Dance From the South

Tucson gets a double dose of Mexican dance-- one dose traditional, one dose contemporary

Claudia Lavista, Mexican dancer and choreographer, was on the phone from the Joyce Theatre in New York just before show time one evening last week.

"This is our first time at the Joyce," she said excitedly. "I hope it's not our last."

The Joyce, of course, is New York's high temple of modern dance, the theater where contemporary troupes from all over the United States and elsewhere aspire to dance. Delfos Danza Contemporanéa, the company Lavista co-founded with Victor Manuel Ruiz 12 years ago, had a coveted week-long engagement there, part of its five-week tour of the United States.

The Joyce berth is proof positive that not all dance coming out of Mexico is folklórico.

"There is no relation between what we do and folklórico," Lavista said emphatically in her impeccable English. "You can see new Mexico--contemporary Mexico--in our dances. We love folklórico, but we want to reach a universal language."

The Delfos company's one-night stop in Tucson this Saturday may mark the first time that Centennial Hall--a venue more accustomed to its Mexican troupes doing traditional dances in colorful indigenous costumes--hosts Mexican contemporary dancers. Delfos' music, rather than celebrating the guitars and horns of rural Mexico, tends toward Meredith Monk and Yann Tierresen, French composer of the music for the movie Amélie. And there's even some nudity.

"We love risk, and we like to try new things," Lavista said. "Our work is very emotional. We are trying to find the poetic in the language of movement, music, costumes and light. Sometimes we base a work on a poem, and investigate movement about that. Or we see a painting. We want to communicate ideas and emotions."

Each of the six pieces on the program has a different aesthetic.

Delfos founders Lavista and Ruiz originally trained in classic Graham and Limón technique, she said, "but now we are far from that." Before founding their own troupe in 1992, the pair danced for years with Danza Hoy (Dance Today) in Venezuela.

"We lived in Venezuela with a painter, Janet Berrettini," she said. "Our work has to do with the experience of living with a painter. It was an important starting point--it made us realize the importance of color. Lighting design is a very important part of our pieces. We want the lights to talk."

Delfos Danza got noticed on the Mexican avant-garde scene its very first year, with one of its dances winning the National Contemporary Dance Award.

"That opened doors to the dance world in Mexico," Lavista said.

Choreographed by both artistic directors, the prizewinning work, "Trio and a String," will be in the Centennial concert. Tresca Weinstein, dance critic for the Times Union newspaper, reviewing Delfos' October performance at Massachusetts' Museum of Contemporary Art, wrote that the piece "opened the program with a rustle--made by elaborate pleated paper costumes, above which the dancers' naked torsos rose swanlike--and closed with a splash, as four dancers, released at last from ... tight patterns of frenetic movement, undressed beneath streams of water that fell to the stage like beams of light."

Another prizewinning work from 1997, "About Love and Other Calamities," features six of the troupe's seven dancers in choreography by Ruiz. Chronicling the ups and downs of three couples' relationships, it's the "strongest, most developed piece," Weinstein wrote.

"Fracture," also by Ruiz, has five dancers. "Alone in My Soul" is a Lavista solo danced by Agustín Martínez. The two artistic directors both create dances, but they also give the same opportunity to their dancers.

"Victor and I work with the dancers very closely so they find their way," she said. "Two of them are now making choreography."

Dancer Xitlali Piña presents her quartet, "Six Minutes, 28 Seconds and What Is Missing," and Omar Carrum dances with Lavista in his duet, "I Was Thinking."

All seven members of the troupe, including the artistic directors, dance, and they're all teachers at Mexico's Mazatlán Professional School of Contemporary Dance. The troupe is in residence at the city's historic Angela Peralta Theater, which also hosts opera, symphony and ballet companies.

Lured by the residency, an arrangement typical of Latin American and European theaters, Delfos moved six years ago from Mexico City to the seaside town.

"The city gives us support," Lavista said. "It changed our reality a lot. Now we have a lot of students from all over the country. It's an important project."

Delfos is building an audience not only in Mazatlán but elsewhere in Mexico, where a "lot of painters, composers and choreographers are doing contemporary work," she said. The next challenge is to win fans among America's contemporary audiences.

"This is a very important tour for Mexico," Lavista said. "It's the first time a contemporary Mexican company has toured the United States. We're getting an amazing response. Our manager is already planning a tour for next season. We are happy."

For a taste of more traditional Hispanic dance, locals can see the 5-year-old Yjastros on Friday night at Muse. But the company is not entirely traditional. Its name, the Spanish word for "stepchildren," speaks to its hybrid aesthetic. Their work incorporates the "structured improvisation" of traditional flamenco along with a more freewheeling American style.

Based in Albuquerque, the troupe has been praised by a local paper, the Albuquerque Journal, for revealing "what a truly American art form flamenco can be." The Tucson gig is the company's first concert outside New Mexico.

Its 10 performers, including UA grad and Tucson native Melani Martinez, are led by American-born choreographer and dancer Joaquin Encinias. Spaniard José Valle Chuscales provides musical direction.

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