Andanza offers unique modern ballet

SAN JUAN, P.R.—  Act one opens with a couple dressed in simplistic white costumes that flow with every step, sensually moving against a stark black background with dramatic instrumentals, weaving in, out and around each other.  The stage is partitioned into three sections, and the initial couple remains in the first section, dancing in every inch of the small space they occupy.

A second couple wearing brown appears in the middle portion of the stage.  The male dancer carries his female partner in the air as if she is as light as a feather, and then angrily pushes her to the floor.  His partner dramatically rises and the couple embraces exuding great passion.

Andanza dancers in vibrant costumes perform “Lienzos” at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., in 2004 (Photo courtesy of Robert Villanúa).

The music reaches a crescendo and a couple as fierce as the red of their costumes enters the third section and appear to be fighting.  The intensity of the movement is overwhelming as the male dancer fervently crawls to his female partner on his hands and knees until his partner stands on his back demonstrating powerful domination.

Clearly this isn’t your average night at the ballet consisting of dancers in pink tutus and Pointe shoes performing a familiar George Balanchine piece; this is different, its Andanza.

On Nov. 2, 2007, the Andanza Contemporary Dance Company of Puerto Rico opened its 2007-08 season at Centro De Bellas Artes De Santurce, or Center for Fine Arts of Santurce, with “Andanza, De Colección”, or “Andanza, of Collection” in Santurce, Puerto Rico.

Santurce is a district of Sam Juan and is one of the most densely populated parts of the city. Centro De Bellas Artes De Santurce is located along Ponce de Leon Avenue and is accessible by Santurce’s metro system as well as buses.

Andanza, De Collección” consisted of six performances choreographed by Carlos Iván Santos, assistant director of the company and a former dancer with Andanza until he retired in 2004.  He is now one of its ballet teachers and its ballet master, which means he rehearses the company.

“He is an excellent artist so I decided to select five of his best creations along with a new one in order to show his work to the audience, his trajectory and the vocabulary that he has developed through out his work at Andanza,” said Lolita Villanua, Andanza’s artistic and executive director, as well as choreographer and dancer.

Villanua created Andanza in 1998 when she returned to Puerto Rico from Brazil where she danced with Grupo Corpo.  Villanua along with fellow dancers and friends María Teresa Robles, now the company’s Director of Educational Programs, and Carlos Iván Santos dreamt of a full time contemporary dance company to join, but no such thing existed in Puerto Rico.

“Either I created it for me and the other dancers or stopped dancing,” said Villanua.

The word Andanza is not only a combination of the words andar, to walk, and danzar, to dance, but also means an event or happening.  With as many meanings as the word Andanza encompasses, it is impossible to articulate everything this exceptional contemporary dance company represents with a single word or phrase.

“I chose this name for the company because it also has a symbolical meaning to me, which alludes to the way Puerto Ricans move.” said Villanua. “They don’t simply walk (andan) but andanzan (walk/dance), with a special rhythm, swing and flavor… in the same way that they almost sing when they talk, with their melodic accent.”

With the creation of Andanza came performances that express the unique visions of these talented dancers and continues to enrich the cultural landscape of Puerto Rico with its diverse style.  Andanza’s choreographers borrow from all dance genres, including modern, classical, and dance from other cultures, and combine their individual styles with all types of music.

Lolita Villanúa, executive director, artistic director, choreographer and dancer for Andanza performs with Carlos Iván Santos in “Adagio,” one of the six performances of “Andanza, De Colección,” choreographed by Santos. (Photo courtesy of Robert Villanúa).

One performance could begin with the sounds of a haunting Spanish guitar and then evolve into an upbeat jazz number.  The inventive choreography and the creative stage design mold to create an experience for its audiences that is incomparable to that of any other dance company.

“The style is very diverse because it includes the work of multiple choreographers,” said Villanua.  “For instance, Carlos Iván Santos’ style is very different from mine.  My movements are much more associated to the Caribbean culture, involving the hips, sometimes popular music and more day to day steps.”

The uniqueness of the company was more than evident in “Andanza, De Colección” as every act was completely different from the one prior.  While the first performance had more modern dance elements, the second act entitled “Interludio en el Limbo” had more of a traditional ballet feel.

It consisted of classical ballet movements, but more whimsical and with more humor as dancers frolicked across the stage and then laid on their backs while kicking their feet in the air.  At several points, dancers ran in and out of the backdrop taking the curtains with them, exposing a bright gold light and making the performance even more dynamic and exciting.

The fifth performance entitled “Andante Sostenuto” was a perfect example of how Andanza’s imaginative set designs enhance powerful choreography by giving dancers so much to work with on stage.  When the curtains opened to reveal rows and rows of stage lighting hanging from the rafters, “oohs” and “ahs” were heard from the audience in anticipation of what was to come.

