Dance

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

Written By Diana Dunbar
February 15, 2018 at 7:56 PM

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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