By Jessica Lockhart
Contra-Tiempo sees the pandemic as an invitation to transformation: performance has questioned who we are, how we move with 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).
Mix together Afro-Cuban, hip-hop and salsa dance styles and what do you get? An eclectic performance so explosive and highly charged that it defies any critical definition. So don’t expect a rough summary of Contra-Tiempo’s emotionally charged performance from joy WE just US at Jacob Pillow’s Outdoor Stage.
In this quick show, one minute the dancers were moving ecstatically, the next they were talking about the pain of racism. And that volatility, a close contact between light and dark, is the specialty of this Los Angeles-based company. The world has been changed by the pandemic: The disruption has forced many people to wonder what is important in their lives. Contra-Tiempo sees this trauma as an invitation to transformation: the performance questioned who we are, how we move with each other and what gives us joy.
The dance started with the company moving through the audience, then slowly three women took to the stage and described many ways “you and I become us”. They thanked Mother Earth, their ancestors, the struggle and the resistance. When they spoke of their stories, they were told in both languages. Then the whole company of six started dancing with such exuberance and great energy. They would jump, turn and jump across the stage. They danced like couples would in a social dance, and then they performed a call and response that you might see in a hip-hop challenge. There was a lot of sensual movement from both men and women. This mix of dance styles continued throughout the show. And, also, they kept telling the audience their stories and encouraged us to know that we too were shaping the performance.
Artistic Director Ana Maria Alvarez designed the dance. It was co-choreographed by members of the Contra Tiempo company. The program notes underlined the importance of collaboration: each performer generated dance material to make the piece the embodiment of all, drawing inspiration from the “us” of the title. Justice was obviously a major concern; joy WE just US reflects the activism of the company as well as a sense of community. Each dancer wore an individually shaped costume designed by Charlese Antoinette. The clothes were brightly colored and included large flowing skirts or pants. The sound was designed by d. Sabela grimes, who was inspired by the sounds of the street during protests in Los Angeles, Mexico and Brazil. Throughout the protest tapes, he woven segments of various conversations the dancers had with or about their families. All of this provided an effective contrast to the music composed and performed by Las Cafeteras, an East LA band known for remixing roots music with modern storytelling.
At one point in the show, the dancers participate in a Black Lives Matter protest, walking and then stopping with one arm raised. Then they ran frantically, as if the police and the protesters were clashing. Performers spoke of the need for restorative justice as a way to heal long-standing wounds of people of color. A tender and joyful solo was danced to a version of “This Land is Your Land”, which morphed into a raucous and festive Mariachi song. In another scene, the group reinvented the rights of Miranda, a moving version in which a suspect is told “you have the right to be happy, you have the right to talk, and whatever you say can and will be.” used to cheer you up. . “
The six wonderfully distinctive dancers were Charlie Dando, Jannet Goldamez, Bianca Medina, Ruby Morales, Dalphe Morantus and Jasmine Stanley.
Jessica lockhart is a member of the National Endowment for the Arts Fellow in Dance Criticism and holds a BA in Communication from the University of Southern Maine. Lockhart is an award-winning freelance journalist with the Maine Association of Broadcasters. Currently, she also works as a program director at WMPG community radio.