DJ Latinidad’s Latino Dance Party at Mixed Blood Theatre

Mildred Ruiz-Sapp and Raúl Ramos in DJ Latinidad's Latino Dance Party. Photo by Rich Ryan.

Mildred Ruiz-Sapp and Raúl Ramos in DJ Latinidad’s Latino Dance Party. Photo by Rich Ryan.

There are time-honored ways of celebrating the return of spring in Minnesota: the St Patrick’s Day parade; the Twins opener; and firing up the BBQ. This year add another to the list: DJ Latinidad’s Latino Dance Party at Mixed Blood Theatre (through March 26). There is nothing quite so infectiously energizing as Latin rhythms, and in this audience participation show you are invited to swing your hips and move your feet for much of the 90 minute program. Dance Party is more than just dancing however; it’s a ten-minute play festival conceived and directed by Mark Valdez. All performance pieces are commissioned works and the playwrights involved comprise a kind of Who’s Who of Latin-American writers at work today.

As the title says, the show is heavily larded with dance interludes, a good connecting device for the ensemble of energetic actors who are invigorated by DJ “BreakBeat Lou” Louis Flores’ throbbing music. Between dance numbers the short theatrical works seem to appear, entertain, and then dissolve allowing the audience and the cast to return to their dance party moves.

As with any ten-minute play festival, the works are not all equally good. Early in the show, McKnight Fellow, Octavio Solis’ Kerouac–style monologue “Last Day Ever” commemorates an evening spent driving around San Francisco on the Day of the Dead. Director Valdez ingeniously employs trouble lights and an overhead projector to tell the tale.

Other works seem tossed off and “The Store: A Lemmon Jackson Adventure” by Kristopher Diaz (2009 Pulitzer Prize nominee and Obie award winner) is unabashedly juvenile, based on characters his two year old son conceived. One regret is that some works including the one by local playwright Joe Minjares (his The Augie Garcia Story played at History Theatre last year) are available only by listening on one of four headphones hanging from the light grid. This makes them nearly impossible to enjoy in their entirety given everything else going on in the space.

The most fully-realized work of the evening comes near the end of the show: an enactment of a short story by Pulitzer Prize winning author Junot Diaz. Called “Life en La Cuidad,” Sean San Jose’s adaptation of Diaz’ story is everything it needs to be and the ensemble performs it flawlessly.

The evening ends with a piece by Cuban Michael John Garces’ “americanas” a contest between two feisty young women trying to out do each other with lines that begin: “I am so illegal I…” There are some are gems in this verbal battle and a few lines made the audience roar with laughter.

As promenade theatre-style goes, Dance Party takes the concept one step further; the audience doesn’t just move from station to station to view the action, it is an essential part of the show, giving and receiving; viewing and being viewed as members exhibit their best dance moves. In this way there is an element of improvisation to the evening for both actors and audience that adds to the experience.

All in all there is enough energy in DJ Latinidad’s Latino Dance Party to infuse even the most winter-weary Minnesotan with enthusiasm. If you go please note the unusual times for some of the shows. They are experimenting with a typical dance party time of 9 pm on Friday evenings and they perform two shows on Saturdays.

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