Ritmo Latino’s first show hits the mark with poise

Ritmo Latino gave its first-ever independent performance last Friday in the Adams Memorial Theatre, impressing its audience with an incredible show of graceful choreography and vivacious dancing. For one like me, raised on the idea of “concert behavior” to sit and silently observe performances, Ritmo’s show was anything but a passive dance recital. “Please, make a lot of noise; the performance is participatory,” Genesis Herrera ’10 said at the opening.

The starting number, “Rueda Santiaguera,” was a flurry of energy and color. Hips swayed and arms were raised in this round dancing salsa, in which couples dance in a circle in synchronized movements. Dancers moved across the dance floor, switching partners and making their way around the circle in a complicated web before returning to their partners. The stage turned into a human kaleidoscope of brightly colored cloths and swirling skirts. Yet amidst the coordinated choreography, each dancer brought a unique freedom to his or her interpretation. Some tossed back their hair, stuck out their tongues and smiled widely as their bodies moved in tandem to the beat.

Next was a rumba, danced Guaguanco-style, for which most of the dancers became drummers and singers. The piece showcased four dancers, Jordan King ’10, Giselle Jimenez ’11, Newton Davis ’12 and Himilcon Inciarte ’10. A couple dance depicting the power play of seduction, the man circled the woman in a half-playful, half-predatory manner. Occasionally he performed the “vacunao,” a suggestive pelvic thrust. She responded by flipping her hair in annoyance and lashing her scarf out like a whip. Though she distanced herself from him, she would continually glance back at him coyly. Of the four, Davis caught the attention of the audience as he played his role with dramatic hip movements and a sly demeanor.

Next, the tango was slowly seductive, its choreography more sensual and dramatic than the gyrating hips of the faster songs. Partners were constantly touching and embracing each other. Occasionally leaning on her partner for support, the female slid down her partner’s frame, then extended her leg out to slowly trace circles on the wooden floor. At other times, she lifted her heeled foot into the air, and swiftly shifted her leg from the inner and outer side of her partner’s leg.

After the tango, other performers took the stage for a while, including Speak Free’s Brian Thomas ’12 and visiting artist Mar El Sol Capoeira from New York. While many of Ritmo’s dances seemed to speak of love and courtship, the Capoeira, the dance the group is named after, was closer to war. An Afro-Brazilian art that combines martial arts with dance, the Capoeira dance originated with Brazilian slaves. Lore has it that the dances were sparring matches in disguise, in which the slaves practiced defending themselves through the dances, which involve a great deal of strength and acrobatics. The Capoeira performers, in fact, spent more time in the air than on the ground. At least two performers on the drums kept the beat while the others danced. The graceful ease with which they executed the back flips and handstands demonstrated a muted, latent strength. As the dance continued, the drumming dancers urged the audience to clap louder and faster. The speed and intensity of the flips increased and suddenly, without warning, the powerful back flips, roundhouse kicks and midair jabs translated into a martial arts form. As two dancers moved closer to one another with their midair kicks and twists, the dangerousness and precise skill of their sparring became increasingly apparent.

Ritmo Latino returned for the last performance, the bomba. It was a musical piece with solo dancers, who physically interacted with the musicians onstage in a rhythmic debate. As the dancers moved, they acknowledged the musicians, sometimes by matching the drummer’s beat, but often by beckoning the musician to match their movement with a beat. As Jennifer Monge ’12 danced, she intermittently turned back toward the drummer, moving her hands and urging him to change the rhythm. When he hit the right beat to match her new movements, she smiled and shaking her shoulders, arched her back in response.
Aside from the energy and the grace involved in the dancing, the performers created a community atmosphere as they extended the percussive beat of the drum into an invitation for the audience to clap to keep the beat. That night, the theater pulsed with rhythm from both sides of the stage.