July « 2008 « Salsa Addiction Centre
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    Act 1, Scene 2, Song 3

    The evening’s plan was simple, a night out dancing with friends. Stella and Emilio were joined by two of Emilio’s closest friends, James and Ozzy, and two of Stella’s friends, Kim and Nicole. It was a good circle and even though loyalties were obvious there was a respect and overall joy amongst all members of the party. Throughout the night, both at dinner and on the way to the club, Emilio had seemed a little detached, as if something was bothering him. Knowing him as well as they do, James and Ozzy take him aside and ask him if everything is alright.

    Begrudgingly, Emilio admits that something has been bothering him but that he’d rather not talk about it at the moment. Understanding the tone, James and Ozzy drop it, knowing that it is something that will be revisited when the time is right. However, before completely abandoning the topic, they ask Emilio if he’s sure he wants to continue with the nights festivities, to which he has only one response (a sentiment shared by all members of the group)…

    You hear it from Puerto Rico to New York
    Doesn’t matter the generation
    They recognize this song.

    From Columbia to Venezuela, Japan to Panama
    They say it in their own unique way and style
    Its a contagious rhythm that makes everyone dance
    If the people ask me for salsa than that is what I’ll give them
    I love salsa!

    As long as there are people who sing this song
    Salsa will live on in every generation
    I like merengue, bachata and reggaeton
    But I carry that flavourful salsa in my heart
    I love salsa!
    (I’m sure you all recognize this song as the one used by James and Therese in their competition performance)

    Livened once again by the promise of the fun to come, the group arrives at the club, ready to dance the night away.

    Sigan bailando!

    Manuel

    Gilberto Gil and Omara Portuondo

    Whew! Let’s take a second to catch our breaths from a frantic few weeks. It began 3 weeks ago when I attended two concerts on back-to-back days and wrapped up with the grand opening of the new TDS studio. On Friday June 27th I attended a concert at Massey Hall. The performer was an entertaining act from Brazil, Gilberto Gil and the Broadband Band. This was a highly enjoyable show with traditional and modern brazilian sounds ranging from calypso, samba, forro and reggae to name a few. As is the nature of the music, all songs were upbeat and had your toes tapping in no time. One of my favourite pieces was the reggae interpretation of the Beatles classic “Don’t want to leave her now.” Audience participation was encouraged and by the end of the night everyone was having a good time, up on their feet dancing the night away. Composed of various guitars, basses, percussion and keyboards, the harmony was complex yet simple in its enjoyment. Every song had a joyous feel and was sung with such dedication that you couldn’t help but experience the music (a sentiment echoed of the performance given the following night by Omara Portuondo, but more on that later). I only wish I knew Portuguese, my spanish allowed me to understand some but not all of what was said. Still, musically, the show was well put together and did not disappoint.

    The following night brought a performance by the legendary Cuban songstress, Omara Portuondo. This act was closer to what is known as salsa but to call it a salsa act would be an injustice to the range of music performed. Perhaps most famous for being a part of the Buena Vista Social Club, Omara’s music consists or stories from her native Cuba expressed with tenderness, love and power. The group was the topic of a PBS documentary which I recommend to anyone interested in the afro-cuban rhythm and its influence to modern day musica tropical. I must say that Roy Thomson Hall is a great place for a musical experience and the nuances of her voice carried well in the venue. Consider one piece where she sings about spurned love with the passion and scorn expected of such a song. Each note carried the emotion precisely and with equal conviction. Now, imagine following that up with a song intended as a lullaby for a little baby. The power in the voice was replaced by playful, hushed tones, making you feel as if you are in the room, looking down at the baby in its crib. For a woman well into her 70′s, Ms. Portuondo’s voice carries a quality seen in performers more than half her age, a truly great voice.

    Still, I must admit, even with two amazing acts the highlight for me was the opening act for Ms. Portuondo. The group charged with this task was the Roberto Fonseca group. The best way I could describe this group would be as a latin jazz ensemble. Consisting of drums, percussion, guitar, bass, various other instruments (flute and sax to name a couple) and Mr. Fonseca on the piano, this group delivered one great song after another. For an interview click here, with the second part here. As a former jazz musician, I have always had an affinity for the many permutations of jazz; add to that my love for latin rhythms and this group was a delicacy to my ears. As I listened to the music I could feel the layers being built on each other until the final product which was just mind blowing, a collective melody of simple complexity. The groups ability to incorporate different sounds was especially evident in the piece titled “Congo Arabe.” As you can probably guess from the title, the idea is an afro-cuban rhythm with a distinctly arabian feel. I just have to say in closing that I’ve never quite heard the piano played that way…what a treat.

