportunity to highlight a versatile group of Latin choreogrpahers with pieces that varied immensley from each other. This set of performances, and the goal of the festival in general, break away from Latin stereotypes of just Latin-based dance. I believe these choreographers have pulled from their culture and heritage and immersed their individual personalities into their work.

The run of the show included two sets of programs: program A, which featured Limon Company's dancer, Daniel Fetecua Soto on opening night. and program B. Overall, both programs featured works that were aesthetically pleasing to the eye and greatly displayed variety. Each piece was memorable for its own reasons, and I wish I could talk a little bit about each piece! However, with limited space, I'll cover the top 5 pieces, of the two shows combined,  that really stood out to me in a positive light and had me emotionally connected.

Photo credited to Rachel Neville
Pictured: Katia Garza and Sebastian Serra
"Ojala" was choreographed by Ana Cuellar and featured dancers, Katia Garza and Sebastian Serra. Cuellar's pointe work was performed beautifully by Garza, with great strength and body control. There was a great level of difficulty in the technique through solo moments as well as the partnering, which was done effortlessly; it was smooth like butter, but had the perfect touch of spice with dynamic jumps and movement. Cuellar enhanced the choreography with the great depiction of presenting the relationship of the dancers. I could see the sense of not wanting to leave each other through Garza and Serra'a emotional commitment to the piece, and I commend them for drawing me into their emotional journey. There was a chic, simplistic look with the costumes and lighting, and I also loved the use of a Latin song to salute the theme of the festival. Overall, the piece was well- choreographed and performed.

Photo credited to Rachel Neville
Pictured: Steven Gray
"Tree" was choreographed by Eloy Barragan and performed by Steven Gray. This piece legitimately had me melting in my seat. It started off with Gray in a center spotlight, all the way downstage, with his arms outreached to the side and his back to the audience. A strong start eagerly had me waiting for what was to come next. Gray is quite a tall dancer, and I must say, most tall people with long limbs do not know how to use their body very well. Gray proved me wrong: he had total control and awareness of his body as he moved elegantly across the intimate setting of the stage. He had beautiful leg extensions, gorgeous attitude turns, and great commitment to Barragan's movement. Gray had moments where he released his neck and threw his head back, and when he did, I felt so connected. I was breathing for him and with him as he danced. I was so mesmerized, I could barely write during the piece! I commend Gray and Barragan for a successfully graceful piece.

Photo credited to Rachel Neville
Pictured: Charli Brissey and Felix Cruz

"Other Side of Someday" was choreographed and performed by Felix Cruz and featured Charli Brissey. The piece started off with Cruz, wearing a loose-fitted tank top and underwear, downstage center in a dim light with Brissey starting upstage and walking from the shadows towards Cruz. The music reminded me of buzzing mosquitos and with little movement onstage, I was curious to know how the piece would develop. Well, it certainly developed when Brissey abruptly pulled Cruz's hair and yanked his head back as he fell to the ground. There were violent gestures of throwing Cruz around the stage, slapping him across the face, and Cruz even slapping himself across the face. It had to hurt! I had never seen a piece quite like this. People in the audience began to laugh at the self-mutilation, but I didn't feel comfortable to laugh because of the uncertainty about the piece's meaning. The piece completely shifted when Cruz turned toward the audience and lip synced "Somewhere Over the Rainbow". It was a provocative piece that evoked many emotions and kept me guessing through its entirety. The piece made a huge statement and was most certainly memorable. I would say it was in a category of its own and was one of my favorites of the night!

Photo credited to Rachel Neville
Pictured: Manon Parent and Manuel Vignouelle
"In A Box" was choreographed and performed by Manuel Vignoulle and featured Manon Parent. This piece was "best in show" for my taste! The piece started off with great suspense: no lights and the sound of breathing through the speakers. Soon after, with the lights still off, the breathing turned into a spoken word segment. Parent was in a center spotlight with movement that paralleled the spoken word about being in a box. She then opened her "box" and movements and allowed Vignouelle into her kinesphere as he entered the stage. There was great unison of choreography, a beautiful connection between the two, and admirable control of the body. The dancers were not afraid to breathe onstage; it was as though, the breath was choreographed into the movement and heightened the energy of the piece. They also proved to be fearless of making noise with their feet as they took advantage of the stage and fully embodied the movement. I appreciated the fact my seat shook from their moments of exaggerating their stomps across stage. There was a great quality of movement of fluidity with moments of sharp, jagged motions. Parent's raw energy and movement  reminded me of  Leigh Lijoi, who performed Nicole M. Corea's "Conversations of One", featured in program B. Both Lijoi and Parent shared great technique, emotional connection, and full embodiment of the two different pieces. I commend them both! But in all honesty, Vignouelle's "In A Box" stole the show. I felt like crying, smiling and dancing when the piece ended. A job well-done.

Photo credited to Rachel Neville
Pictured: Sevin Ceviker, Ahmaud Culver, and Nejla Y. Yatkin
Lastly, "2 Long 2 Love" was choreographed and performed by Nejla Y. Yatkin and featured Sevin Ceviker and Ahmaud Culver. This piece had an elegance and visual set up that was captivating to the eye. The rose petals over the entire stage were a tangible establishment of love and connection. I had goosebumps watching the leg extensions and strength in Ceviker's body. She was in total control of that stage, emotionally and through technical execution. The duet between Ceviker and Culver had beautiful lifts and grace and intertwined perfectly when Yatkin joined in the movement. There was a great balance of solo moments and group choreography. The piece was certainly delightful and very mesmerizing to watch.

As a bonus piece, "Hidden Souls", choreographed by the festival's founder and director, Ursula Verduzco, and featured dancers Lucia Campoy and Jorge Fuentes, with Laura DiOrio, Shannon Maynor, Kelli Youngman, Mary Susan Sinclair, and Saki Aoyama was another great work. The sound of cathedral bells echoed from the stage at the start of the piece, with Fuentes dismissing the pleading motions of Campoy. She wore a black dress and had a black veil over her head, covering everything but her eyes. She appeared to be searching for freedom, especially freedom of speech. Fuentes pushes her away as she visually cries out to him. Verduzco's choreography displayed strong movement and had a great use of the stage. Campoy brought out the other five female dancers, similarly dressed, as Fuentes exits the stage. The choreography was set very well and wasn't overwhelming with the six women on the relatively small stage. As an audience member, I can see the sense of wanting to speak and the piece ended with Campoy being carried offstage by the other females dancers overhead, as though it were a funeral march. Perhaps Campoy was able to speak but speaking out was the death of her. The piece was well choreographed, and I was quite impressed.

My "pointe" is that overall, the Latin Choreographers Festival's 2012 season was a success and receives  4/5 stars from me! Be sure to support and get more information by checking out their website.

And get more pictures from the show by clicking on "Dance Review Pix & Vids" under pages. Great set of performances, and I look forward to next year's season!


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