Written by Julie Galle, Photography by Darvensky Louis
The debut concert of SOMOS felt grounded and confident as founder Angelita Itzanami set out to share her Mexican-American heritage. Choreography by Itzanami and the seven dancers who joined her on stage at Windmill Arts Center on August 11 and 12, 2023, showed the intentionality of studied dance, the longing of grief, resilient joy, and determination. The program offered a vision of a partitioned life that has emerged united in a young dancer, who eagerly welcomed Atlanta to see her point of view.
Dancers slowly entered the space greeting one another with distant, low-volume utterances of “Hello,” “What’s up,” “Hola,” “Hey.” In short time, they addressed the audience together with a concoction of the same greetings, lined up facing almost eye-to-eye with onlookers sitting at arm’s length in the 100-seat theater. It was like an awkward first meeting among strangers scrambling for a topic of small talk. Jerking their chests and then dashing across the stage, dancers shattered that connection to the audience without a hint that they would return to it later and ask everyone present to perform with them in their finale.
Displaced and frozen, the dancers waited in the dark while one-at-a-time, they presented unique phrases of movement that emphasized the intensity and individuality that they each brought to the work. After one dancer reached toward the floor with curved arms and extended legs, another reached upward not to gaze skyward but to suggest what develops from the ground. Stretching bodies moved strength and energy all the way to the spaces between the tips of spread-out toes at the ends of extended legs. A spotlight illuminated each solo dancer, leaving the rest in the dark, setting a scene far underground as the dancers truly introduced themselves. The performance never climbed out of that dark, earthy space.
Accompanied by an electronic drone, the grotesque became an effective landscape of movement. Lined upstage, with their backs to the audience and legs pegged to the ground, dancers passed some reluctant idea from one set of convulsing arms to another. As their legs returned to the conversation, dancers rolled and lay on the ground, often lurching and reaching upward with their feet and arms. In repelling partners and divided groups, they suggested confrontation and division through strong sharp stops and contractions of the torsos.
Non-stop motion of contorted bodies on and just above the floor culminated in a breathtaking lift of dancer who never stopped twisting her torso and limbs while the outstretched arms of surrounding dancers supported her and then lifted her overhead. She returned to the ground in an arabesque, which may have been the first sustained movement of the evening. With arms and legs outstretched, this gesture was a vision of beauty, perfection, balance, among the broken body parts that had been exhaustingly in motion for nearly a third of the concert.
The tone of the production changed when songs with vocals by Mexican singers were introduced in the second portion of the evening. Contemporary dance accompanied Kevin Kaarl’s ballad “Dos Almas,” which expressed the underlying longing that is part of grief. By contrast, pedestrian movements and popular dance movements piqued humor during the pieces that followed, much the way that Mexican culture begs the living to laugh at a time of death, because good memories are life. The company traveled around the stage on all fours, bumped around on two feet, slapped their kicking legs, and clapped to the celebratory, lively songs of Banda Bucanera and Banda el Recodo, known for cumbia and merengue. Smiles erupted and the audience clapped along with
the music in a moment of recognition of the shift in cultural expression that had occurred, from contemporary dance to the arrival of the fiesta. Dancers gathered and encouraged one another as soloists entered the center of a circle to present short phrases of contemporary dance and hints at traditional Mexican dances, to the lively rhythm and melody.
The lighter side of human emotion flowed into a duet to the love song “Te Regalo” by Carla Morrison. The intensity of longing that dancers visited earlier returned, but this time in the context of a promise of the tenderness of romantic love. The duet was joined by the entire company in the finale of the piece, when pairs of dancers rolled in remarkable architecture. Dancers timed their passes as they took turns; repeatedly, one rolled below while the other passed above and braced on arms like a bridge, in a combination that was mechanical, geometric, and fluid.
The group returned to its origin to conclude the concert: an electronic drone to accompany dancers moving without rest across the stage, interacting only as necessary as they passed one another seemingly randomly. Their contortions were accented this time by subtle head turns atop curved spines and angular arms. Their legs extended slowly at times in wide steps, whispering back to the arabesque that brought a first pause to the action of this intense hour-long concert. The return to contemporary dance was void of the cultural expressions of Mexico that had briefly laced a communal energy in the theater.
But the dancers brought back that connection in the finale. They invited – or commanded – the audience to clap together to create a rhythm to which dancers marched in a line in military style across the stage with percussive steps until they addressed the audience in one plane. Itzanami silenced the rhythm with a slicing gesture of her arms. She tilted her head up, leaned back, and let out a guttural, howling scream.
That final outpouring was as emotional as it was filled with determination and satisfaction. Itzanami kneaded movement and music to show us the perspectives swirling in her life. Her concert was not the separation of one leg rooted in one set of cultural traditions and the other leg standing in another set of traditions of a place and even time far away. It was the strong combination of it all, just as she is.