Struggle, culture, faith

NEW PERSPECTIVE: Event promoter Elio Gonzalez is committed to creating authentic Latin productions in the Asheville community, such as a performance by the Afro-Cuban Alayo Dance Company. Photo courtesy of Alayo
NEW PERSPECTIVE: Event promoter Elio Gonzalez is committed to creating authentic Latin productions in the Asheville community, such as a performance by the Afro-Cuban Alayo Dance Company. Photo courtesy of Alayo

Dance is a language spoken by the body. For the Alayo Dance Company of San Francisco, choreography is used to communicate an Afro-Cuban narrative. Alayo’s work is especially dynamic because it draws from many styles and techniques, blending Afro-Cuban folkloric, modern and popular/contemporary Cuban dance into one. Through movement, the company’s 11 dancers give voice to the Afro-Cuban and Caribbean diaspora, its struggles, cultures, faiths, past and present. The dance troupe performs at Diana Wortham Theatre on Friday, Oct. 31.

In his bio, company director and choreographer Ramon Ramos Alayo describes his work as “a synthesis of dance styles.” He has been dancing nearly all his life. At 11, he was selected by the Cuban government to study dance in Santiago de Cuba and later received a master’s degree from Havana’s National School of Art in contemporary and folkloric dance. Alayo left Havana in 1997 to found Alayo Dance Company. Shortly after, he became the artistic director of a nonprofit called CubaCaribe, dedicated to preserving and promoting “the rich cultural and artistic traditions of the Caribbean.”

Elio Gonzalez, who invited Alayo Dance to Asheville, is committed to creating authentic Latin events. Gonzalez was born in Cuba and moved to Asheville five years ago. In addition to working full time at Western North Carolina Community Health Services as director of benefits and eligibility, he started a small business called Gonzalez Diaz Enterprise. That company is responsible for Alayo’s upcoming local production, the annual Fiesta Latina and Miss Gay Latina Asheville — see sidebar for more on the 2014 pageant.

“I love to be able to bring new things to Asheville,” says Gonzalez. “Asheville’s very artistic and very open, and to have this dance company that’s modern dance, but at the same time is Afro-Cuban, is going to bring something totally different and new to this city. It is a professional dance company directed by minorities.”

The troupe’s director came to the U.S. as a defector from his native country and has established himself very well in San Francisco, Gonzalez adds. Alayo’s work is compelling and explores concepts of personal and political freedom, enslavement and liberation. Perhaps it’s the folkloric qualities of his choreography, or perhaps it’s the focused expression pressed into each dancer’s demeanor, but Alayo’s work seems to come back to faith and to the strength of the human spirit. He seems to say that the essence of one’s empowerment resides in an untouchable space.

Though the decision to fly the company to Asheville and host the dancers while they’re here is a financial gamble, Gonzalez believes it’s worth the risk. “In life I think it’s about our impact, it’s about what you do, and sometimes you have to take risks,” he says. “[This performance is going to be] amazing, it’s going to be totally different, totally fresh.”

WHAT: Alayo Dance Company

WHERE: Diana Wortham Theatre, dwtheatre.com

WHEN: Friday, Oct. 31, 8 p.m. $30/$20 students and children

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About Aiyanna Sezak-Blatt
Aiyanna grew up on the island of Kauai, Hawaii. She was educated at The Cambridge School of Weston, Sarah Lawrence College, and Oxford University. Aiyanna lives in Asheville, North Carolina where she proudly works for Mountain Xpress, the city’s independent local newspaper.

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