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Getting into a true holiday spirit can be tough in South Florida, where palm trees, expansive beaches and balmy skies signal perpetual summer. Ever-earlier store décor and the incessant push to buy presents – more about commercialism than celebration – can make many of us feel more anxious than festive. Not to worry. Just squeeze in a trip to Miami’s Arsht Center, where City Theatre h..

One of the centerpieces of this year’s Art Week is not a static art work, and it is also one of the most sensuous and disorienting. Lebanese performance artist Tania El Khoury is producing her “Gardens Speak” for the week, courtesy of MDC Live Arts, a piece that has been applauded in cultural capitals throughout Europe and the United States. “It is a work,” she says, “that can only co..

Since its founding in 1996, City Theatre has been an important part of South Florida’s theatrical landscape, though the company’s visibility has always been highest in the month of June. That’s when its popular Summer Shorts festival takes place; for more than a decade, its high-profile venue has been the Carnival Studio Theater at Miami’s Arsht Center. Though the company founded by S..

If you were to predict who might become a nationally famous – OK, world-famous – multiplatform sex therapist, Dr. Ruth Westheimer would probably not be your first choice. Born in Germany in 1928 as Karola Ruth Siegel, the 4’7” Dr. Ruth seems more like the doting Jewish grandmother she is than a woman who used her nationally syndicated radio show, TV shows and 40-some books to help hun..

Actors’ Playhouse has been a musical powerhouse for much of its history. Launching its 30th anniversary season at the Miracle Theatre in Coral Gables, the company is revisiting some of that history with a new production of a made-for-South Florida favorite: Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s “Evita.” As it did in 2000 when recent Tony Award winner Rachel Bay Jones starred as Eva Duart..

Playwright Suzan-Lori Parks won the Pulitzer Prize for “Topdog/Underdog” in 2002. But as Zoetic Stage’s superb new production of the play at Miami’s Arsht Center demonstrates, her funny, shocking tale of two brothers struggling to survive is as potent today as it was 15 years ago. Maybe more so, given the country’s deepening divide. Parks’ harrowing drama examines the complex relation..

We are born. We live, have families, grow old. We die, leaving those who loved us to mourn. Playwright Thornton Wilder brilliantly captured the eternal verities of our journey through life in “Our Town,” his 1938 Pulitzer Prize-winning play about life, love and death in a small New Hampshire town at the turn of the 20th century. If you’re at all drawn to theater, you’ve probably ..

“Miami Motel Stories: Little Havana” written by Juan C. Sanchez, directed by Tamilla Woodard, and produced by Juggerknot Theatre Company, is a site-specific, immersive theater experience that interweaves narrative, performance, history and architecture. Nine short plays take place in nine hotel rooms on the second floor of the Tower Hotel, right off Calle Ocho on Seventh Street. Sanchez, ..

Artistic director and founder of Juggerknot Theatre Company, Tanya Bravo, had her first brush with immersive theater in New York City when she met director Tamilla Woodard. Working on the play “Broken City,” Bravo and other actors led audience members on a theatrical journey through the streets of the Lower East Side. “I was so blown away by the concept and the lines that were crossed between ..

We humans do love our rituals. When an extended family gathers for the holidays, familiar traditions promise a comforting respite from an increasingly complex, chaotic world. Still, realistically, troubles and fears refuse to be left behind. They surface like unwelcome guests. So do resentments and stinging remarks born of deep knowledge. With Thanksgiving on the horizon, you wonder: ..

IFE-ILE Afro-Cuban Dance Festival: Awareness and Transculturation


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Written by: Diana Dunbar
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Watching Neri Torres rehearse is a study in focus and concentration. She demonstrates each step with an ease developed from years of immersion in the study and performance of Afro-Cuban dance and music. Her arms are fluid and her stance solid as she demonstrates a movement to the attentive dancers around her. Torres is the founder of lFE- ILE Afro- Cuban Dance and Music, which is presenting its annual festival from August 14 through 19 at the Koubek Center.
 
“In Cuba, dance and music are linked in a very close way,” says Torres. She created her organization in 1996 as a way to “create a space for Cuban immigrants to express their traditions… to come to reproduce their memories and also to share with the community. A space of celebration; a space of reflection -- and also, on the academic side of it -- to discuss important issues related to our culture.”
 
IFE- ILE is considered one of the most acclaimed Afro-Cuban dance companies, and is known for presenting traditional Afro-Cuban dances as well as popular dances such as Rumba, Son, Mambo and Salsa. Torres studied contemporary dance at Havana’s Instituto Superior de Artes and has an MFA from the University of Colorado. Along with running her company, she has toured with and was a principal dancer and choreographer for Gloria Estefan.
 
Torres speaks on the role of religion in Afro-Cuban dance and music. Africans in Cuba did not take on the prevailing Christian religion, but instead incorporated their religions with it. “[They] depict how religions, which came from several ethnic groups in Cuba and Africa (especially Nigeria) got into a conversation to survive colonialism.” Torres takes aspects of these religions (or essences, as she refers to them) and transport them to the stage. “The essence of the religious ceremony is taken on stage – the dance reenacts what occurs in the religious context – and it’s transformed into something more creative and more theatrical.”
 
She touches on transculturation – a term employed by Cuban anthropologist Fernando Ortiz- to describe the merging and converging of cultures. “You have influences but you have a core culture…a moment of convergence and adaptation to create a new form,” explains Torres.
 
The festival is now in its 19th year and is instrumental in bringing artists from Cuba to perform and conduct workshops and lectures. This year’s guest artists are from Ben Rarra and Conjunto Folklorico Nacional de Cuba dance companies, and include workshops in various dances -- Orisha, Modern, Arara, Makuta/Palo/Yuka, Rumba, Cubaton, Gaga, Tumba francesa; and Bata drumming. There is also a three-day children’s camp. An academic conference “Following the steps of the Orishas: Afro- Cuban Spirituality in Urban Spaces” will be held on August 17 at HistoryMiami Museum (1:00- 6:00 p.m.) followed by a performance. A closing gala premiere will be held on Saturday, August 19 at 8:00 p.m.
 
Back at the rehearsal, the dancers and musicians are concentrating hard in order to follow Torres’ instructions. She demonstrates a step, fixed positions, gives a cue to the drummers as the dancers reenact the meeting of several deities and cultures – a creation of a creation.
 
IFE-ILE Afro-Cuban Dance Festival; Monday, August 14 – Saturday, August 19; Koubek Center, 2705 S.W. 3rd St.; tickets for performances, workshops and conferences range from $20 to $220; information 305-284-6001/ 786-704-8609; ifeiledancecompany@yahoo.com; www.ife-ile.org.

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