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Thirteen Years at Center Stage

In a perfect world, Mario Ernesto Sanchez would be able to squeeze an entire troupe of Colombian actors through the tight door of immigration regulations for visiting artists, but this year he's happy to have a clown. "I haven't been able to bring a group from Colombia for the past three years," says Sanchez, founder, artistic director, and guiding force behind the International Hispanic Theatre Festival, now gearing up for its thirteenth outing.

That's why Carlos Alvarez will be the only representative of his country to perform in the largest Hispanic theater festival in the United States. Catch him in Un Golpe a la Tristeza (A Blow Against Sadness) on June 14 or don't catch Colombian theater at all. But, says Sanchez, Alvarez is just one compelling reason for American audiences to see dozens of international Hispanic theater artists together in one place.

"The Festival Latino in New York died with Joseph Papp" in 1991, notes Sanchez, also artistic director of Miami's Teatro Avante. L.A. has small gatherings, as does Dallas, but Miami is now the only location that offers anything on the scale of this ten-day smorgasbord of dance and theater performances, workshops, parties, and networking sessions for artists from Brazil, Venezuela, Puerto Rico, Costa Rica, Mexico, Argentina, and the United States. "Each year we add one new country," Sanchez says. "This year it's the Dominican Republic," which checks in with Wish-Ky Sour by Chiqui Vicioso.

Despite its New World emphasis, the festival also features work from Spain. Since 1998 is the centennial of the birth of Federico Garcia Lorca, the Madrid-based Teatro Espada de Madera is doing an adaptation of the poet's Amor de Don Perlimplin con Belisa en Su Jardin. Sanchez explains that while this drama -- it's about an old man married to a young woman who takes a masked stranger as her lover -- may not be a major work, this adaptation comments on the way Lorca is perceived by the world.

The idea behind the festival is to influence the way in which Hispanic culture is perceived and preserved in this country. Sanchez notes that for inclusion in the festival, "any company from any country can perform, provided that the playwright, choreographer, or composer is Hispanic."

But that doesn't necessarily mean the performances are in Spanish or Portuguese. To make productions accessible, the festival uses supertitles, in which English dialogue is projected above the stage. Many offerings are also presented nonverbally, through dance or music.

Because the Spanish-speaking world isn't homogeneous, neither are the festival's offerings. "There are countries that support culture more than others, and it is reflected in the works," Sanchez emphasizes. "Theater is embedded into a society. Things are said and done in Venezuela that wouldn't be found here."

That may be particularly true of Fango Negro, a piece written and directed by Venezuela's Jose Gabriel Nunez, which is performed literally in and around a bus traveling down SW Eighth Street; it stops at Casa Malaga restaurant, a far cry from the decadent bar used in the Venezuelan original.

Sometimes Latin American street theater just doesn't travel at all. "There's a campesino in Colombia, a guy who can stop the rain," Sanchez claims. Sanchez saw him perform in Denmark, but don't count on seeing him here. "You have to secure too many permits. He wants to stay in a park. I needed to erect a tent for him and a place for him to bring his machetes and other exotic instruments. Can you imagine that in Coral Gables?"

-- Robin Dougherty

The International Hispanic Theatre Festival runs June 5 through 14 at Teatro Avante and New Theatre in Coral Gables, Miami-Dade Community College Wolfson Campus, Teatro Zayon, and Casa Malaga. For information about tickets, symposiums, workshops, and other forums, call the venues or 445-8877.


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