Strips of rainbow-colored cloths that once adorned the audience seats were waved in the air by attendees. They stood up in their aisles to dance along with the performers on stage and embrace a movement of joy.
CONTRA-TIEMPO premiered its dance performance, joyUS justUS, at the Richard and Karen Carpenter Performing Arts Center Saturday night. They collaborated with East Los Angeles band, Las Cafeteras, in a call-to-action show addressing issues including discrimination, immigration and police brutality.
Pieces of cloth draped over each of the seats filled the room in red, green, yellow, blue and orange. A light, earthy smell infused the air as Las Cafeteras strummed their guitars with a ka-ka sound of percussion accompanying it. Spanish lyrics filled the theater as people filtered in to find their seats.
The stage was illuminated as the audience sat in dim lighting. A woman wearing a flower crown slowly walked up the stage, with the sound of a single maraca playing in the background.
“Repeat with me: You and I become us,” said Isis Avalos, dancer of CONTRA-TIEMPO.
Everyone on stage and in the audience echoed the words in unity.
“Our breath is the very act of resistance … Our fire ignites a fire in our souls …” Avalos continued. “We are because you are. And because you are, I am. You and I become us.”
The concert contained voice-overs of different dancers’ stories accompanied by movement. One narration was from Diana Toledo, a dancer for CONTRA-TIEMPO, with her “Mama Rueda Story.” In the voice-over, she recounted how her mom danced with a smile and was a “quiet fighter,” someone who never shared her struggle with depression and took care of her two children on her own.
“It felt personal. A lot of the dancers were part of the choreography and a lot of our stories were put into it,” Toledo said after the show. “It felt vulnerable and amazing at the same time.”
One piece in the show had a voice-over repeating the show’s titular theme “justice, just us” and could be interpreted as a representation of the progression in American society. Seventeen dancers slowly moved forward in a diagonal line following the cut of light on the floor. It is at first a hunched walk and slowly transformed into elegant movements as the voice-over narrated the amendments that abolished slavery and allowed women to vote.
As the voice-over moved into a discussion of the necessary improvements that needed to be made in society, the dancers started to slowly tumble down, fall to the ground and began moving backwards. The piece ended with the dancers hunched over on their hands and legs to look directly at the audience before the lights were turned off.
The show celebrated people of color and diversity with vibrant costumes, a diverse cast of dancers and lighting. There was a “community altar” of 54 people on stage that did not dance, but rather represented the audience as they sat around the edges of the stage observing, according to Ana Maria Alvarez, founder and artistic director of CONTRA-TIEMPO.
“Brown is the color of my dreams. Brown is the color of my history books,” rapped Hector Flores, vocalist for Las Cafeteras. “My brown history will set me free. It is the color of being free … I just want to be free.”
Las Cafeteras’ song “Brown” was followed by a voice-over saying, “immigrant, refugee, unlawful citizen, residential, alien, alien, alien.” At the word alien, a dancer shoved another out of sight before they both resumed to dance center stage.
“I think it’s more of the culture and the community to rise in their issues like immigration,” said Nancy Garcia, first-year accounting major. “For me, it’s really important. It was really encouraging to see everyone be engaging with each other regardless of who they are.”
The performers encouraged the audience to get to their feet as Las Cafeteras performed “This Land is Your Land” with both Spanish and English lyrics, inspired by “This Land” by Woody Guthrie. The crowd danced in the small aisle space and waved colored cloths to create an ocean of color that filled the theater.
“It was fantastic, very expressive and thought-provoking and passionate,” said attendee Brandon Norwick, a hospitality professional. “It was everything. It was multicultural, as diverse as we are and moving in a lot of ways.”
As Las Cafeteras came to the end of its performance, people clutched rainbow strips of cloth against their chest, tied them to their purses or left them behind.