    Hasta la proxima.

    Sigan bailando!

    Manuel

    2008 Amateur Competition–final wrap up


    Well, what did you all think? Friday saw the end of the 2008 TDS amateur competition…and what a show it was. 5 couples, all of them outstanding. In case you missed it, the winning performance was given by Kelly Elliott and Barry Ip. They put on a show worthy of the top prize. I wish to congratulate all of the competitors, the creativity, skill and joy on stage was visible from everyone.
    The top 3 were as follows:
    1. Kelly Elliott & Barry Ip
    2. Camela Adams & Manuel Alvarez
    3. Therese Maceda & James Kalfin
    Also deserving of recognition are Marsha Soefreddie & John Radtke and Jennifer Botelho & Tyrone Sterling, who all showed why they deserved to be in the top 5.

    Of course, none of what the performers did on stage would have been possible without those people behind the scenes. With that in mind, I’d like to thank Sharon and Evan for all the work they put into the event; George for being one hell of an MC and all the others who helped organize.

    It seems hard to believe that this journey began 3 months ago and is now done. I remember looking for a partner back towards the end of March and having Sharon suggest someone who I knew nothing about. However, I figured, let’s do it. I am so thankful that that partner turned out to be Camela Adams. We clicked instantly as a dancing duo. From our first informal meeting all through the rehearsals and choreography, our compatibility was obvious and strengthened. It was a blast putting together our final routine with her.

    Our routine began as I was researching music for this blog and came across a cd of old tango standards made into salsa by Jerry Rivera. Two songs specifically caught my attention for having a stronger tango feel. Of the two, one was my preferred choice, luckily, upon presenting Camela with 4 song options, she picked the one that I had in mind. Having decided on a song, it was time to choreograph. Taking into account that it was based on a tango and that the song (Yira Yira!) dealt with overcoming despite the world being cruel and unfair, I decided that we should make it a passionate, “us vs. the world” type of performance. In a couple of days I had carefully timed movement to music, working in moves that fit with the song. When it came time for our first practice, Camela gave her input and slowly but surely, the final piece took shape.

    From the very beginning, we both had a very exact idea in mind for costumes. All in all, the final piece was one we were both proud of and which we felt did a good job of combining tango and salsa elements into one fun package. I think what surprised me most was the expression we both put into the final performance; at no point during practice had it ever come out the way it came out on the stage. Camela had always been very good on the stage, it was about time I kept up. Right before the performance, Camela told me she would be adding a special touch to the routine. In a strange way, this brought out a certain side of me that played off extremely well with her stage presence. The way it all came together was great, a justification of the work we had put into it. I’ve never been more expressive on stage than I was on that night.

    And now it is done. No more 3 hours of practice a week, which oddly enough I kind of miss. It was quite an experience and it won’t be soon forgotten. The difference within me this year from last was stark and obvious. I can say with certainty that I have grown as a dancer and encourage everyone to cast their fear or apprehensions away and do it…it might surprise you how much you gain from it. In closing, a giant note of recognition to everyone involved, you’ve made this year’s competition memorable for many reasons….can’t wait to see next year’s version.

    Sigan bailando!

    Manuel

    Finals prep.

    Well, Happy Canada day to all. Due to the long weekend I will make this entry short. I recently attended two concerts, Gilberto Gil and Omara Portuondo. The concerts were a treat and I will review them in a later entry. For now, I will express some thoughts on the final preparations Camela and I have been going through for the final on July 4. Prior to the prelims, we had chosen a song and worked on some choreography, in case we advanced. I’ve noticed that the performance we had envisioned at that point has evolved in the past 3 weeks into something we are both very proud of and eager to perform. On Monday we had our dress rehearsal and it seemed that putting everything together gave a certain energy that had started to fade with the repetition of straight up practice. I have no doubt that the other entrants are going to have amazing performances and we only hope ours can be considered on the same level. Its going to be fun and I hope a little bit different but above all, we hope you all enjoy it as much as we do. At this point I will end this entry, enjoy this Canada day and I’ll see you at the competition.

    Sigan bailando!

    Manuel