“MONOLITH,” a collection of contemporary work from Latin voices

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    “Otra Vez, Otra Vez, Otra Vez,” by Stephanie Martinez with PARA.MAR Dance Theatre; photo by Peter Hinsdale
    “Otra Vez, Otra Vez, Otra Vez,” by Stephanie Martinez with PARA.MAR Dance Theatre; photo by Peter Hinsdale


From a swanky, dark, pink-lit bar pulsing with a club beat, we crossed the threshold into a completely different world—a high-vaulted, spacious and quiet church. Chairs were spaced out around a Marley floor, where pews should have been. Underneath the colored glow of stained-glass windows perched high above, small candles burned like dotted fireflies on tables circling the perimeter. Shadows moved in from two corners, gliding to center stage.

At Epiphany Center for the Arts, a historic church transformed into a multipurpose arts and entertainment venue, PARA.MAR Dance Theatre presented “MONOLITH,” at 7:30 p.m. on May 24. The night consisted of four contemporary ballet works by Latin artists Bryan Arias, Xavier Nuñez, Beatriz García Diáz and PARA.MAR’s founder and artistic director Stephanie Martinez. Each no longer than 20 minutes in length, watching was like dining on a four-course gourmet meal that had just the right amount to satisfy and make a flavorful statement.

“Trace of Grace,” by Xavier Nuñez with James La Russa and Laura La Russa; photo by Peter Hinsdale

The far off cheering, clapping and whistling of a live concert crescendoed as lights came up on two people assuming an intimate social dance position. When Afro-Cuban jazz instruments burst jovially in, the pair did the unexpected. They dipped under and poked through one another in a proximal game of Twister. In succession, multiple couples took to the stage in similar, playful duets. Then, with a wonderful peppering of street dance, Justin Rapaport sprawled into a solo series of break-dancing movements, which nestled nicely inside the sounds of the spirited trumpet and conga beat.

This was Arias’ “Social.” We were taken to the street, or perhaps a nightclub, and, through a contemporary movement lens, the lively energy of a social Latin dance gathering was celebrated. Later on, the chatter of neighborhood conversations infiltrated the air while an amoeba of bodies tumbled across the stage in a web of constant contact. There was a clear portrayal of community; one with innate trust, closeness and support.

Bookending the evening was “Otra Vez, Otra Vez, Otra Vez” by Martinez. All in striking royal blue, the cast demonstrated delicacy with high-flying lifts, like angels floating to the roof of the church. Playing out like a grand suite, overlapping duets and trios rose and fell—storylines crossing in fits of intense passion and buoyant euphoria. At one point, the galloping arpeggios of Spanish classical guitar shifted to a clock ticking. Peter Mazurowski slunk out, grasping a black hat to his chest and dragging it over his face. Mazurowski’s languishing character ran throughout the piece, an intriguing side story embedded within.

Nuñez’s “Trace of Grace” was uniquely performed on the altar. As the audience looked up toward the platform bathed in cold white light, the looming shadows of dancers James La Russa and Laura La Russa hovered on the back wall like spirits watching over them silently. Transported to the moon in this solemn and haunting duet, the two orbited one another like liquid floating in zero gravity to the sonorous voice of Azerbaijani singer, Alim Qasimov.

In a second duet by García Diáz, “Essence Threads,” Rapaport and Taylor Yocum were tossing waves on a stormy sea, creating an endless churning throughout the space. They were thrown like sling shots, then desperately pulled back toward one another like magnets. In an intense rush, the peak moment was a sudden crash to the floor. They rolled apart, losing their magnetic charge—the exhausted end of arduous exertion.

“Essence Threads,” by Beatriz García Diáz with Justin Rapaport and Taylor Yocum; photo by Peter Hinsdale

All four pieces had similar and cohesive stylistic sensibilities; specifically, each exhibited dexterous and looping lattices of partner work. It brought the performers into intimate, entangled relationships that played out under global musical landscapes, with Latin voices, instrumentation and movement qualities as a bold-colored thread throughout the evening’s tapestry.

PARA.MAR Dance Theatre’s “MONOLITH” was held on Friday, May 24, at 7:30 p.m., and Saturday, May 25, at 2:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., at the Epiphany Center for the Arts (201 S. Ashland Ave). For more information, please click the event link below or visit paramardance.com.