A Moving Experience

Dance project keeps barrio kids on their toes, off the street

"Some of them taught me to take deep breaths during the movements," he says. "Feel inside to see what feels right, what movements feel right, and just follow your heart."

Armando says his parents, stretched between children and jobs, won't be able to attend the ASU performance.

"It really doesn't bother me that much," he says, downplaying his disappointment. "I kinda got used to it. So . . ."

Selina Gonzales focuses as ASU dancers hoist Herrera student Eva Ramirez
Casey McKee
Selina Gonzales focuses as ASU dancers hoist Herrera student Eva Ramirez
Herrera pupils Elia Juarez, 14, and Armando Plascencia, 12, were awarded scholarships to attend a two-week camp at the Columbia Gorge School of Theatre in Oregon
Casey McKee
Herrera pupils Elia Juarez, 14, and Armando Plascencia, 12, were awarded scholarships to attend a two-week camp at the Columbia Gorge School of Theatre in Oregon

The ASU performance means a lot to Armando, who has applied for one of two summer arts camp scholarships DART will award after the show.

"I'm kind of nervous. I've been working on this quite a while. We are not ready to perform because a lot of kids are messing around and we are trying to learn new movements and stuff," he says. "So I kind of think we are not ready, but we have to do our best."


The ASU dance department's auditorium is filled with more than 200 people attending DART's March 27 Community Showcase. The bill features a swing dance team, a comic skit by a Native American group called Which Way Productions, a dance and reading by DART that explores father/daughter relationships, an intriguing Japanese drum and dance performance, and a beautiful, moving dance called Crying Green featuring poetry by Mary McCann.But it is Herrera's dancers who get top billing.

The kids are slated to close the first half of the performance with "Circus," a dance featuring only the middle-schoolers. They will close the evening with their "Intersections" collaboration with DART.

It is double-duty time for the kids from the barrio.

No longer jammed into a tiny classroom, the students spread across a huge, elevated stage with a wooden floor.

A rising curtain welcomes the students to the audience before them. A crowd of mostly strangers awaits their every move, perhaps easing the sting of relatives who are unable or unwilling to attend.

Spotlights flood the stage, illuminating beaming faces of kids who -- for at least this moment -- are the complete center of attention.

Music fills the auditorium through a professional sound system, a stunning change from the boom box Bendix had used earlier in the day at Herrera's cafeteria.

"Circus" evokes laughter from the audience, which delights in the youths' creative costumes and powerful physical movements -- particularly a segment in which dancers don sweat shirts stretched high over their heads by jamming a basketball into the hood. The effect creates an amusing, elongated, faceless creature that, despite its alienlike appearance, still struggles with the woes of adolescence and the pain of secrets revealed.

Bendix's love of raw movement is apparent throughout "Circus" as her students display their athletic talents, bouncing balls, hoisting themselves on poles, tossing each other about.

Their ability to perform in a more controlled fashion is displayed in the evening's final performance, "Intersections."

On the ASU stage, the differences in ages and sizes of the dancers seem diminished. Ali Akbar Khan's melancholy sitar fills the auditorium, and the dance unfolds. The performance is at once ragged and refined, stark and full, and most of all, honest.

The audience offers thunderous applause as the Herrera dancers, arm in arm with ASU's DART students, take a bow.

The night is almost over, except for the special awards. The audience learns that Herrera students Armando Plascencia and Elia Juarez are the winners of scholarships that will cover their expenses at a two-week arts camp at Columbia Gorge School of Theatre in Oregon.

Neither Elia's nor Armando's parents are present. But that doesn't diminish the kids' enthusiasm.

"I'm proud of myself," Elia says. "I feel special, of course. It's all good."

Armando says he's excited about the prospect of learning more dance moves and the fun that's bound to come at the camp.

"It makes me feel good," Armando says. "It makes me feel like I earned it and I can say I earned it because I put a lot of time into this.""I feel free to express myself," explains 12-year-old Armando Plascencia. "I can move how I want to move. That's what I do."

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