Collectivos: Seeds Of Our Ancestors
Have you noticed the increasing number of "fests" dominating Austin's dance calendar lately? January kicked off the year with Chris Valentine's Austin Dance Fest, a compilation of local dance artists; April hosted Charles Santos' Austin Festival of Dance, a fundraiser for AIDS Services of Austin; August delivered Pro Arts' African-American Dance Festival; September bombarded us with MOMFest. Now, October has brought us Collectivos, a festival of Latino dance, with Auspicious Inc., Aztlan Dance Company, Ballet East Dance Theatre, Puerto Rican Folkloric Dance Company, Toni Bravo & KINESIS Dance Theatre Project, and independent artist Leticia Rodriguez celebrating their cultural identity and paying tribute to the origins (seeds) of their ancestors through various facets of Latin music and dance.
Collectivos opened with the Aztlan company's Aztlan Barrio Sweets, four pieces performed to the music of Los Fabulosos Cadillacs, Los Lobos, Latin Playboys, and Thalia. Addressing the audience with robust flamenco footwork and sexy, charismatic pizazz, the men's dancing provided the highlight of the four "sweets." Remember Patrick Swayze in Dirty Dancing? Well, change the music and add tacaneo (heel work). Ole!!
Just as Swayze was a hard act for Jennifer Grey to follow, the female company dancers could not top the men's commandeering charm and grasp of the choreography. Although their synchronized leaps onstage held promise, the females were overpowered by the smooth, cool Latin muchachos.
The second piece was Two Cubas, created and performed by Toni Bravo and Marijayd O'Connor of KINESIS Dance Theatre Project. Bravo and O'Connor theatricalized a movement narrative of the power struggle between two cultures of Cuba. Through contrasting social dances of the upper and lower classes, the two women spun a tale of the island nation's changing political guard. O'Connor stoically danced the Charleston. Bravo dynamically danced the cha-cha, mambo, merengue, and samba. The two engaged in a humorous struggle over a small stool which symbolized control over the other. Maneuvering the stool in unimaginable ways, Bravo and O'Connor employed witty tactics that encircled the audience with laughter. Their growing talent in theatrical dance was impressive.
Auspicious Inc. mesmerized the audience with their breakdancing in My Blood Is Red. Breakdancing began in the barrio of New York City during the 1970s before Hollywood film glamorized it. Whirling on their hands, backs, shoulders, and heads, the five male youths, ranging in age from five to 17, took turns performing acrobatic feats -- windmills, helicopters, swipes, flips -- which they accented with the freeze, a pose held or frozen. Always a crowd pleaser, the audience stood up for this display of daredevil tumbling and Gumby-like poses. A future embellishment for this explosion of poppin' bodies might be the inclusion of the familiar semicircle upmanship and choreographed footwork.
Former Sharir Dance Company member Leticia Rodriguez burst onstage with delightful energy and performance presence in her multifaceted piece Can You See My Angel Wings? Rodriguez's use of the spoken word and her fusion of modern dance with Latin popular dances carried the work. However, the kinetic pieces of the puzzle never quite fit the storyline she intended regarding her experiences as a substitute teacher in the public school system.
Talk about fit -- it was too close of a fit between the audience and the stage for Ballet East Dance Theatre's Liquid Diamonds, especially when the three female dancers -- Susan Linville, Marlo Wanielista, and Melissa Villareal -- faced the audience with a V-seat pose during their synchronized chair dance. Whew! But that was not all; their repeated grinds, body rolls, and hip thrusts made Patrick Swayze look like Barney Fife. Choreographed by Ballet East assistant director Villareal, this work was a Bob Fosse/Madonna rendition of cabaret, which was more suited to a venue other than the Santa Cruz Center for Culture. Villareal's Moments in Love, featured at Ballet East's Cinco De Mayo celebration last year, better portrayed her talent for a classier interpretation of jazz dance.
Last but not least was the Puerto Rican Folkloric Dance Company, which cleansed the audience with their beautiful white costumes. While executing joyous shimmies and contractions that accompany Bomba, China Smith and Maggy Jiura raised their ruffled skirts in figure-eight patterns above their knees to show their ruffled pantaloons. Women Bomba dancers, descendants of West African plantation slaves of Puerto Rico, would dance with their skirts raised, showing their slips, to parody the refined plantation ladies' ruffled gowns commonly worn during the later 17th century. Guillermo Nolasco's smooth sidesteppin' and cool smile complemented the two women Bomba dancers. All three joyously whisked the audience back to the folkloric roots of Collectivos with gusto.