By Matt Cosper
October 22, 2019
A tight knit crew of acclaimed LA-based dancers and musicians are heading our way in November, making a joyful noise and turning stereotypes on their heads. Fans of the avant-garde, this is your cue to rejoice: CONTRA-TIEMPO is coming. Under the auspices of Blumenthal Performing Arts, Charlotte audiences can experience “joyUS justUS” at Booth Playhouse from November 7-9.
Boasting an ensemble of highly accomplished creator/performers, CONTRA-TIEMPO creates physically intense, multi-lingual performances that prove the political is personal and doesn’t have to be dour or shrill. Forming a tapestry woven out of diverse backgrounds and a shared commitment to community, the members of CONTRA-TIEMPO identify themselves as dancers, artists, educators, immigrants and organizers who strive to live the ideals of their aesthetics. The ensemble’s work is a brash re-imagining of traditional forms that feels urgent and very much alive. The quality of the work is attested to by over a decade of major awards and grant support that has brought them to both community spaces and world class performing arts centers. The company has traveled extensively across the US and Latin America with their performances and pedagogic interventions.
Since 2005, CONTRA-TIEMPO, led by Ana Maria Alvarez, has reinvented how Latin dance can function for the concert stage. A legit choreographic wunderkind with technical skills and theoretical foundations anchored in deep humanity, Alvarez abstracts traditional forms like Salsa and Afro-Cuban, and infuses them with movement vocabulary from hip-hop dance and real life story telling from the communities she works in. All of this is framed within a socially engaged and vividly creative approach to contemporary performance. A recognized force in the LA dance world, and gaining notoriety nationally, Alvarez creates work that has deep roots and big ambitions.
“joyUS justUS,” the new work that Alvarez and crew are bringing to town, makes the bold (and deeply righteous) claim that joy is the ultimate expression of resistance. By claiming the deep and abiding truth of excellence in the lives of people marginalized by white supremacy, “joyUS justUS” rejects narratives of helplessness and sticks it to those who fetishize suffering. The work is constructed from real life stories of joy gathered from a broad spectrum of folks living in South Los Angeles and it is defiantly joyful. In that vein it can serve as an evening’s entertainment but also as a call to arms, urging audience members to live their own bright truths in the face of fascism’s bland sterility.
In another stroke of subversive genius, the performance is a celebration of the value of collective creation. Although conceived and directed by Alvarez, the work contains choreography and text created by all members of the company and neatly integrated music, sound, costuming and technical direction from a talented crew of diverse artists. Further adding to the collaborative nature of the performance, the Charlotte run of “joyUS justUS” will feature UNCC dance students as part of the local cast.
Joy as revolution is a much-needed antidote to the times we live in, and “joyUS justUS” promises to be about as much fun as you can legally have. The evening even ends with a dance party that the audience is cordially invited to join. Hopefully this marriage of medium and message is infectious. With the broad reach that Blumenthal has in this community we could see a small army of audience members taking ownership of their own joy and shining their inner light as a beacon for others. Might we dare to hope that that oldest of artforms, dance, might inspire a joyous rebellion against the dark forces of this world? After all, it was the American hero Emma Goldman who said that any revolution worth showing up for should have dancing in it.
CONTRA-TIEMPO presents “joyUS justUS” at Booth Playhouse November 7-9, 2019.