Review: “Contra-Tiempo – A True Feast”
Slices from the Minneapple 2/10/15
I heard many excited conversations in the Ordway lobby as family and friend clusters gathered to attend Contra-Tiempo. What a great concert – dance, food, stories, and culture – plus so much more. If you missed my last post, my interview with Co-director Ana Maria Alvarez, check it out here.
Contra-Tiempo’s featured piece “Full Still Hungry” was actually a three-part evening-length work that included several dances in each part. Though it seems obvious, it surprised me that the three parts were entitled “Full,” “Still,” and “Hungry.” The six-piece orchestra wore white, the women dancers swirled in vibrant skirts and the men hip-hopped and break danced in earth tones. César Alvarez, Ana Maria’s brother and co-director, composed the original music and wrote the text for the narration. It was a treat for the eyes and ears.
“Full” began with a prologue, narrated by singer Pyeng Threadgill, a longtime friend of Alvarez. The poetic narration and dance that followed, Place at the Table, celebrated food, nourishment and the relationships that come with the sharing of meals. Movements conveyed Latin rhythms and displayed athletic and acrobatic fetes as dancers moved in, out, around and over a set of chairs arranged in a circle. They were leaping, performing handstands, and interacting with each other, and sometimes the movements were so fast that I didn’t want to blink or look away; I might miss something.
Joyful, daring, exciting, and as the dances progressed, they developed more serious themes. What I appreciated, though, was that the dancing took you by the hand through the grim realities of food, race and consumption without becoming overly angst-ridden. In Hunger the stage was dimly lit, and a few dancers moved in the shadows to narration by performers about their personal stories of hunger.
Caffeine offered a dramatic contrast – more spastic and sharper movements that addressed issues that beyond my favorite morning drink. The dance reminded me of how often gestures and facial expressions can be part of the story. Another piece, All You Can Eat Factory Farm set the dancers up as a human machine churning out human “products.
Part II, “Still” was about nostalgia, and glorifying the past which can be either a good or bad thing. Dancers formed partners or remained in solos presenting traditional Latin styles of Rumba and Salsa along with Afro-Cuban, Break dancing, Hip Hop, Urban, and Modern dance. More narration and personal stories followed in sections entitled My Mother’s Cooking and Breastmilk.
Throughout the whole show the dancers moved the chairs into sculptures and structures that stood out as silhouettes against the bright-colored backdrops. In the Talk Back after the show we found out that the chairs represented pedestals, wheelbarrows, trees, roses, and, of course, the sense of belonging in the circle of chairs at mealtime. The chairs “set you up for the story,” said Alvarez, “but the formations and what they mean are always open to interpretation.”
Part III “Hungry” began with a quote from Psalm 23: “Though I walk through the valley in the shadow of death…” The dancers performed powerful floor movements with wide open mouths while the narration continued with echoes of “I’m still walking…” and “I’m still hungry…”
Each of the three parts featured a version of Carmen Miranda the Portuguese-Brazilian singer/actress of the 1930s and 40s who became a stereotype of Latin American culture in American movies. In the first part she was “Full Carmen” wearing her signature fruit headdress and representing the over-the-top culture that eventually consumed her. In “Still” she was “Carmen Belebi,” still grounded and still rooted in the past and looking back to the way things used to be.
In “Hungry” there were two Carmens. The original Carmen now wore a headdress made of trash which symbolized the negative effects of consumption. She was confronted by the Hungry Carmen, a woman wearing simple clothing and a head scarf. The two mirrored each other and then partnered in a competitive duet. In a dramatic climax the Consumption Carmen overcame the Hungry Carmen and took her position on a high pedestal of chairs while the dead Hungry Carmen was carried off the stage and down the aisles.
Another combat piece Moros y Cristianos featured two men in a duet with Latin, Hip Hop and Break Dancing. The name of the piece (meaning, Moors and Christians) is also the name of a popular black beans and rice dish representing racial fighting between Hispanic and Black cultures and yet it’s a nutritious meal when both are mixed together.
The ending narration piece Revolution was a powerful monologue by Alvarez. “The Revolution will not be pasteurized,” she said, making statements about the future of food, mostly about consumers becoming hungry for nutrition and non-processed food. The final group dance was a slapping, clapping, boot-stomping rhythmic piece that had the audience members cheering. Then, the dancers moved out into the audience and invited people to come up and dance with them on the stage. A great ending to the show.
After the performance there was a Q & A session, along with food, drink, and a party with the dancers and musicians. I couldn’t stay for the party, but was glad that I went to the Q & A so I could hear more about the themes and symbolism.
If you’re reading this and happened to stay for the after party, I’d love to hear how that went, so please add your comments below. Overall, the show was wildly successful for all ages and cultures. I hope Contra Tiempo comes back; I would enjoy seeing them again.