A showcase of international dance performances at the NC Salsa Festival last night exceeded my expectations for their diversity, from the classic Nuyorican mambo and competition ballroom moves, to dancers who tapped directly in to the African and Brazilian roots.
It was followed by dance party starring Orquesta GarDel in Part One of the "Battle of the Salsa Bands" (Tropic Orchestra will take the stage tonight.) GarDel gave a heavy performance that earned respect from the dance artists, some of whom joined them onstage for the encore. Giorgio Restaurant in Cary was an elegant setting for the dance party; I enjoyed an unusual champagne cocktail at the bar. To make room for the performer showcase, a second stage was set up outside in a tent, which was brilliant because it allowed the band to set up inside at the same time.
Oliver Pineda and Mike Very with sonero Jaime Roman
Here's a quick review of the dance showcase; I'm told these same dancers will perform whole different routines to different music tonight.
1) Tito & Tamara
From: Puerto Rico
Danced to: Jose Lugo Orchestra, "Mambo Valentin"
Comments: Pure Puerto Rico. Classic beautiful moves and poses from a top pro team. They danced in "El Cantante" and other movies, and with top industry salsa stars like Gilberto Santa Rosa.
2) Isabel Freiberger
From: Cobo Brothers Dance Company (local)
Danced to: Charlie Palmieri, "Either You Have It Or You Don't," and Michael Buble, "Feeling Good"
Comments: Freiberger's music titles say it all about her performance: She definitely "has it," a natural solo performer with tremendous charisma, a unique look (kind of an Ann Margret fire), acrobatic style, and not a hint of nerves. Like poised dynamite.
3) Cobo Student Dance Team
From: Cobo Brothers Dance Company (local)
Danced to: Ray Barretto, "Adelante Siempre Voy"
Adam Phillips and Alexis Silver
Yin Song and Amber Cadwell
Comments: Classic Cobo style, sassy torso moves and lots of airborne lifts. Good synchronicity by two well-matched pairs, even when the sound dropped out, and they completed their choreography without music. It was the last performance of Alexis Silver and Milton Cobo delivered a tribute.
4) Lucy Lu and Jose Maldonado
From: Atlanta, Paso Fino Dance Company
Danced to: "La Guarachera" by Celia Cruz & Tito Puente
Comments: Put me in mind of Junior & Emily's performance at the festival last year, favoring multiple spins and constant motion over held elements and airborne moves. "That's coming tomorrow!" Maldonado told me after the show, saying this was their competition routine emphasizing ballroom elements.
5) Melanie Riveira & Serena Cuevas
From: San Diego, Deseo Dance Company
Danced to: A samba batucada (Brazilian drum music), and Rebeca Mauleon, "Serenata Ritmica"
Comments: The samba surprise: unexpected fusion of samba and capoeira with salsa and mambo. Nice to see a pair of female dancers with a unique style, introducing carnavalesque Brazilian sex and power to the "same old" salsa equation.
6) Mike Very & Erell Niane
From: Nice, France. Urban Tribe aka U-Tribe Dance Company
Danced to: Los Van Van, "Somos Cubanos"
Comments: Knock me over with a feather: Timba, at a mambo conference! To be more precise, a vital, fresh Afro fusion reflecting many influences from Cuban rumba, to Very's native Kenya and Niane's Senegalese roots. This was a standout with me and others I informally polled: eye-opening, gorgeously physical, and highlighting deep cultural connections.
7) Oliver Pineda
From: Sydney, Australia
Danced to:A bulerias by Joachin Cortez.
Comments: Flamenco, modern, and rumba inform the very physical, smooth solo routine of a 5-time World Salsa Champion. Kind of classically blended, although Pineda's costume suggests tribal assocations. Also a musician, Pineda sat in for GarDel's encore and played a killer timbales solo (see above video).
8) Victor & Burju Perez
From: Boston, Hacha y Machete Dance Company
Danced to: Alfredo De La Fe, "Hacha y Machete"
Comments: Introduced by MC Eric Baez as a "classic," this married pair represents the New York mambo style with all its formality and elegance. Cool music choice, an instrumental cover of their signature tune ("Hacha y Machete," a Hector Lavoe original) by violinist Alfredo De La Fe. It doesn't get more classic salsa than that. Burju's got her own line of dance shoes.
More Orquesta GarDel videos to follow soon.
Tropic Orchestra has been woodshedding all week, with some new personnel; judging by last night, they better bring their A-game! "Battle of the Salsa Bands, Part Two" tonight, starts at 11 pm (9:30 dance showcase).
Erell Niane (right) relaxing at the afterparty with Orquesta GarDel