The original, real trance music, not just the kind that you zone out to in any hip SoBe disco or downtown club, but the type that makes you feel as if the spirits are moving you, finds its roots in the drums, in Africa.
That’s what distinguishes the irresistible beats of Afro-Cuban music, born out of Yoruba traditions mixed with Western influences, from other rhythms. Luckily, you don’t need to go to Cuba or to Nigeria or Benin to experience this. Right here in South Florida, Neri Torres has been championing this cultural experience through her Ifé-Ilé Afro-Cuban Dance Company (the name Ifé-Ilé, in the Yoruba language, means expansion).
Since 1994, the Havana-born Torres has made it her mission to promulgate this music and its dance forms – from the sacred and the folkloric to the latest popular fusions – through her non-profit organization. On Thursday, Aug. 9, the 14th annual Ifé-Ilé Dance Festival kicks off at the Wolfson Campus (Building 6, Room 6100), of Miami Dade College.
“People are going to discover the identity of Cubans, share in the joy of life that this culture has, as well as appreciate its contribution to the world,” says the Ifé-Ilé founder, dancer, and choreographer, who also teaches at MDC’s New World School of the Arts. “Because hip hop has influences from all this Afro-Cuban music.”
The celebration begins at 7:00 p.m. with a panel discussion, the showing of a fragment of the documentary Cuban America by African-born filmmaker Adelin Gasana, then a live performance courtesy of the Ifé-Ilé dancers, who have been featured in videos (Gloria Estefan), documentaries (Celia, The Queen), and movies (The Lost City), and danced in places as far away from Miami as Dubai.
On the 11th, a full day of workshops, from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., takes place at the Little Haiti Cultural Arts Center. At 11:00 p.m., the dancers and musicians close the festival at the Cubaocho Art & Research Center. (A gala performance with guest dancers from Barbados and Trinidad & Tobago has been re-scheduled from that weekend to Oct. 26 at the Manuel Artime Theater in Miami).
“For the workshops, we have all kinds of people, and they come from all over the United States,” says Torres, whose inspiration in the creation of contemporary pieces always respects the traditional.
Once the drums start beating and the music flows, it is very difficult to ignore the rhythm. Torres explains that, while for some people it may be easier than for others to feel the music, in the end, for all, it’s quite an experience. “Drums were the first instrument of communication that we had, and they are in total alignment with our body’s chakras. This vibration enters your body and synchronizes itself with your heartbeat, with your pulse. And even if you don’t like to dance, I think that, if you hear the drums, if you hear this music, you will want to dance. Because the rhythm is there, and that’s what we are. Rhythm.”
To any skeptics, Torres offers this: “Just think of today’s discos. For me, they are a new ritual, where people fall in a trance and connect with those primitive rhythms.”
Thus, dance leads to a trance, in which a spiritual component also comes into play, Torres believes. In the case of the Afro-Cuban religion of Santería, or the Regla de Ocha, where Orishas or deities are worshipped, dance is a sacred expression. “The purpose of music, of rhythm, is for the person to let himself or herself go,” says the Cuban instructor, “and reach other states of consciousness. You fall into a trance and express yourself freely. You connect with the universe. And that’s the beauty of dance. As Martha Graham used to say, ‘dancers are the messengers of the gods.’”
Kick-off for the 14th annual Ifé-Ilé Dance Festival, held at Miami Dade College, Thursday, Aug. 9, from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m., MDC’s Wolfson Campus, 300 NE Second Avenue, Building 6, Room 6100. Free and open to the public. The festival takes place on August 11, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., at the Little Haiti Cultural Arts Center, 212 NE 59th Terr., Miami; 786-398-7184. Tickets for the classes/workshops and other events start at $15. There are also discount packages. Closing event to be held at Cubaocho Art and Research Center, 1465 SW 8th Street, Suite 106-107, Miami. 305-285-5880. Tickets: $10.
See also a version on Miami New Times online.