The four dancers on stage utilized the front row of lamps, turning them on and off with the music and ferociously swinging them out towards the audience.  As they danced, the light from the lamps swinging to and fro gave audience members intermittent glimpses of the choreography, adding to the drama and rawness of the piece.

Andanza’s immense talent and creativity has attracted followers from different countries and enabled the company to travel and perform outside its home of Puerto Rico.  They have performed in Mexico, Cuba, Spain, and at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington as part of the Center’s AmericArtes Festival, which showcased major Puerto Rican artists.  As much as the company wishes for more travel opportunities, they face limitations.

“I think that we haven’t traveled more because of lack of time and personnel to take care of this task,” said Villanua.  “I am the artistic and executive director but I am also a dancer, choreographer, administrator, producer… You cannot imagine how much work this is, especially since we don’t have secured funding…  With 40 employees and salaries to look for, I have so much work that I never have the time to contact festivals.”

Not even a decade old, there is much room for growth.

The creative forces behind Andanza envision a great evolution for the company.  Villanua has three priorities for the near future.  She would like to see more permanent funding for the company, so that more time can be spent on creating dances and community programs rather than fundraising.

Andanza has an artistic mission and also an important social/educational one, which includes classes at its school, scholarships, weekly workshops at underprivileged communities (project “Danza con Andanza”, or “Dance with Andanza”), free tickets to its shows and free presentations,” she said.  “We have been doing miracles for almost 10 years…”

Arleane López and Osmay Molina in a striking position from “Interludio En El Limbo,” the second performance in “Andanza, De Colección” (Photo courtesy of Robert Villanúa).

Villanua would also like to see Andanza obtain a permanent space for studios and offices where they would not have to pay rent.  Currently Andanza does attract the biggest audience out of all of the non-commercial cultural artistic companies in Puerto Rico, but Villanua has hopes of gaining a wider audience through performances abroad.

While it may take some time before these goals are reached, Andanza has big plans for its present season.  The next big event for the company is “Andanza en el Museo de Arte Contemporáneo (Andanza at the Museum of Contemporary Art).”

This will be the fourth year of the event, where Andanza has three free performances in the open-air section of the museum.  The event is growing in popularity as last year 1,800 people came out up from 1,500 people the year before.

However, the Puerto Rican government has currently denied Villanua and Andanza the funding needed to hold the event, so there is a possibility that the production will not take place.

“It is a shame since it has become a tradition and people expect it. This is amazing for a cultural activity,” Villanua said.

Andanza will premier its new production on May 2, 2008 at Centro De Bellas Artes De Santurce and it will run through May 4, 2008.

Then it will hold its production for children, “Historia de Arroz con Habichuelas” (“Story of Rice and Beans”), based on the short story by Puerto Rican writer Ana Lydia Vega.   This will run from June 18 through June 20 at Centro de Bellas Artes Luis A. Ferré, Santurce, and from June 27 through June 29 at Teatro Francisco Arriví in Santurce.  From the 18th to the 20th, the performances will be for summer camps in the mornings and from the 27th to the 29th performances will be for the general audience.

Andanza dancers perform “Lienzos” in Washington, D.C. (Photo courtesy of Robert Villanúa).

When the curtain closed on the sixth and final performance of Andanza, De Colección, the audience erupted into raucous applause and leapt to its feet.   The dancers approached the front of the stage and bowed courteously, their faces filled with joy as the applause only got louder and more energized.

The dancers repeated this five times until the curtain finally closed forcing the applause to end.  After witnessing the edgy elegance and the truly inspired performances of Andanza, it’s difficult to leave the theater and face a world without emotive movements set to beautiful symphonies; you may just want to dance your whole way home.


If You Go

To reach Andanza:
787-723-1358 and 787-723-1358 (telephone/fax) and
657 Condado St, San Juan, PR 00907

Andanza en el Museo de Arte Contemporáneo (Andanza at the Museum of Contemporary Art)

Rafael M. de Labra Historic Building, Corner of Ponce de Leon Avenue and Roberto H. Todd Avenue
Stop 18, Santurce, P.R. 00914

Free performances (pending)— Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2007, 8:30 p.m., Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2007, 6 p.m. Benefit Performance— Thursday, Dec. 14, 2007, 8:30 p.m.

For information and tickets call 787-977-4030 or 787-977-4031

Andanza’s new performance (Title to be determined):

May 2-4, 2008
Centro De Bellas Artes Luis A. Ferré
Ponce de León Avenue, Stop 22 1/2, San Juan, PR 00940-1287
For administration: 787-724-4747; for ticket office: 787-620-4444

“Historia de Arroz con Habichuelas” (“Story of Rice and Beans”)

June 18-20, 2008
Centro De Bellas Artes Luis A. Ferré
(contact information above)

June 27-29
Teatro Francisco Arriví (Theater Francisco Arriví), Ponce de León Ave and Del Parque Street, San Juan, P.R.

To contact the theater— 787-724-5939 and 787-598-1269

Tickets can be purchased online at:

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