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Repertorio Español
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New York, NY

Repertorio Espanol's La Canción dense with energy from the heart

by Marilynn Larkin, Justin Torres
December 4, 2016
Repertorio Español
138 East 27 Street
New York, NY 10016
Why go to a two and a half hour show in Spanish if I don’t speak the language? Dance is a universal language, I told myself. Plus, my instructor, Carlos Neto, was the choreographer, and I was eager to see his work in performance rather than just in the studio.

I asked my dance friend Justin, also a Carlos student at Broadway Dance Center, to review Repertorio Espanol's La Canción with me on November 19 figuring he could fill in the bits that the translation device at my seat missed. But it turned out the only words one really needed to understand to appreciate the show were “la canción” (the song) and “el corazón” (the heart).

The storyline was simple, albeit clichéd: Rafa (Rafael Beato) was a young man from the Bronx with a passion for music. He dreamt about a song he was certain he never heard before, yet he awoke knowing all the lyrics. Hoping to adapt it for a singing competition, he was determined to find the songwriter. His journey revealed not only the history of the song, but secrets from his own past.

Through Rafa's journey the audience was treated to original songs and music by Luis Armando Lozada Cruz that were strongly and convincingly delivered by earnest and energetic performers.

La Canción was well paced despite my feeling daunted at the outset by its length.

That said, the performers clearly differed in their skills as dancers. I spoke with Carlos after the show and learned one of the difficulties he faced as choreographer was working with singers/actors with little formal dance experience. He said he “went with their natural rhythms” and used those as the foundation. He researched both Hispanic culture and dance, and worked with assistant choreographer Natalie Cruz on Latin styles with which he was not familiar.

Director Edward Torres (no relation to Justin) and writer Candido Tirado had charged Carlos with incorporating both Spanish styles and hip hop “to showcase the full spectrum of the music and culture” of the protagonists, he said, especially since “love of music is what really moves the main character.”

Working as a choreographer for a play as opposed to a dance performance is demanding, he added, because “there are so many factors involved – message, storyline, moods, audience perceptions and actors with different abilities. But I try to do it often because it challenges my choreography like no other type of project, focusing my creativity by making me work under highly specific rules and conditions.”

The result was interesting from the standpoint of the choreography, though a bit uneven on the performance side, something likely to be more obvious to trained dancers than to a general audience. While no particular number stood out, the dancing was woven seamlessly into the fabric of the show, supporting the story, communicating the culture and helping to maintain the steady flow of energy. It was also treat to see two more accomplished dancers from Carlos’s class, Elodie Dufroux and Keith Fung performing as part of a “gang” in several of the choreographed action scenes.

Justin noted that, as a young Hispanic man, he enjoyed the show and felt it was faithful to South Bronx Puerto Rican culture with an “interesting mix of American and Puerto Rican customs that comprise daily life for residents in the area.” At its core, beneath the love story that pulls the show along, La Canción also “shines a light on issues of poverty and family, as well as the struggle to find oneself in the face of those issues.”

Justin added that the translation system was slow and at times inaccurate, missing much of the color of the idiom. I agree, as I caught phrases here and there thanks to my college Spanish classes, and saw that they didn’t appear on the screen. Then again, it was no worse than viewing a subtitled film on Netflix.

All in all, the show was colorful, authentic and clearly a work from the heart for all concerned. While the audience members were Hispanic for the most part, La Canción would also be appealing to a wider audience. It also made me put El Repertorio on my radar screen for future reviews.

Repertorio Espanol's La Canción runs through December 17, 2016. More information at http://repertorio.nyc/#/

Photo © & courtesy of Michael Palma Mir

Photo © & courtesy of Michael Palma Mir

Photo © & courtesy of Michael Palma Mir

Photo © & courtesy of Michael Palma Mir

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