Latin Choreographers Festival

August 7, 2008

Teatro IATI (International Theater Arts Institute, New York)

July 24–27, 2008


Fresh breezes cooled the small East Village theater opening night. In a two hour program, the first Latin Choreographers Festival breathed pioneering spirit. Founder, curator, and ballet dancer Ursula Verduzco aimed to introduce New York dance lovers to emerging Latino artists. This engaging program reflected the cultural mix of the Americas. Each of 12 ballet-based modern and contemporary works crossed genres as well as cultural boundaries.

    The eye opener was Mexican choreographer Jaciel Neri’s solo Life Steps. While drawn from folkloric tradition, it also flirted with hip hop and samba. The result could not be pigeonholed. Though he didn’t travel much on the small stage, he performed his riveting solo using imaginative costumes and evocative movement to suggest extreme moments. He hit bottom three times to the sound of breaking glass. Neri arranged his wonderful layered costumes to suggest female and b-boy characters. His hips swiveled while he rocked his clasped, bound fists over the large heart appliqué on his sweater. Meanwhile, carnivalesque streamers sprouted from his knit cap that morphed into a mask.

    Javier Dzul performed his striking solo Itzama in only briefs. Glistening and built, he took on reptilian forms. Frog-like belching in Antonio Zepeda’s music gave double meaning to the word “riveting.” In the denouement, snake-like, he undulated his upper torso and cocked his head with the utmost seriousness. One could imagine venom spewing. In El Viaje, a duet for Dzul and his wife Robin, his intensity overwhelmed.

    Alexandra Gonzales’ energetic and invested performance in Scarred, by Frances Ortiz, evoked the horrid, the irreversible. She danced as though boxed in, thrusting her angular arms and legs and stretching into repeated, impossible shapes. It was painful to watch. In Yesid Lopez’s Tengo Que Decirte Algo(I have something to tell you) for Saki Masuda, a note came via an unseen messenger in the wing. We were left in the dark about its content, which was part of the dance’s appeal. A blithe, charming Masuda ran and leapt, her head effortlessly tilted back. She was after happiness itself.

    The program began and ended with two satisfying duets: Dueto by Annabella Gonzalez and Ortiz’s Frayed Ends. Lopez’s well choreographed and performed prayerful trio created wonderful geometry on the black box stage. A translation in the program of Watashi No Omoide, Benjamin Briones’s bold venture into Japonisme for three, would have helped convey his Tudoresque plot about an old woman’s memories, featuring kimonos and Verduzco’s impressive pointework. The same trio performed Briones’ Muga. It was doomed by a bland music choice. Karina Lesko’s La Tierra De Mi Ser ably managed a cast of five including herself, an excellent dancer. Verduzco’s short Absence, which may be a thinly veiled portrait of the dancing life, rushed to its pitiable resolution.

    The evening underscored dance’s universality rather than specific, Latino stereotypes. The new annual festival is a good start.


Photo by Rachel Neville.