It's not easy to put social dances on the stage. We may love to go to clubs or parties and watch others dance or dance ourselves, but the experience is different in a theater, where we're not immersed in music and sweat. Too many choreographers respond to the challenge with overdetermined pieces, creating personalities and scenarios in a club setting so that a narrative structure governs every nuance. But Puerto Rican-American choreographer Merian Soto has the sense to loosen control in Asi Se Baila un Son ("How to Dance a Son"), an exploration of the musical and movement roots of salsa in Afro-Cuban forms. Using three female and three male dancers--including mambo master Sonny Allen of the Mambo Kings--Soto provides just enough structure to generate variety (in one section the performers dance with chairs) but not so much that the movement and energy aren't spontaneous. One of the greatest pleasures of watching Asi Se Baila un Son is figuring out who the performers are--what their way of moving reveals about them. Just like in a club. Live musical accompaniment is provided by Viento de Agua, a group made up of several generations of Puerto Rican immigrants (see Critic's Choice in Section Three). Also on the program is Soto's Pelea de Gallos ("The Cockfight"), which reinvents the competition as a contest between cock and "cockette"; it's accompanied by Puerto Rican drummers and is said to explore "political, cultural, racial and gender tensions in contemporary Puerto Rico." Friday and Saturday at 8 and Sunday at 4 and 8 in the theater of the Museum of Contemporary Art, 220 E. Chicago; $16-$18, MCA members $15. Call 312-397-4010 for tickets and information. (Soto will also offer two free discussions open to the public: Thursday, April 6, from 5:30 to 7:30 she and Allen will talk about mambo's African and European origins at the DePaul University Stuart Center, 2311 N. Clifton. And Saturday from 4 to 6 she'll discuss Asi Se Baila un Son at the MCA, 220 E. Chicago; registration is required by calling 312-397-4010.)
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Jack Vartoogian.