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Ifé-Ile Afro Cuban Dance Festival: Cuban Dance Traditions Meet Modern Themes

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When Ifé-Ile dancers transition from contemporary to traditional Afro-Cuban motion on stage and petition the Yoruba gods for protection in a foreign land, choreographer Neri Torres will have revealed yet another poignant element of the emotional trials, triumphs and cultural evolution that is Cuban immigrant life -- and dance.

"The performance illustrates how our culture has navigated in a new context, settled and influenced a part of the urban landscape in the U.S.," says Torres, Ifé-Ile's founding director, who will feature the show titled "Havana Mix 2" at this year's Ifé-Ile Afro Cuban Dance Festival held Thursday through Saturday. The festival includes a panel discussion and opening performance on Thursday at Miami-Dade College (300 NE Second Ave., Miami) starting at 7 p.m., and a full day of dance and percussion workshops on Saturday, prior to the main evening performance at the Little Haiti Cultural Center.

As with the more scaled down preview of the performance presented in January, "Havana Mix 2" continues to explore Afro-Cuban dance and body language within a modern scheme. The show highlights several choreographies that examine humanity through poetry, drumming and the dance company's signature high-energy undulating movement. One piece, Havaname, opens in a U.S. city, and expresses a longing for homeland and the struggles with the conditions emigration. The dance piece eventually fades into another, Orisha -- with traditional Afro-Cuban dance movements -- channeling the god Ogun and other deities that emerge on stage to accompany and guide the lost soul missing home.

"It deals with the feelings of leaving one's birth land behind, which not only Cubans experience. It is something a lot of people can relate to," Torres explains.

Overall, "Havana Mix 2" will provide a full spectrum of dance and showcase the company's modern side. One solo, Hip Stories, is based on abusive relationships and is set to Cuban bolero music. Another, titled Criollolis, showcases a rumba and salsa club in a bustling Cuban-American neighborhood that could represent Hialeah, Little Havana, or the Bronx. In addition, renowned West African dancer and musician Fara Tolno will present a new piece.

"I've been able to carry on my goal of keeping the culture alive, especially the traditions of African origin," said Torres, a Havana native. But Torres says that the Afro-Cuban dance form is always evolving -- while Cubans in the U.S. and abroad continue to examine their cultural identity, those on the island are simultaneously being exposed to new concepts of music, dance and identity.

"Havana Mix 2" takes place at 8:30 p.m. on Saturday at the Little Haiti Cultural Center. Tickets cost $20. Call 786-704-8609 or visit ife-ile.org.

Kai T. Hill, artburstmiami.com

Follow Cultist on Facebook and Twitter @CultistMiami.

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