Indigenous meets urban in a new program from R.Evolución Latina, a nonprofit organization composed mostly of Latino Broadway stars who organize free after-school programs and activities.
The group's production, "Choreographer’s Festival" (showing Monday, March 28, and Tuesday, March 29) brings kid dancers from Peru to work with their counterparts in New York City.
Choreographer’s Festival will bring children predominantly from Latino and Black neighborhoods, who have previously attended other programs, back to learn the aesthetics of dance through a cultural exchange. Their international guests: Peruvian Dance Company D1, whose performers, discovered by experienced dancer Vania Macías, were once homeless children living in the city of Ventanilla, Peru, and dancing on the side of the street for money.
“These workshops will help them tackle the world,” Macías says.
Reminiscing on how the kids from D1 have evolved professionally and personally, Macías says she wanted them to experience giving back to other kids.
Harlem’s Renaissance High School, Kinsgbridge International Magnet High School in the Bronx, Panamerican International High School in Queens, and the Committee for Hispanic Children and Families Inc., are just a few of the Big Apple schools involved.
“I wanted to transform them through dance, create positive role models,” she says. “We are open to the world. If you dream, you can do it.”
Founder of R.Evolución Latina, Luis Salgado shares the same passion as Macías.
The Puerto Rican Broadway star, who is directing the Festival, has starred in shows such as “In the Heights,” and “Women of the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown.”
One of his life's passions, he says, is moving the Latino community forward.
“I just believe in who we are and our potential,” says Salgado. He points out that he disagrees with the message of Broadway shows such as “West Side Story” because they show Latinos in a negative light.
“Fifty years later, that show is still representing the Latino stereotype. What does that give back to our communities?”
Salgado says "Choreographer’s Festival" has been the biggest expense the nonprofit, which is funded by their parent group, BroadwayCares, has had to date. But he wouldn’t let this get in the way of honing the skills of the children in the “Dare To Go Beyond” series in different schools throughout New York.
“I was tired of people saying, ‘We don’t have money to do this,’” he recalls. “If you are passionate you can make a change. I want to make a change in the world."
Bringing the festival to life are nine different choreographers who are infusing the performance with their personal dance style and energy using hip-hop, body percussion and yoga techniques.
“We are integrating a whole story making it more theatrical,” says Chicago Broadway star Gabriela García and choreographer of the festival.
She adds that the show will be delivered as one project, with one story line instead of being performed as separate pieces.
“There is one character who faces multiple confrontations. Each confrontation will be performed by an individual choreographer’s work.”
García says it was great for her to see the dancers from New York meet the dancers from Peru for the first time, and then have them as a group go to the schools and meet the children.
“One of the dancers told me, ‘Thanks for reminding me that dance is not a job but a passion,’” she says.
This reassured García that all the hard work putting the “Choreographer’s Festival” together has all been worth it.
“Others told me that I had no idea how much this meant to them and how much I was changing their lives.”
Joseph Almeida also feels as though he’s life has been touched an changed. Almeida is a 6th grade math teacher whose life is the one being portrayed by the main character, Santiago, of the “Choreographer’s Festival.”
The instructor, 27, got his students from Kipp Infinity Charter School involved with R.Evolución Latina after bumping into Salgado on the train one night after seeing him perform in “In the Heights.” He took advantage of the opportunity to open up the art world to his students. After all, he teaches at a school which is 60 percent Latino.
“He validated what we were doing in the classroom,” says Almeida, who now volunteers as R.Evolución Latina’s Education Project leader.
“A lot of the students now participate in the arts. African-American students now say how they love this music and can’t wait to dance more.”
Despite teaching math full time, Almeida is a musician, dancer, and choreographer.
The Brazilian lecturer plays the piccolo and flute and enjoys writing songs in his alone time. When attending Georgetown University he says he was part of “Groove Theory”—an award-winning hip hop dance group.
Recently, he coached a small hip hop group at his school which performed for Black History Month and also performs with R.Evolución Latina.
The character of Santiago “is about a young teacher trying to figure out what is his last message to his students before they go [and graduate,]" says Salgado.
“He has really amazing kids. This is about people who come up and have a dream and go after it no matter what,” Salgado adds.
Upon being told of this, Almeida said he felt honored.
“To have a character based on my life is very humbling,” he says. “[The kids] will see the different interpretation as part of a fabric that makes up the greatness of the Latino culture."
"With this performance they will see that the contributions of Latinos are not just something in television. It’s a human experience, a story to be told that it’s rich and diverse.”
You can reach Alexandra Gratereaux at: Alexandra.Gratereaux@foxnewslatino.com