San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Wandering Feet Find a Home

JOYFUL flower children shimmied and bumped to theBeatles last week, just east of Parque Morazán in downtownSan José, and stony-faced rain-forest tribesmen carvedhieroglyphic shapes into the semi-darkness, as tropical birdstrilled in the distance and dry leaves crunched underfoot.This divergent cast of characters had come together fora two-part celebration: The UNA Dance Company was premieringits very first season at a San José space that CostaRican dancers can now call home: the newly inauguratedTeatro de la Danza (formerly Teatro FANAL).It’s not that the UNA dancers, who played these charactersand others over the course of a long weekend, werestepping out for the first time. The company, founded in1981 as a destination for Universidad Nacional’s dancedepartment graduates, has been making good on its mission– to help develop Costa Rican contemporary dance andpromote social change – by performing throughout thecountry for years, in theaters, schools, open spaces andeven jails, in front of attentive inmates.“We are finding beautiful people there that are hungry towatch art,” said UNA Artistic Director Nandayure Harley.“We feel it’s our social responsibility to perform there.”BUT, like other small groups, the company lacked asizable – and affordable – stage in the country’s capital. Ithad performed either in reasonably priced but small venuesor in festivals and special events on larger San José stagesat the National Theater or the Melico Salazar Theater, sharinghigh rental fees with other performers.As of June, however, the Ministry of Culture transferredadministration of the former Teatro FANAL to theNational Dance Company, and now local groups can claima new centrally located space, which, at ¢80,000 ($168) perday, costs considerably less to rent than San José’s otherlarge theaters.“It’s very important for dance in Costa Rica,” Harleysaid of the transfer. “It will be a resource for the NationalDance Company, for us, for independent choreographers,for all dance in Costa Rica.”She said the ministry made the change after it deemedthe space – with its 200-seat capacity, wide and deeplyrecessed stage, and expansive wings – more suitable fordance than for the theatrical companies that had mostlyinhabited it (some of these groups are now performing inanother space, also ministry-owned, in the same complex).HARLEY and her dancers – seven young professionalsin the regular company, plus five advanced universitystudents invited to perform in this program – took advantageof their newfound room to move with a sprawling programof recent work and repertory pieces. In Chileanchoreographer Jorge Olea’s “Soledades” (2004), the company’swomen mourned their desaparecidos – familymembers lost to war, politics and natural disasters – withsweeping, balletic arabesques and the contracted torsos ofMartha Graham’s modern technique. What began as passionateembraces ended with the women clinging to emptyair, as their partners slumped lifelessly to the floor.In contrast, Costa Rican choreographer ElenaGutiérrez’s 1976 piece “Beatles 5 1/4” (1976) was a mostlyupbeat collection of vignettes set to Fab Four hits. Anoverly literal reading of 1960s hippie culture, the worknonetheless had its charms, including topsy-turvy partneringbetween Sussan Rodríguez and Mario Chacón (“FromMe to You”), and the fierce, palpable resentment of AnaMaría Mendoza’s Eleanor Rigby.With Costa Rican choreographer Vicky Cortés’ newwork “A la Par del Cuerpo,” set to dissonant sounds byTico composer Alejandro Cardona, the dancers showed offthe improvisational skills they used to help develop thematerial. The piece explores an adult’s memories of childhood;the dancers explored the movement possibilitiesafforded by childish costumes – the slippery locomotionthat comes from having your socks only half on your feet,for example, or wearing just one platform shoe. They triedon and discarded various guises the way children cyclethrough identities.The program closed with Harley’s “Guaca,” set toMexican composer Jorge Reyes’ atmospheric rain-forestscore. In her vision of Costa Rica’s pre-Columbus indigenousculture, Harley created movement vocabulary fromfigures in pre-Hispanic stone and ceramics. The idea, shesaid, was to take viewers back to their roots. The fullensemble brought cave drawings to mind as well, withsnaky arm undulations and disjointed crabwalks, culminatingin a pyramidal group pose.IT was a short home season, but the UNA dancersaren’t done for the year.“We’re on a mission to take dance to as many people aspossible,” Harley said.To that end, the company will tour various provincesfor the rest of the year, secure in the knowledge that theyand their compatriots now have a base in the city.The UNA Dance Company will perform on the OmarDengo campus in Heredia, north of San José, July 10; at theTechnology Institute in San Carlos, in north-central CostaRica, July 16-17; and in various locations in Liberia, capitalof the northwestern province of Guanacaste, July 23-24.For more information, call 227-3393.

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