By Monique Jones
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By Liz Tracy
By Terrence McCoy
The World Cup isn't the only venue that provides a glimpse of international cultures around the Magic City. Now that the U.S. team has been eliminated, vicarious globe trekkers can forgo watching the games on the boob tube and catch some global culture up close and live.
The International Hispanic Theatre Festival kicks off its 25th anniversary Wednesday, July 7, with a month of plays from across the Spanish-speaking world — Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Spain, Uruguay, and, of course, the United States. And if that world is not remote enough, the Adrienne Arsht Center hosts Tap Dogs, a blue-collar musical from down under, through July 10.
Organized by Teatro Avante's founder and artistic director, Mario Ernesto Sánchez, this year's Hispanic festival showcases production's from Mexico, including Amarillo, which touches on the hot-button issue of immigration. But most of the plays hit on other themes, such as street urchins, professional boxing, and the relationship between a monstrous midget and his mother.
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"We never had a theme," Sánchez says. "I don't go out looking for immigration. We want a balance. It's Miami. We want to be inclusive. I always look for a work where I say, 'This should be seen in Miami.'" The only criteria: "The author has to be Hispanic or born to a Hispanic," he says.
Sánchez attends plays every year in Spain and across Latin America and also solicits works from Spanish-speaking countries, whose dwindling theater communities flood him with submissions. This year, there were more than 200 entries, 63 of them from Mexico, which is the subject of a special tribute marking the 200th anniversary of the beginning of the country's War of Independence and 100th anniversary of its revolution.
As a result, four of the 14 plays are from Mexico. The festival launches with a production of the Mexican play Amarillo, running Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, July 7, 8, and 9, at 8:30 p.m. at the Arsht Center's Carnival Studio Theater. An impressionistic glimpse of the Texas border town, the play uses an incessant soundtrack and projections to explore the concept of national identity and the connection between the real and the virtual.
The festival also explores the world south of the border with Más Pequeños que el Guggenheim (Smaller Than the Guggenheim) Thursday and Friday, July 8 and 9, at 8:30 p.m. at Prometeo Theatre on Miami Dade College's Wolfson Campus. The play uses minimalism — the characters exist, or rather subsist, onstage, enduring as best they can — to explore the universal themes of friendship and failure.
Other Mexican productions include El Rey Que No Oía, Pero Escuchaba (The King Who Could Not Hear, But Listened). Staged by Mexico City's Seña y Verbo Teatro de Sordos (Sign and Verbal Theater for the Deaf), the family play uses Spanish, Mexican sign language, and pantomime to present a fable about tolerance and brotherly love, while Los Niños Perdidos (The Lost Children) deals with the growing population of street children in the Federal District.
But the festival also harks back to classic Spanish theater with Divinas Palabras, Ramón del Valle-Inclán's sordid, magical tale of a carnival midget exploited by his family who touches down in the New World. And then there's Filo al Fuego, a riveting portrayal of the world of professional boxing in 1960s Miami.
Launched in 1986, after Crockett and Tubbs put Miami on the pop culture map, the International Hispanic Theatre Festival celebrates the city's growing reputation as a hub between the Old and New worlds. "When we started, Miami was becoming the center," Sánchez recalls. "Europeans came through Miami to go to Latin America, and Latin Americans go through Miami to go to Europe."
Today, that port of convergence has become an international destination and host to what has become, thanks to Sánchez's vision and help from corporate and government sponsors, the premier Hispanic theater festival in the United States.
In keeping with the international theme, the whirlwind tour of Tap Dogs blows through the Arsht Center with a dizzying celebration of blue-collar labor. Created and choreographed by Dein Perry, a former industrial machinist from Newcastle, the show evokes the small Australian steel town north of Sydney where the dancers grew up.
The inspiration for Tap Dogs came from a dance teacher's Newcastle garage, where Perry and other local boys — the "Dogs" — learned to tap. Perry broke for Sydney, landing bit chorus parts in Broadway-style musicals until he garnered a starring role in 42nd Street. When the run ended, he dreamed up an industrial musical starring the old tap Dogs, who were working "real" jobs by then.
Billed as the "Tap Brothers," the troupe hit London with Hot Shoe Shuffle, winning an Oliver Award in 1995. The show would lead to an offer from the Sydney Theatre Company to collaborate with eclectic designer and director Nigel Triffitt, who had directed and designed the Australian premiere of The New Rocky Horror Show. The collaboration led to Tap Dogs, which features Triffitt's clanking, hissing industrial set.
An instant hit in Sydney, Tap Dogs has been hailed an electrifying mash of dance, rock concert, and construction site. Dressed in metal-plated work boots, faded jeans, and flannel shirts, the nine dancers use iron rods and basketballs to tap on metal, on water, up and down ladders, upside down on the ceiling, by torchlight, and under a shower of sparks.