CubaCaribe Festival of Dance and Music

CubaCaribe Festival of Dance and Music
Brava Theater, San Francisco
Saturday, June 23, 2018

The Movements of Migration

I was sorry to miss the events of Week One of the Festival featuring the Alayo Dance Company and their presentation of “Calle” and “Manos y Vida Cotidiana de Una Mujer Cubana.” The word was the Alayo and his dancers were a major achievement.

The second week brought a varied group of choreographers, dancers and ethnic dimensions to the Brava Stage. These included beliefs and practices from Brazil, Cuba, Ghana, Nicaragua, and multiple aspects of black migration in the US. It is a humbling and enlightening dimension of ethnic awareness to experience these dances.

There were seven unique events on the program for Weekend Two. “Supplication” danced by the Alafia Dance Ensemble illustrated the “request for help from Deities, especially Dambalah Wedo, Protective Creator, Source of life and Wisdom.” The ten dancers, in brilliant colorful costumes, using marvelous arm gestures and postures were effective and moving. Next was “Nicaragua Multiétnica: Cultura Garifunas,”with choreography and costumes by Cleopatra Morales Monteil. One of the two aspects of the performance represents the forced labor of the black in American lands; the other “Chumba” performed by Garifuna women (when their men are absent from home) express household work and sexual energy. The “espeques,” long sticks that are work tools, amplify the movement of hips, thorax, arms and head. The women danced alone and then were joined by men, amplifying the energy and the gestures. “Multiétnica” and “Chumba” provided an exciting and powerful look into this very special culture from the South Atlantic region of Nicaragua. A popular dance “Punta” concluded this section.

Maafa” by the El Wah Movement Dance Theatre under the direction of Colette Eloi, consisted of an excerpt from the National Theater of Ghana’s, “Revealing the Story.” It tells the story of ethnic cleansing and forced migration of people from Africa.

Beautifully performed by eleven dancers, it reinforced the belief that the people would persevere and thrive. After all this and  before intermission, “Fiesta Cubana” provided the “hit” event of the evening. Featuring Yisman Ramos Tellez, (choreographer and soloist) the lively event dancing illustrating Clave Cuban (the foundations of salsa) through Reggaeton to present Cuba’s newest music genre, Cubaton. A young dancer challenges Tellez with a variation of ‘hip-hop.’ The audience quickly chooses the Cuban style and all join in with the varied rhythms that is the sensational Cuban dance.

The program continued with “Our Roots, “ a song-story-dance from Candomblé, which is “an African-American religion tradition” practiced mostly in Brazil and in other South American countries. The work involved a family song; both children and adults joined in the memories. Next, Dimension Dance Theater from Oakland offered a modern dance event with African roots in, “Ain’t No Turning Back,” choreography by Andrea Vonny Lee. The voices and words of Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglas supported this proclamation of freedom. Benjamin Ofori played traditional Ghanaian percussion to accompany the nine accomplished dancers. Then ‘Yansa” introduced the belief and illustration of “orishas,” (a word from the Yoruba language), gods who work together to help everyone. The women appear in long red skirts in acts of devotion; then the men don the skirts and there is a wild fusion of energy as famine and masculine energy unite. It was a very moving and exciting finale to a brilliant evening of dance.

For this reviewer, the special quality was the authenticity of each group’s work and the commitment evidenced by musicians, singers, choreographers, director and of course, the dancers. It was an evocation of what such festivals might be; close to the roots, carefully researched, authentic and performed by those who know and love the dance.

Joanna G. Harris