Published on August 15th, 2023 | by Dr. Jerry Doby


CONTRA-TIEMPO Continues its Evolution with ¡azúcar!

Despite the progress we’ve made as a society, we often forget that the pillars of this land were built on harmful systems of oppression. However, sometimes it takes a soulful and heartfelt embodiment of this pain, captured from a place of personal grief and ancestral summoning, to remind us of these unspoken truths.

CONTRA-TIEMPO Activist Dance Theater was founded to take these tales from the past in order to inspire audiences to engage with critical social issues. The company’s latest project, presented by the Ford Theater, is the riveting performance of ¡azúcar!, an entrancing artistic expression and illustrious celebration of heritage, resilience, and unity that brings the local community together to immerse in mesmerizing rhythms, soul-stirring music, and electrifying dance. 

Centered around the complex history of sugar and its ties to oppression, the captivating performance delves deep into the deliberate dismantling of anti-black sentiment within the Latine community. By weaving the echoes of Afro-Latine ancestral movement amidst vibrational technologies, audiences are in for a thought-provoking and emotionally- cathartic experience that serves as a reminder of historical oppression and the unwavering spirit it took from our ancestors to transform this pain into sacred wisdom. 

This ethereal performance stands as a true testament to the collective capacity for healing. A story rooted in resilience, ¡azúcar! breaks the boundary between the traditions that brought us here and their modern interpretations. A journey all too familiar with Ana Maria Alvarez, the visionary Choreographer and Founding Artistic Director of CONTRA-TIEMPO, who faced numerous setbacks to get CONTRA-TIEMPO off the ground and maintain its mission. 

“It hasn’t been a smooth road, but I also wouldn’t change anything about it,” Alvarez said. “Even in the roughest of times, there have been tremendous opportunities for growth and I wouldn’t be where I am right now – living my purpose with the people I have the privilege to work and family with – if it weren’t for these struggles!”

CONTRA-TIEMPO’s path has been filled with challenges, having emerged right before the economic collapse in 2008. Additionally, Alvarez faced an abundance of backlash from her peers due to the experimental and unorthodox approach on stage. “I was continuously told that what we are doing here at CONTRA-TIEMPO doesn’t belong in the concert dance world. I think it has a lot to do with the fact the field has for so long been focused on modern and ballet as the rubrics for ‘real dance’ that they rejected anything that aimed to break away from these barriers.”

Alvarez’s work and the repertory of CONTRA-TIEMPO is anything but ordinary. The bold, multilingual activist dance theater entity fuses Salsa, Afro-Cuban, hip-hop, and contemporary dance with theater, compelling text, and original music together to bring awareness to our most dire social issues on the concert stage. A creative process that is very much inspired by her own lived experience, as Alvarez notes the ongoing struggle of navigating a field predominantly governed by male artistic directors/choreographers. 

“Being a woman of color, it was difficult to be taken seriously in a leadership position, especially when I was young and have always had a lot of energy and excitement about this work,” she elaborates. “I had to overcome my desire to please everyone and learn to trust my gut. I had to learn the hard way that not everyone is going to love me or agree with me all the time.” 

Fast-forward to today, Alvarez is unapologetic about the radical and groundbreaking work of CONTRA-TIEMPO. “People tend to only get it once they experience it. I sometimes find that it is challenging for folks to understand the transformational nature of our work and how it creates deep and lasting impacts on individuals, communities, and systems.”

Formed in 2005, CONTRA-TIEMPO is rooted in community building. Every creative work that makes it to the stage is deeply connected to the cultural roots of our ancestral experience, utilizing the wisdom that came from it with the ultimate goal of building a world with more love and justice at the center of it. “All the classes that we teach, communities that we build, and programs we run are encompassed around creating a better and more just future while acknowledging the truth of our origins.”

¡azúcar! serves as a testament to the potency of art to confront intricate issues, honor ancestral wisdom, and forge a path towards an all-embracing and equitable future. “In a world yearning for nourishment, care, and rootedness in the body, ¡azúcar! will offer all attendees an immersive journey into the profound possibilities of freedom and grace.”

For the activist theater and Alvarez herself, the premiere of this performance perfectly encapsulates how far one can go when you harness the unwavering spirit of your ancestors to be relentless in your fight for artistic expression. “It’s an amazing time right now for CONTRA-TIEMPO,” Alvarez said. “The idea that there could be a place for a Latina movement activist from the south who believes dance could transform the world is beyond a dream actualized.”

Folks can catch the West Coast Premiere of ¡azúcar! at The Ford Theater this Friday, August 18th, 2023, at 8:00 PM. 

For ticket information and further details, visit www.contra-tiempo.org/events


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About the Author

Journalist, Editor-in-Chief of The Hype Magazine, and Media Consultant. Ph.D. and retired military. Member of ForbesBLK, the U.S. Department of Arts and Culture, and the United States Press Agency. Partner at THM Media Group. Connect with Jerry across social media @jerrydoby_

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