Los Angeles Dance Interview: ANA MARIA ALVAREZ (Artistic Director and founder of CONTRA-TIEMPO Urban Latin Dance Theater)

Post image for Los Angeles Dance Interview: ANA MARIA ALVAREZ (Artistic Director and founder of CONTRA-TIEMPO Urban Latin Dance Theater)

by Myra Joy Veluz on April 11, 2014

in Theater-Los Angeles


The excitement in Ana Maria Alvarez’ voice is contagious: “When we got the news it was like one of those Ed McMahon calls that everyone sees on television.” The Artistic Director and founder of CONTRA-TIEMPO Urban Latin Dance Theater is referring to her company’s upcoming dance tour supported by DanceMotion USA. “I CONTRA-TIEMPO Artistic Director Ana Maria Alvarez. Photo by Brandt Brogan.won’t lie about my goals,” Alvarez tells Stage and Cinema. “I knew we needed to be a part of this program and I put that out in the universe. In many ways it gives us a huge opportunity to expand. It is a pivotal moment.”

Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) produces the program in partnership with the U.S. Dept of State. There is a long selection process which starts with a survey of several thousand U.S. dance companies that need to meet specific criteria. The staff of DanceMotion USA, the staff of the Dept. of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA), and a panel of arts professionals all confer to make the final selections and approve the international travel. CONTRA-TIEMPO will begin their one-month South America tour in May, 2014, traveling to Bolivia, Chile, and Ecuador. They will perform, network, and participate in dance education activities. (Traveling to different locales, the other selected companies this year are David Dorfman and Mark Morris.)

Attributed to Roman philosopher Seneca, the phrase “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity” slyly insinuates that we make our own luck. Since CONTRA-TIEMPO is less than nine years old, the prestigious recognition from DanceMotion USA may have arrived at an opportune moment but it is surely an indication of hard work. There is a reason for all of the hype over CONTRA-TIEMPO.

Alvarez states, “I believe the power of dance has the capacity to transcend words and what people understand verbally. Dance simplifies the human experience. What I try to do is engage people in a physical way that is entertaining. As an artist, all I think I can really do is try to make you feel connected, so I do everything possible to keep CONTRA-TIEMPO production photo by Tyrone Domingo.the audience excited and entertained.” More important, she says, is to maintain the work’s integrity.

Alvarez created with the term “Urban Latin Dance Theater” to define a space where a mixture of arts is blended to present a non-linear narrative. Her repertoire blends various dance styles—salsa, modern, hip-hop, street—with theatrical elements such as prop use and spoken monologues. Likewise, the dancers of CONTRA-TIEMPO are diverse racially, physically, and in dance style and experience.  “We exist where those worlds collide not just artistically and racially but also politically. Our company is a huge fusion of different voices, peoples’ experiences, and cultural backgrounds.” Thus, labeling her work isn’t so simple. “We can’t simply check a box to define who we are. We aren’t a cookie-cutter company and this is what makes us different: the way we bring forms together in space and time. We are unique and dynamic in what we do and we wear a lot of those hats successfully and authentically. We are living within this hybrid experience.”

CONTRA-TIEMPO URBAN LATIN DANCE THEATER 'How do you make a Difference' - PosterThe work for the repertoire is created through a collaboration process in which Alvarez teaches movement or allows the dancers to improvise with each other. She continually references community bonding and, most importantly, listening to one another. “It’s about being in touch with yourself, your feelings, and what you can contribute. It is incredibly rooted in building community and physically pushing in order to expand what the artists believe is possible.”

CONTRA-TIEMPO. Production photo by Tyrone Domingo.Alvarez admits that the demand for funding is a struggle and believes the work is often under-capitalized. To continually cover costs she says that even the smallest contribution is the most rewarding. She discusses how CONTRA-TIEMPO has a monthly plan that allows family and friends to commit to a series of installments. “In this way it gives power back in the hands of people.”

A firm believer in the power of education, she also talks about her company’s two-week summer dance program. The opportunity provides dance enthusiasts of all ages to participate in dance classes, activities, and performances. She eagerly explains, “I look forward to transforming the world through dance. It’s about CONTRA-TIEMPO production photo by Tyrone Domingoreaching out and really impacting people’s lives through direct action. We can make these partnerships happen and create meaningful bridges between international borders through the art of dance.”

Since the launch of DanceMotion USA in 2010, eleven American dance companies have toured to seven different regions around the globe, including Sub-Saharan and Northern Africa, South America, the Middle East, the Iberian Peninsula, Eurasia, and Central, South and Southeast Asia. Beginning with the second year, DanceMotion USASM has also brought a foreign company back to the United States to collaborate with a participating U.S.-based company, continuing the cross-cultural exchange. Based on Alvarez’ tireless efforts, it seems that DanceMotion USA’s choice to send CONTRA-TIEMPO abroad was based more on preparation than opportunity for the company.

photos by Tyrone Domingo and Brandt Brogan

South America Tour (May 17 — June 18, 2014)
sponsored by DanceMotion USA
in partnership with the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA)
and the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM)
for more info, visit www.contra-tiempo.org and www.dancemotionusa.org

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