San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Contemporary Dance Festival opens at the Melico Salazar

The lobby of the Melico Salazar Theater was packed last Tuesday, and when the hundreds of patrons finally flooded into the auditorium, they filled nearly every seat, including those in the second-story balconies. They didn’t come to see a pop band or Broadway hit. They came to see modern dance.

The 13th National Festival of Contemporary Dance presents the works of numerous Costa Rican dance companies over the course of five days. In the warped era of “Dance Moms,” the festival is a relief: Young dancers represent schools and academies across the country, performing original choreography and demonstrating what they’ve learned. For a mere 5,000, visitors can enjoy a full evening of up to three different recitals.

The Tuesday inauguration was big on fanfare: Organizers made eloquent speeches for nearly 25 minutes, and the event was followed by drinks and hors d’oeuvres in the second-floor Dinorah Bolandi Gallery. Most importantly, the first troupe to present was the National Dance Company, whose “Cuerpo TransLÚCIDO” lasted about an hour.

Translated as “TransLUSCENT Body,” the new work by Pepe Hevia was a series of interconnected vignettes starring about a dozen professional dancers. Using such diverse musicians as Bach and Balanescu, the dancers staged numerous dramatic scenes, many of them scattered and disjointed, as if narrating several stories at once.

“Cuerpo” was a particularly heady opener, as the piece was light on narrative or tangible theme. According to Hevia’s notes, the piece “creates a connection between the intellect and emotion, offering a choreographic language of precision and transparency.”

In the final segment, two of the male dancers emerged from the wings, completely disrobed. The nude forms paced slowly across the stage, as if sleepwalking, until they broke from the trance and started some of the most elaborate movements of the show. Some of the audience tittered, others were stiffly silent. San José is not Paris, after all, where artists routinely expose themselves. But the show continued until the performers formed a queue and marched into a slow blackout, and the auditorium erupted in applause.

“Cuerpo” wasn’t a very focused piece, but it showcased an enormous range of physical expression, and at a festival that nakedly celebrates the possibilities of contemporary dance, that’s all you need.

El Festival Nacional de Danza Contemporánea takes place Aug. 5-10 at the Melico Salazar Theater and the Theater of Dance, both in downtown San José. Tue.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m. 5,000 ($10). Info: Theater website.

Contact Robert Isenberg at

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