Dance Review: LA’s Contra-Tiempo — An Ecstatic Dance for Justice

By Jessica Lockhart

Contra-Tiempo sees the pandemic as an invitation for transformation: the performance questioned who we are, how do we move among each other, and what gives us joy.

Contra Tiempo – Activist Dance Theater at the Henry J. Leir Outdoor Stage, Jacobs Pillow Dance Festival (July 7-11).

Contra-Tiempo in action at Jacobs Pillow 2021 Dance Festival. Photo: Christopher Duggan.

Mix together afro-cuban, hip-hop, and salsa dance styles and what do you get? An eclectic performance that’s so explosive and highly charged that it defies neat critical definition. So don’t expect a pat summary of Contra-Tiempo’s emotionally charged performance of joyUS justUS at Jacob Pillow’s outdoor stage.

In this fast-moving show, one minute the dancers were ecstatically moving, the next they were talking about the pain of racism. And that volatility, a stark contact between light and dark, is what this L.A. based company specializes in. The world has been changed by the pandemic: the disruption has forced many to question what is important in their lives. Contra-Tiempo sees that trauma as an invitation for transformation: the performance questioned who we are, how do we move among each other, and what gives us joy.

The dance began with the company moving through the audience and then slowly three women came onto the stage and described many ways that “you and I become us.” They thanked Mother Earth, their ancestors, the struggle, and resistance. When they spoke their stories, they were told bilingually. Then the full company of six began dancing with such exuberance and high energy. They were jumping, flipping, and bounding across the stage. They danced as couples would do in a social dancing, then they performed a call-and-response you might see in a hip-hop challenge. There were lots of sensual movements from both the men and the women. This mash-up of dance styles continued throughout the show. And, also, they continued telling the audience their stories and that they were encouraging “us” to know that we too were shaping the performance.

Artist director Ana Maria Alvarez conceived the dance. It was co-choreographed by members of the Contra Tiempo company. The program notes emphasized the importance of collaboration: each performer generated dance material to make the piece the embodiment of them all, drawing on the “us” of the title. Justice was obviously a major concern; joyUS justUS reflects the company’s activism as well as sense of community. Each dancer wore an individually shaped costume designed by Charlese Antoinette. The clothing was brightly colored and included some big flowing skirts or pants. The sound was designed by d. Sabela grimes, who drew on street sounds from protests in L.A., Mexico, and Brazil. Throughout the protest recordings he wove segments from various conversations the dancers had with or about their families. All of this provided an effecitve contrast with music composted and performed by Las Cafeteras, a group from East L.A. known for remixing roots music with modern day storytelling.

At one point in the show, the dancers are taking part in a Black Lives Matter protest, walking and then stopping with one arm raised. Then they ran frantically, as if when the police and protesters were clashing. The performers spoke of the need for restorative justice as a means of healing the long-time wounds of people of color. A tender and happy solo was danced to a version of “This Land is Your Land,” which morphed into a raucous and celebratory Mariachi song. In another scene, the group reinvented the Miranda Rights, a stirring version in which a suspect would be told “you have the right to be happy, you have the right to speak, and anything you say can and will be used to uplift your spirit.”

The six wonderfully distinctive dancers were Charlie Dando, Jannet Goldamez, Bianca Medina, Ruby Morales, Dalphe Morantus, and Jasmine Stanley.

Jessica Lockhart is a National Endowment for the Arts Fellow in Dance Criticism and has a BA in Communication from the University of Southern Maine. Lockhart is a Maine Association of Broadcasters award-winning independent journalist. Currently, she also works as program director at WMPG Community radio.


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