I am in Tempe surrounded by local artists at the noisy, hot, and bustling Casey Moore’s. Sitting next to me is a big-faced, bigger-smiled man who just premiered a major work— his eyes are darting around and he’s laughing. The premiere, which took place on August 10th and 11th in the Margaret Gisolo Theatre at Arizona State University, was a preview of work to be shown at the prestigious and historical Jacob’s Pillow Inside/Out Dance Festival in Massachusetts next weekend. The work is entitled Paseo, and I am here interviewing David Olarte, the director of the company. It is as he is speaking that I realize, there is no way to describe Paseo without first knowing David.
David Olarte, MFA, is a Dance Alumni and PhD to-be of Arizona State University, and most importantly he is a sun in the universe of Phoenix social dance. His dance company, Stilo, has been a home to Mambo, and more recently Contemporary, dancers in the valley for 10 years. If you have been a friend of David’s, then you have felt his wild, dedicated, loving spirit, so it is no wonder that people of the dance world flock to him—bees to a good flower. It is through this community connection that David has harvested the seasoned blend of artists that comprises the cast of Paseo.
The show began with an ‘introduction’ by each of the 7 dancers in the piece. One by one they commanded the space, reigning in the king and queendoms of their respective dance styles while a minimal yet striking score of a Cuban Son Cha-Cha loomed in the background. Joan Rodriguez and Anthony Denaro entered first, an unexpectedly harmonious pair. Rodriguez is a ballet and contemporary virtuoso, born of the folkloric and street dances of Cuba and trained by none other than the Escuela Nacional de Ballet, and Denaro a world-renowned B-Boy, visual artist, and designer. The two rocked and waved their way onstage, followed by Carla Leon. When she is not being the fierce and silky co-director of Stilo Dance Company, Ms. Leon can be found at the center of attention on any dance floor or snapping her DSLR at dance events. Her entrance, like her presence, was chic, cunning, and effortless, followed shortly by fellow company members Claudia Jara and Zeth Kuritzky. For a decade, the pair have been staples of the social dance community, and for 7 years company members of Stilo. It is only since January that they have trained Contemporary under Joan Rodriguez and Taimy Miranda, but their entrance suggested they were as fluent in their second language as their first. Taimy Miranda came next. Having also moved to Phoenix from Cuba, Miranda bears incomparable training from Escuela Nacional de Danza Moderna y Folclórica. Similar to her partner Joan, her resumé shimmers with performance spaces like the Joyce Theatre, the Guggenheim Museum, and companies such as Cuba’s Malpaso and Phoenix’s own CONDER/dance. Audible was the reaction from the audience as Miranda entered, unleashed an endless leg that stopped just before her nose, then folded into a series of whirling and reaching. Quickly after glided on David, and within seconds the Cha-Cha ended and all but two remained onstage.
Taimy Miranda & Joan Rodriguez perform in "Paseo". Photo by Jenny Gerena, X&O Photography
Like a rag doll, Taimy’s torso curved over pin-straight legs as Joan pivoted from his exit and started toward her. The two then began a duet that seamlessly interwove Contemporary and Cuban Son vocabularies. El Son contributed to the origins of Latin Social Dance, and was native to each dancer prior to their academy training. According to the dancers, the duet was intentionally comprised of movement that was choreographed and improvised because this approach honored the traditions of both concert and social dance. As an audience member, the moments of improvisation versus set movement were untraceable— no doubt due to the high level of excellence and command with which they moved.
Unexpected was the collaboration between David and Anthony Denaro aka B-Boy YNOT. According to David, YNOT joined the cast of Paseo very recently to revive Resumption, a work that had thrived on previous occasions. This was evident in that the dancer appeared but twice throughout the 40 minute piece, however the appearances he did make were popular topics in the post-show Q+A on both nights. Beginning in an eerie darkness, two pools of light revealed the dancers on opposite sides of the stage. Each began moving subtly as a Philip Glass score crept to full volume. David, the wind, swirled and tiptoed while YNOT, eye of the storm, pulsed and rippled. The two ebbed closer to one another, eventually overlapping and exchanging. It was during this moment of close proximity that I was moved to acknowledge the deep cultural ties between Latin Social Dance and Hip Hop— two dance cultures that typically exist independently of one another, and neither of which are native to the proscenium stage nor violin music. No sooner did I have this thought did David disappear and a breakbeat emerged over the Glass score. “Glass Breaks”, composed by Phoenix’s Samuel Peña, carried YNOT through suave and expertly rapid footwork. Peña reportedly anticipates expanding on the work he made with David for Paseo.
David Olarte and YNOT together in "Paseo." Photo by Jenny Gerena, X&O Photography
After the solo, my focus was commanded by bursts of color—the ensemble took the stage in stunning costumes for the last two pieces of the show. First, a Contemporary number that bled with the artistic perspective of Taimy and Joan, set also to a score by Peña, and finally a fiery Mambo alongside Steve Pouchie's “Journey into Outland”. Costumes created by Sandra Wakeham flowered and spiraled as the dancers gave their last reserves of energy to quick steps. It was during this movement-dense section that the rigor and challenge of this process became evident. “We began creating in January” commented Miranda after the show, “but we started rehearsing intensively [8+hours per day, every day] about three months ago”. As the lights came up for bows and a standing ovation, a weary and wrung-out cast loosened the zippers of their costumes and sauntered toward their audience for a Q+A. They had done it.
I down the last sip of my gin and tonic and finish my interview with David, and I am filled with gratitude. Here is a person who has curated a cast of artists from nightclub, cipher, and studio, and is sharing the stories of cultures that have been notoriously under-represented in venues like Jacob’s Pillow, during a time when unity, tolerance, and understanding is socially paramount. In the words of David, “Paseo…adds to the dialogue towards current and future immigration resistance, and how our body and movement is affected and transformed through the passage of borders”. David hugs me goodbye— even after the premiere of this work, he is on his way to go out social dancing. Shine on David, shine on
Stilo Dance will present Paseo this Friday, August 18th at Jacob's Pillow Dance.