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Volume 16, Number 10
September 6, 2010


culture

Also in this section:
Books: Empire of the Summer Moon
The God of Carnage at the Ancon Theater
Creative Change in Coco Solo
Video: Paradise Stolen 2
George Scribner's paintings of the canal expansion
Sparky the Wonder Dog
Cool Internet sites
Poets' Corner
Short fiction: Rosaura
Sandra Eleta photo retrospective
Coraza dance troupe is 20 years old
Groundwater: A Listening Project
Theatre Guild wants to bolster its archives for its 60th anniversary




Coraza celebrates 20 years of dance
at the University of Panama

article, photo and video by Katie Zien

On the evening of Wednesday, August 25, the University of Panama's dance company, Coraza, celebrated its twentieth anniversary with a performance that incorporated an incredible lineup comprising members of the Escuela Nacional de Danzas and Danza Etnia de Panama, as well as choreographer Diguar Sapi, actor Danny Calden, b-boy and dancer Héctor Carrasco, and visiting Senegalese-Guadaloupean percussionist Kali Bamba. Coraza is directed by the Brazil-educated dance professor Mireya Navarro, who has been training dance students at the University of Panama for several decades and is one of the finest artists to appear on the national stage. Navarro's tenure as a dancer, choreographer, and professor in the Facultad de Bellas Artes dates from the time of Panama's arts "boom," during Baby Torrijos's direction of the Department of Artistic Expressions (DEXA). In addition to her tireless teaching routine, Navarro has directed national festivals, toured internationally, and participates in side projects whenever she can. As a dancer and choreographer, she has focused on blending contemporary and African dance, as well as dances of the African diaspora, in intriguing combinations that are sensual without succumbing to brute eroticism. Navarro's musical interests encompass jazz, reggae, calypso, Yoruba ritual music, cumbia, baile congo, and many other facets of the diaspora, taking up within her pieces strands of dialogue and questions of black identity that coalesce in movements honoring the history, breadth, variety, and ingenuity embodied within Panama's etnia negra.

On this particular night, Navarro danced alongside her students in several numbers, blending in seamlessly and often ceding passage to the vibrant young dancers. After an exuberant start conjuring the "primordial" Africa of Leopold Senghor's imaginary, the Coraza performers presented a gorgeous homage to Esu [Exu], the Yoruban orisha (deity) who represents (and creates) trickery and chaos, as well as serving as a guide for travelers and embodying many other roles within the pantheon. Dressed in Esu's characteristic colors of black and red, the dancers welcomed the god to Ella Andall's song "Esu Baragbo Mojaba." In another piece, "La Danza del Astio [sic]," Navarro led with a solo, wearing flowing white and carrying a moveable screen as her counterpart. As she danced behind the screen/scrim, she simultaneously manipulated its reflections to elongate her figure or metaphorize the mutilation of her body. Could this screen connote mental distortion, an x-ray, or simply the mediation of emotional relationships? The openness of the dance's meditation invited any number of responses. As the Coraza dancers filed in, they showed a graceful strength in numbers and a certain physical unity that made this cerebral dance my favorite: something to think with. Another standout was "Jazz," which featured psychedelic bodysuits and improvisational gestures, as the dancers incorporated a sophisticated thread of humor into their movements. No slapstick, this.

Navarro has been one of Panama's most active exponents of African, Afro-Caribbean, and Afro-Latin dance, but despite her magnetic stage presence, as well as her expertise and willingness to innovate, she is not a showy or self-promotional performer. Her corporeal movements speak frequently of labor, pain, strength, and an ongoing struggle between resilience and fragility. Her commitment to her unique medley of aesthetically and physically challenging dance forms is evident in Coraza's poise and naturalness: the way that the group comes together, inasmuch as the dancers' raw talent, demonstrates that the members work with each other frequently, know each other's strengths, and dance from a place of love and passion, rather than from the desire to "muevelo" for cash. Coraza is well worth hunting down in performance, and the dearth of audience members on this incredible night further inculcated in this reviewer the need for the company to be given its due as one of Panama's national treasures and supported more strongly --- meaning given a much higher costume and materials budget, as well as extensive publicity aid --- by the university and by INAC.



Also in this section:
Books: Empire of the Summer Moon
The God of Carnage at the Ancon Theater
Creative Change in Coco Solo
Video: Paradise Stolen 2
George Scribner's paintings of the canal expansion
Sparky the Wonder Dog
Cool Internet sites
Poets' Corner
Short fiction: Rosaura
Sandra Eleta photo retrospective
Coraza dance troupe is 20 years old
Groundwater: A Listening Project
Theatre Guild wants to bolster its archives for its 60th anniversary



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