Latin Ballet of Virginia
A Joyous Celebration of Dance and Culture
In what may have been one of the most energetic, beautiful, though-provoking and remarkable dance performances ever staged at First Flight High School, the Latin Ballet of Virginia brought the culture and history of Latin America to the Outer Banks on Sunday, October 16.
The Latin Ballet performance stood preconceived notions of what ballet is or can be on its head. Instead of the full novel-length stories of the Nutcracker or Swan Lake, the audience on Sunday found themselves immersed in a series of images of life in Latin America.
The October 16 show had originally been scheduled for September 29, but was postponed as the remnants of Hurricane Ian tracked inland to the Outer Banks. The postponement forced the Latin Ballet to make some changes to the original program. Although there are notes on all of the dances, some of the titles of the performances changed and we were not able to learn what those new titles were.
Yet much of the original dances program remained, among them El Dorado.
Perhaps no story is as intertwined with the history of South America as the Legend of El Dorado, the City of Gold. The Spanish Conquistadores may have believed the tales of riches beyond comprehension as they learned of Lake Guatavita, a small—very small—lake in the crater of a mountain where the Indigenes peoples would bring offerings of precious metals.
The clash of European and Indigenes cultures became an enthralling opening act, as the costumes and dance of the performers highlighted the differences between the people.
Looming behind the Native American Queen of El Dorado lurks the Spaniard who dances a flamenco, the dance performed in semi-darkness. The queen soars across the stage, her movements telling of the joy of life and freedom. There is a warrior, leaping and ready for battle, and lovers dancing with joy.
It was a feast for the eyes and senses and perfectly framed what was to follow.
What followed were magnificent snapshots of life in Latin America. There was the calypso rhythms of Trinidad and Tobago the performers costumes suggesting butterflies—long flowing wings fluttering in motion as the dancers soared across the stage. With its quick driving rhythms, it is music that recalls the West African roots of the people of the Caribbean Islands.
A street scene played out performed to the samba Tico Tico. A man walks happily along the street, when a woman sees him and lets him know she’s interested. But the story doesn’t end there. Another woman looks him over, and she too lets him know he’s to be hers.
And through it all, the man’s expression goes from surprise to incredulity and fear as the women fight over him, each grasping an arm and pulling and tugging.
What makes the storytelling come alive is the grace, power and beauty of the dancer’s movements. Words are unnecessary as the scene evolves and the battle between the women becomes more important than the object of their competition.
Each image that came on stage was filled with color and motion, breathing life into every movement creating a spectacle that became a feast for the eyes.
This was a performance that traced the history of the culture through music and dance, finally coming to the modern composers.
Vivir Mi Vida (To Live My Life) , a 2013 Marc Anthony salsa brought the music of Puerto Rico to the stage. Combining the traditional movement of salsa with flowing grace of ballet, the dance seemed to merge cultures.
Perhaps no Latin American composer is better known than Tito Puente, the aptly crowned El Rey del Mambo (King of the Mambo). What came to the stage was so filled with joy, rhythm and movement that sitting still in the audience simply was not possible.
There was also a reminder of the brotherhood that exists among the Americas as the final dance was Nuestras Banderas (Our Flags). Opening with a single performer carrying the American flag across the stage, soon all the flags of the Americas were gathered.
For all of the wonder of the afternoon that was on stage, the highlight was surely the final moments when the children in the audience were invited on stage. The Latin Ballet had a chance to visit all of the Dare County elementary schools, and students and their parents were offered free admission to the show. The result was a celebration of the joy of dance.