July 30-August 9, 2009 at Queens Theatre in the Park
Ex-patriot soccer stars hang with modern dancers. Afro-Caribbean rituals collide with glamorous island pop. Japanese and Koreans tango past Chilean interpreters of avant-garde circus music. All tucked away in a corner of an outer borough.
The Chase Latino Cultural Festival (July 30-August 9, 2009), now in its thirteenth year, brings a chorus of voices and perspectives on Latin music, film, and performance to the indoor Queens Theatre in the Park, an institution dedicated to building bridges between the surrounding Latino enclaves and the world of international performing arts and to fostering artistic creativity in the local community. Despite an economic crisis that has hit arts organizations hard, the Theatre is continuing its long tradition of commissioned dance, cultivating up-and-coming local groups, community poetry slams, and even some free shows at the Festival.
It’s also passionately cultivating new audiences in unexpected ways. This year’s Festival features The Golden Age (August 5), a full-length documentary chronicling the lives of former Latin American soccer legends who regularly play a stone’s throw from the Theatre, which is located in Flushing Meadows Corona Park, a former World’s Fairground. “We’re going out to the soccer fields to invite the players in the film into the theater,” exclaims Executive Director Jeffery Rosenstock. “Though right in the same park, the players and the Theatre are worlds apart, and rarely do the two meet. But here we are, intent on getting them in to experience the Festival that they’re a part of.”
This year’s Festival artists also merge multiple worlds. “The Chase Latino Cultural Festival offers an opportunity to learn about the diversity of Latino culture, its complexity,” Festival artistic director Claudia Norman explains. “The complexity is represented with this mix of everything from Africa to Asia, all the influences that Latin America has had and has exercised throughout the centuries. We want to reflect how Latino culture has been very global for many, many years.”
Japan’s striking Anna Saeki (July 31), the Hokkaido-born tango diva with a perfect Buenos Aires accent who sparked a Latin music craze in her home country, is poised to unite her numerous Asian fans—many of whom hail from Queens and love to dance—with tango aficionados. Returning to the Festival are Inti-Illimani (August 1) who are putting a new international twist on the Andean and Chilean music that made them Latin American icons by collaborating with Cirque de Soleil soloist Francesca Gagnon, in an unexpected interpretation of the circus’ musical explorations. Inti-Illimani will also guide families though a hands-on exploration of the sounds and instruments of the Andes as part of a free afternoon workshop (August 1).
Exploration through a cosmopolitan language of movement, space, and sound lies at the heart of this year’s commissioned dance piece by Argentine choreographer Luis Garay and the dancers of Buenos Aires Dance Company, co-commissioned and co-presented with the LaGuardia Performing Arts Center. Garay has created a solo piece (August 6) delving into the complexities of the inexpressible, what linguistic philosopher Ludwig Wittengestein called a “gag,” the title of the piece.
The Festival is also striving to bridge the great divide between the Latin American folklore that has taken the world by storm and the pop sounds favored by many New York Latinos. “We bring together icons of both kinds,” Norman notes, “so that world music fans can try some Latin pop, and pop fans can explore traditions.”
Colombia’s Afro-Caribbean legend Totó La Momposina (August 7) returns to the stage with the unforgettable African-based traditions sung by five generations of her family that made her a global icon only recently discovered by Colombian fans. New York’s Afro-Cuban dance company and Festival openers Oyu Oro (July 30) breathe new life into old Yoruba and Franco-Haitian ritual song and movement from founder Danys Perez La Mora’s home turf of Santiago de Cuba in their New York stage debut. Jarocho master Don Fallo Figueroa (August 9) has dedicated his life to interpreting the traditions of Veracuz, Mexico, making his mark by adding the untraditional double bass to traditional songs like “La Bamba.” Figueroa will be joined by youthful protégés Son Candela, whose high-energy versions of Mexican son—a style distinct from its Cuban counterpart—show that traditional Mexican music is about a whole lot more than mariachis.
While showing Latin America’s global side, the Festival also keeps things close to home, showcasing the oral traditions and passion for improvisation of New York’s vibrant Latino communities. Albita (August 8), a Cuban pop favorite and bold independent artist who splits her time between Miami and New York, is loved not only for her high-energy shows, but for her uncanny ability to improvise fantastic Cuban son lyrics on the spot. Colombian comedic duo and Festival darlings and unofficial resident comedians Tola y Maruja (August 2; in Spanish) use their razor-sharp wits and journalist backgrounds to skewer contemporary politics and mores, all dressed two brazen grannies. This year, the comedy team premieres their latest show, a biting version of reality television where ten contestants battle it out while attempting to survive on Colombia’s meager minimum wage.
Improvisation and tradition go hand in hand for the Afro-Uruguayan jazz quartet led by New York-based singer Sabrina Lastman (August 5), who unites African traditions like candombe with the elegance of Latin American song and jazz standards. A Festival tradition, this year’s Poetry Open Mic Night (August 5) is hosted by New York spoken word collective, Grito de Poetas, a group of freestyling Latino teachers, rappers, and artists declaring a new space for poetry in Queens.
As the Festival pursues its noble goals of uniting Queens communities with the world and fostering new voices, it makes sure to promote one last crucial element: fun. “Jarocho concerts usually end with a fandango when the music leaves the stage and people start improvising and that’s exactly how the Festival will end this year,” smiles Norman. “During a fandango, musicians create a phrase for somebody from the audience, and then they dance. No one sleeps for three days. This energy reflects the spirit of the Festival perfectly.”
For information and tickets, contact the Queens Theatre in the Park box office at 718-760-0064 or go to www.queenstheatre.org.
The Chase Latino Cultural Festival is sponsored by Chase, Delta Air Lines (the official air line of Queens Theatre in the Park) and Con Edison. Media Sponsors of the Latino Cultural Festival are Time Warner Cable of New York City and New Jersey, El Diario and Telemundo. (Sponsors in formation)
Funding for the Chase Latino Cultural festival 2009 has been provided by the National Endowment for the Arts, The New York State Council on the Arts, and The New York City Department of Cultural Affairs. Additional funding has also been provided by Bloomberg, Harkness Foundation, Jerome Robbins Foundation, Mertz Gilmore Foundation, The New York Community Trust / Lila Acheson Wallace Fund for the Arts, RBC Wealth Management, The Shubert Foundation and the Arts & Business Council of New York.
The Latin Media & Entertainment Commission is an official partner of the Latino Festival, which was founded in 2003 by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg.