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SPOTLIGHT:
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Contra-Tiempo 5th Year Anniversary Gala

by Rachel Levin
February 20, 2010
Los Angeles Theater Center
514 S. Spring St.

Los Angeles, CA 90013
(213) 489-0994
The name "Contra-Tiempo" roughly translates to "against the times." The urban Latin dance company founded by Ana Maria Alvarez in 2005 proved at its 5th Anniversary Gala that it has the spirit and the fortitude to indeed go against the times, or at least weather them.

In addition to traveling and performing nationally and internationally, the group is a strong presence in the local community, teaching dance at public elementary schools. As Alvarez announced before the performance portion of the evening got underway, schools in the Los Angeles Unified District have been cutting their arts education budgets so drastically in the current economic downturn that many children are on the brink of having no exposure to dance and other fine arts, which as Alvarez said can help boost confidence and academic success. The Saturday night gala was in their honor, to raise funds for Contra-Tiempo's education programs in underserved schools.

In keeping with that theme, the performances alternated between highlights from Contra-Tiempo's repertoire over the past five years and kid-friendly entertainment, including a performance by students themselves.

Contra-Tiempo's mission is to transform the world through dance and address social, political, and racial issues through movement. As such, the evening was bookended by two politically charged pieces. The company opened with an excerpt from "I Dream America" (2008), a "movement opera" which explores the tensions and commonalities between the Black and Latino communities in this country, told through the lens of such flashpoints as immigration and Hurricane Katrina. They closed with a full performance of their premiere piece "Against the Times" (2005), which flips the gendered salsa script on its head, with women leading men and movement opening a space for communication between the sexes.

In between, things were a bit less serious. 4th and 5th graders from UCLA Community School in the Pico Union district bounded onto the stage in their dress-up best to perform a traditional rueda (Cuban-style square dancing). Their nervous shimmies, mock sexiness, and wide, toothy grins were proof positive that learning dance can be sheer delight for youngsters. Contra-Tiempo got into the spirit of fun, too, with a performance of "Plastico" (2009), a crowd-pleasing, comical commentary (complete with Alvarez herself wearing a fake moustache) about how salsa dance — especially the theatric L.A.-style variety — can sometimes be all flash and little substance.

In these lean times for arts education, both educational substance and a sense of humor are required. Contra-Tiempo, in putting together this gala/fundraiser, successfully demonstrated they've got both in equal measure, plus a lot of heart.

For more information about Contra-Tiempo, visit www.contra-tiempo.org
Ashlee Thomas performing 'Plastico' at the Contra-Tiempo 2010 Gala

Ashlee Thomas performing "Plastico" at the Contra-Tiempo 2010 Gala

Photo © & courtesy of Simeon Den


Cesar Garfiaz performing 'Migra' at the Contra-Tiempo 2010 Gala

Cesar Garfiaz performing "Migra" at the Contra-Tiempo 2010 Gala

Photo © & courtesy of Simeon Den


Contra-Tiempo performs a group number at the Contra-Tiempo 2010 Gala

Contra-Tiempo performs a group number at the Contra-Tiempo 2010 Gala

Photo © & courtesy of Simeon Den


UCLA Community School students performing a Cuban Rueda at the Contra-Tiempo 2010 Gala

UCLA Community School students performing a Cuban Rueda at the Contra-Tiempo 2010 Gala

Photo © & courtesy of Simeon Den

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