Renowned choreographer Neri Torres is the reigning queen of Afro-Cuban dance here in Miami. And there is a reason why she’s maintained this title.
As founder and artistic director of the Ife-Ile Dance Company, the Havana native continues to carve out complex slices of Cuban life to explore through dance. Whether headlining an outdoor festival in the streets of Miami or a packed auditorium in Dubai, Ife-Ile brings the heat.
Skilled dancers ooze of classic Cuban sensuality as they deliver forms, ranging from the iconic rumba and soulful salsa variations to more sacred folklore. The group’s costumes are laden with rich tropical colors. Let’s not mention the flirty hips of rumberas that punctuate the rhythm of the clave.
For its signature folklore repertoire, the company’s seasoned drummers, also renowned masters of their domain, don traditional white clothing and passionately sing to the Orishas, who are portrayed by undulating, sometimes machete-wielding dancers. These are unfiltered elements of the dance stories that Torres has crafted in the 16 years since she started Ife-Ile.
For her upcoming Jan. 19 gala performance titled “Habana Mix 1,” Torres has meticulously plucked yet another piece of the Cuban experience to explore. Habana Mix 1, she explains, connects the past to the present through contemporary and traditional Cuban dance styles such as rumba, mambo, bolero, salsa and conga, but from a modern dance perspective.
Torres explains that Habana Mix 1 “presents several Cuban dance traditions that have not lost their relevance and influence around the world.” Thus, she says, “The setting of ‘Habana Mix 1’ is today’s urban landscape; where we strive to keep our culture within a different context that also over-imposes its individuality.”
“Habana Mix 1” comprises about eight choreographies, including a selection on abused women. It will be delivered through movements of the Oshun goddess, she explains. Another notable selection, featuring the rumba, will be performed cabaret style. Choreography for the Conga will offer a refreshing contemporary and urban fusion with other dance styles, she explains.
“Most people know me as an Afro-Cuban dancer, but this will offer something different and more contemporary,” says Torres, who explains that classic Cuban dance styles have stood the test of time because they are geared to everyday body movements. “That’s why it’s so enjoyable.”
“Habana Mix 1” is part of the annual IFE-ILE Afro-Cuban Dance Festival that is now in its 15th year. Saturday’s performance is the first part of the Habana Mix sequence. Fittingly, the more elaborate component will be showcased at this summer’s dance festival.
From the company’s inception in 1996, Torres has continuously kept us intrigued with and educated on Afro-Cuban dance and culture and how it’s shaped other musical genres.
“Cuban culture was injected into American culture about a century ago,” she explains. “The music is still embedded in a layer of contemporary American music.”
Having choreographed for and toured with the likes of Gloria Estefan and Andy Garcia, Torres has made quite a name for herself nationally and internationally. Nonetheless, she’s kept true to Ife-Ile’s mission, which is to preserve, promote, and cultivate Afro-Cuban culture through the arts.
“Without culture you are just a wonder in the world,” she says. ”I have to sustain the culture of where I came from.”
Ife-Ile will present its gala performance “Habana Mix 1” on Jan. 19, at the Manuel Artime Theater, 900 SW 1st Street, Miami, FL 33130. The show starts at 8 p.m. Tickets are $20 for general admission and $15 for seniors and students. They can be bought at the company website: www.ife-ile.org or at the theater door the day of the show.