Dancing In Their Footsteps 

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Dancers perform the dream scene from "Noticias de Mamá," in the Guadalupe Cultural Art Center's Historias y Recuerdos, which was choreographed with the memories of Westside residents.

Near the beginning of Historias y Recuerdos, the Guadalupe Dance Company's new dance-theater piece, one of the characters admonishes his friends and family to stop chismeando. The advice might also serve to remind audiences that for two hours they should set aside everything (well, almost everything) they've heard and read about the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center's latest administrative miasma. Those who can look past the bank of dark clouds will be richly rewarded with shimmering brilliance.

8pm Fri & Sat
Through Aug 19
$10 advance; $12 door
Guadalupe Cultural Arts
1300 Guadalupe

Based on oral histories of current and former residents of the near West Side that surrounds the historic Guadalupe Theatre, Historias y Recuerdos is a series of seven interrelated sections that show the small company's range to fine effect. (There are only a couple serious missteps in the full evening production, and they easily could be mended.) While many of the show's compelling moments - and they are numerous - draw on the company's bred-in-the-bone command of traditional Mexican dance (watch how naturally the company incorporates indigenous dance steps and music into the "Oraciones" and "Frontera" sections), the dancers' verve and technical mastery of Mexican and Chicano social dances are also on full display. Watching some of the evocative scenes, tableaux vivants of a community in its época de oro, is like watching familia at gatherings that celebrate nothing more, or less, than the fact that they are alive, in love, and united by a culture that values the wonder that's found in "simple" things. The company, which marks its quinceañera this year, has always boasted a strong corps of female dancers; Historias certainly casts their versatility in sharp relief. Three of its dancers, Jeannette Chávez, Denise Guerra, and Dava Hernández, who also take on choreographer duties in the production, are a stunning revelation. I have always admired their prodigious strengths - their work here only confirms what loyal audience members have long known: They are a precious cultural treasure that is too often overlooked in the city's miniscule community of professional dancers. Guerra's portrayal of La Llorona is as searing as anything you'll see on any local stage in this, or any, season. And Hernández's tightly constructed "Oraciones" scene should be required viewing in all Intro to Chicana Feminism courses. Historias also lets the men in the company have their generous say. The work's second scene, "Noticias de Mamá," is based on a poignant wartime story told by neighborhood resident Manuel Medrano. Dancer-choreographer Luis García creates simple but luminous choreography with memorable results. The dancers are equally powerful in "Frontera." But the quiet splendor of Historias y Recuerdos is its raíz, which stretches deep and wide. Fittingly, the first voices you hear at the performance are those of the community, which has generously entrusted its stories to the Guadalupe Dance Company. More than grist for the creative mill, the oral histories are a cultural X-ray, as well as historical DNA, of the choreography. Most of the interviewees, elders of the community, reminisce about Barrio Guadalupe's bustling activity and sense of comunidad that defined it en esos tiempos. Their recuerdos are filled with sensuous detail: charamusca, manzanilla, nixtamal, the ragpicker's ritual, Saturday matinees at the Guadalupe and Progreso theaters (when admission cost 9 cents), spinning tops, the clatter of canicas, and the simple joy of beating your mamá at a game of counting passing cars (when those were a rarity in the West Side) on warm summer nights at the Alazán Apache Courts. Those were, in the words of one informant, "very happy times" that soothed the pain of hardscrabble lives. That this is, at corazón, a for-us-by-us show can be heard in the audience's chuckles of recognition at the mention of pirulí (Proust had madeleines, gente has pirulí), and at the pitch-perfect comadreando between two women in the section titled "El Baile." In one particularly tender scene, a mother tells her daughter that "we Mexicans will always have problems." Luckily, we will also have our dance, our music, our soul, and our pride, as Historias y Recuerdos so marvelously reminds us.

More by Pablo Miguel Martinez



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