Dance is proof of life.
Especially in-person, live dance coupled with live, in-person music.
I’ve missed it sorely.
Audiences perceive dance through so many cognitive facets, it is difficult to reproduce the experience comprehensively via film, video or streaming. Perhaps related to that intricacy, it has been among the last of the ancient art forms reborn in Austin during the pandemic crisis.
Esquina Tango and Ventana Ballet have found a way to do so with a credible degree of safety. This week, they appeared outdoors at El Patio de Esquina in East Austin with performers confined to a small portion of the shared space. Members of the two companies — usually one or two at a time — danced on a platform smaller than some dining room tables.
These physical constraints informed much of the movement in "Mezcla," performed four times on Friday and Saturday. Feet rarely left the wooden surfaces for long, and limbs remained rigorously circumscribed. Several of the short pieces dealt with hindrance, interference or blockage.
Thus for just under an hour, we witnessed updated and compressed tango, flamenco, pop, Afro-Cuban and contemporary ballet dance performed to updated and compressed classical guitar, cello and recorded music.
Neither the artists attached to Monica Caivano, who has blessed Austin with tango and other Latin American forms for 15 years, nor those associated with A.J. Garcia-Rameau, founder of the young but already accomplished Ventana Ballet, had performed for months, so the entire enterprise buzzed with excitement.
Caivano and tango partner Gustavo Simplis commanded the space most completely. Their bodies interacted at close distances with practiced tension and release. Their strength and presence led the way for other dancers.
Another standout was Alfonso Alarcon from Esquina Tango who, dancing bare-chested, invested tremendous intensity and precision into a mesmerizing sample of Afro-Cuban Fusion.
Ultimately, however, the last number of the evening proved the most satisfying: a duet between ballet dancer Garcia-Rameau and flamenco dancer Stephanie Keeton. At times, their passing and stamping and twirling mirrored each other’s moves. At other times, the pair appeared to compete in order to produce the most extravagant rendering of an established set of movements, a state of affairs common in flamenco.
This was not enough dance for normal times, but exactly right relief after a drought of nine months.