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Dance Review

'Latino L.A.' Runs Long on Good Intentions

August 28, 2000|LEWIS SEGAL | TIMES DANCE CRITIC

If Los Angeles had a local public television station remotely interested in dance programming, Gema Sandoval's "Latino L.A." would have made an outstanding special--a collage of performances showing how the diverse traditional music and dance of Central and South America helps sustain the sense of identity and pride of the majority of the citizens in our community.

Television could have cut from group to group, maximizing impact, minimizing inexperience--and editing out all the endless bilingual commentary that helped lengthen the program to three hours and 40 minutes on Saturday at the John Anson Ford Amphitheatre in Hollywood.

The sight of stagehands continually setting up and clearing sound equipment would have been left on the cutting-room floor, and the audience also might have been spared the ridiculous notion that the seven members of Mexico's Los Folkloristas needed a dozen microphones and four monitors to bring folk music to the masses.

And for what? The Ford sound system made shrill torture of nearly all the music, whatever microphones were in use and wherever Los Folkloristas found its source material. After nearly 35 years, the group remains unmatched in its stylistic range and mastery of instruments ancient and modern. But in a large outdoor venue with abundant side-platforms plus a spacious upper stage area, why place these artists and all the dance groups in the same eight feet of space downstage center?

*

Besides showcasing Sandoval's Danza Floricanto/USA in a varied, dynamic suite from the Mexican state of Jalisco, the brief dance segments introduced five community ensembles representing as many nations.

Grupo Cultural Latinoamericano brought a no-nonsense, salt-of-the-earth dignity to Humberto Escobar's three-part suite of Guatemalan dances.

ASOSAL surveyed El Salvador's dance legacy in decorative, character and hunting dances choreographed by co-directors (with Margarita Hernandez) Eliseo Orantes and Saul Mendez.

African-influenced social dancing and bold costuming distinguished the performances of two groups: Miriam Arroyo's Mi Linda Nicaragua in Edgar Velasquez's flamboyant choreography, and Nellie Castillo's NC Latin Show in twisty Afro-Bolivian dances by Sonia Castillo executed with great flair.

Finally, Club Libertad de Los Angeles focused on the elegant Marinera Norten~a idiom of Peru, as choreographed by Rocio Abento and danced with refined ardor.

Essentially a high-minded festival of misproduction in the tradition of the tap-flamenco-kathak disaster "Soul to Sole" in Cerritos four months ago, "Latino L.A." featured producer Sandoval as its overworked host, ever-gracious whether introducing a company, giving an award, inviting applause for the stage-sweepers or explaining midway through Act 2 that it would take all night to showcase every local Latino community.

"All night--why not?" she asked, and she deserves an answer:

All night is just fine for "Mahabharata," a Shakespeare history cycle or any epic with a beginning, middle and end that grows infinitely more profound at its full length.

However, all night for arbitrary sampler programming is something else: an avoidance of directorial responsibility, as if noble intentions were the same thing as purposeful choices, creative stagecraft and uncompromising artistic control.

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