‘THE LATIN BALLET OF VIRGINIA: LEGEND OF THE POINSETTIA 2018’
A Dance Review by Julinda D. Lewis
Where: The Cultural Arts Center at Glen Allen, 2880 Mountain Road, Glen Allen, VA, 23192
When: January 7-10, 2018
Ticket Prices: Children 6 years and younger FREE; Military/Seniors/Students with ID $15; General Admission $20
Info: (804) 356-3876 or http://www.latinballet.com
Many of us have holiday traditions. For some it is a special meal, or a decorating ritual. For others it is a trip to see The Nutcracker ballet. For a growing number of Richmonders, it seems to have become an annual trip to see The Latin Ballet of Virginia’s annual production of The Legend of the Poinsettia. A nearly full house on a cold winter day when the temperature remained stubbornly in the teens bears witness to the lure of this production.
I have seen several incarnations of this annual feast of dance, music, pageantry, and cultural immersion, but did not realize that 2018 marks the seventeenth year of this uniquely Richmond gem. Under the direction of Ana Ines King, the choreography, costumes, and setting have been somewhat modified or tweaked over the years, and of course the cast has changed, but some things – especially the sentiment – remains the same.
The Legend of the Poinsettia tells the story of Little Maria (portrayed on Saturday afternoon by a very confident Emery Velasquez, and to be played on Sunday afternoon by Daniela Wheeler), who, after the sudden death of her mother, finds herself in need of a gift to present to the Baby Jesus on Epiphany Day. [NOTE: January 6 is Three King’s Day or Dia de los Tres Reyes Magos, which celebrates the 12th day of Christmas and the legend of the three Wise Men bringing gifts to the Christ Child.] It is also the story of “the true spirit of giving,” as well as a history, of sorts, of how the poinsettia came to be a symbol of Christmas.
In the hands of King and the performers of The Latin Ballet, The Legend of the Poinsettia is an all-inclusive festival featuring the dances, music, and costumes of Mexico (the origin of the legend and of the poinsettia plant), Colombia (King’s birthplace), Venezuela (the home of the gaitas or festive songs), the Dominican Republic (home of the bachata, a mixture of Cuban bolero and son), and Spain (home of flamenco and the Christmas novenas).
This year, performers ranged in age from 4 years old to 98 (special guest artist Frances Wessells, Professor Emerita of VCUDance, appears in her recurring role as Abuelita/the grandmother). Antonio Hidalgo Paz, of Spain, and artistic director of Flamenco Vivo, has become a staple figure, partnering King in a flamenco duet and taking on the role of Papa. Marisol Betancourt Sotolongo, currently the director of the LBV Junior Company, first appeared in The Legend of the Poinsettia at age 4, has appeared in every production – meaning all 17 years!
It is always a treat to witness the chemistry between King and Paz. This year, the company also boasts a quartet of strong male dancers: DeShon Rollins; Nicolas Guillen Betancourt Sotolongo, who, like his sister, has practically grown up in the company; Roberto Whitaker; and Jay Williams. Each has a distinctive style, with Whitaker and Williams coming from a hip hop infused background and Rollins exhibiting the strength and technique of Joffrey Ballet training.
The Legend of the Poinsettia is a family-friendly production that offers something for everyone. During intermission, I overheard two women chatting about the beauty of the production and the stamina of the dancers. They had some kind words for Wessells, who embodies my personal motto (borrowed several decades ago from the Urban Bush Women): I don’t know, but I’ve been told, if you keep on dancing, you’ll never grow old. Personally, I was struck by the color, the energy, and the genuine joy. I could put on my critic’s hat and note that the music could have been louder, and sometimes the chorus of village children were not quite in sync, but none of this dampened the fire. As an added treat, the cast lines up in the lobby to greet you after the show. If you get a chance, catch the final performance on Sunday afternoon. It will warm your heart, and the constant smiling and clapping along might even warm the rest of you.
Julinda D. Lewis is a dancer, teacher, and writer who was born in Brooklyn, NY and now lives in Eastern Henrico County.