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Tribute to South America

Poetry and dance intermingle in Latin Ballet's "AmorAmerica."


That destiny and those dreams form the basis of the Latin Ballet of Virginia's "AmorAmerica," Artistic Director Ana Ines King's choreographic interpretation of Neruda's 1950 epic "Canto General," which explores South America's history, struggle and dream of democratic triumph.

Originally created by King in her native Colombia in 1988, "AmorAmerica" combines contemporary dance with Neruda's rich and resonant imagery to bring South America to life onstage. Through both dance and the spoken word of narrator Vincente Gonzalez — playing Neruda and reciting his poetry — King portrays the legends and traditions of the Inca empire, the Spanish conquest and the forced movement of Africans to the New World.

The dance begins in a beautiful land of mountains and rivers. We watch people work, fight, love and suffer at the hands of Spanish invaders. Neruda wrote of this time as "My land without name, without America." Later in the performance, we witness the separate struggle of Africans deceived and brought to the New World against their will. In King's production, black men move across the stage in chains, until Freedom, a woman, appears to break the chains and carry them away.

"It's so powerful," King says, "even in rehearsals. Maybe for Richmond it's a little strong, but it's the truth."

"AmorAmerica" inaugurated the Latin Ballet as a professional company in 1999, and the ballet took it on tour in Colombia and Florida in 2000 and 2001. King is restaging it this year in honor of the company's sixth anniversary. Gonzalez's narrator role replaces accompaniment by a soprano singer, which King thinks will help audiences connect to the poetry more easily. Also appearing in the production are Faye Walker, with drummers and dancers from Ezibu Muntu African Dance and Cultural Foundation, and Frances Wessells, a Richmond dance icon, who will be playing a grandmother role — the "Queen of the Family."

While the first act of "AmorAmerica" expresses Neruda's rough narrative line in the poem through King's contemporary dance and flamenco choreography, the second act, which is more of a showcase of styles, reflects both Latin and African influences such as mambo, rumba and salsa. These styles, King says, "have been the key to attracting people to the Latin Ballet." Their inclusion in "AmorAmerica" links those contemporary styles to the history of both North and South American culture.

King explains that despite the choreographic shift, Neruda's epic continues as the throughline, with its more celebratory segments, "Let the Woodcutter Awaken" and "Rain of Peace," rounding out Act II:

Let the white youth, the black youth,

march, singing, smiling and conquering.

I want the miner,

the little girl, the lawyer, the doll manufacturer, the people, to accompany me,

let's go to the movies and set out

to drink the reddest wine.

I don't want to solve anything.

I came here to sing

so that you'd sing with me.

— from Neruda's "Let the Woodcutter Awaken" of "Canto General." S

Latin Ballet of Virginia presents "AmorAmerica" at The Cultural Arts Center at Glen Allen, 2880 Mountain Road in Glen Allen, March 24-26. Tickets are $15-$20. Call 379-2555 or visit

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