Monday, March 12, 2012

Hierarchy of Advancement Workshop Three

Introduction: workshop objectives
The ultimate objective for the day was to reach the state where the bolero and salsa become mutually supporting. This would require the bolero to evolve from its simple basic into a flexible, living and breathing form. (Quite the ambitious challenge for one session, but I was very confident!)

Warm-up: dancing the bolero
Performing the bolero basic, partnered. With emphasis clearer form. There were two main learning points:
  1. The value of using the third (foot) position: to liberate the hip action, and provide unsighted tactile feedback.
  2. A full, correct, settling of the hip in the preceding step facilitates the accurate deployment of the third position.
A principle in the development of physical skill:
"A visible fault is a delayed symptom, the error resides in the preceding step."

Practice: breaking the bolero basic
Partnered, in both lead and follower roles. Understanding the concept of flexibility in a basic. Two points were investigated:
  1. Substitution - backward steps replaced with forward steps; and
  2. Re-angling - 90 degree angles increased to more obtuse angles up to 180 degrees.
    Re-orientation was not addressed)
Discussion: emotional expression in music
Facets discussed were:
  • The multi-layered nature of Latin music allows for interpretations/arrangements to be biased on a gradual spectrum between the extremes of the lyrical-melodic to the rhythmic-percussive.
  • Melodic expression may or may not be congruent with that of the lyrics.
  • A dancer's expression of emotion does not necessarily require comprehension of a song's lyrics, nor privilege their meaning over that of the melody.
  • The right of interpretation is that of the dancer.
Concept: the grammar and syntax of Latin dance (Part 1)
Within the context of Latin dance of which there are groups of proximal (i.e. related) genres, where there:
  • is a core relationship between the dancer's rhythm and the music's which is unique; and
  • are elements/properties which are portable across related genres.
Practice: Elucidating core transferable elements from salsa
Solo and partnered. Walking elements:
Turn elements:
These utilised a variation-based approach, which is the best way to identify blind-spots in a dancer's element vocabulary. All turns were performed across multiple bars of music, to:
  1. eliminate the bias of followers assuming the turn would span just one bar, and lead themselves around accordingly; and
  2. develop sensitivity to pressure as an indicator of turn direction and speed.
Demonstration: construction of a simple combination
Partnered, salsa context. Two variations of a simple combination comprising: Follower's HALO, Lead's HALO, Follower's HALO, and Neutral Turn.

Exercise: developing drive in the forward steps (salsa)
Learning points:
  • reduce number of steps per distance;
  • maintain full hip action.
Exercise: driving the Latin basic
Performing the Latin basic (six steps per cycle) and the extended Latin basic (twelve steps per cycle) over the greatest distance, whilst retaining correct hip action.

Practice: deploying core transferable elements into bolero
Partnered. The process of deployment occurred in the following order:
  1. modifying the basic (reprise);
  2. addition of linear walking elements;
  3. circularisation of walking elements; and
  4. addition of turning elements.
Concept: identifying salsa songs with bolero DNA

Practice: deploying the bolero mode of movement in salsa
Learning points:
  1. filling out the space in-between beats
  2. slower, slower, slower
  3. strong, long, hip action
Additional Materials
"Transnational Salsa" draft reference by Loo Yeo
The Voice of Cuba by Hanny
Tata Masamba by Ricardo Lemvo & Makina Loca
On Fire by Orquesta La Palabra

Loo Yen Yeo

Saturday, March 03, 2012

2nd March 2012 Los Van Van @O2 Academy, Leeds

I wasn't sure about giving Cuba's veteran super-group second chance; so lacklustre was Los Van Van's (LVV) concert at the Roundhouse thee years ago to the week. What swung it in the end was that the concert would be happening in a town nearby (Leeds), and that I'd be catching up with a load of great salsa friends at the very least.

Once ticketmaster's palm had been crossed with silver, I headed on over (electronically) to my favourite Latin music shoppe and placed an order for the latest Los Van Van album they would be tour-promoting. 'La Maquinaría' turned up last month, and a good portion of four weeks was spent pitching a critical ear to the studio album. It was a bit of a slow burner. My initial impression was that a majority of the cuts followed a predictable formula established by songs from preceding albums 'Llegó...' and 'Chapeando'. It felt as if some of LVV's creative brightness had dimmed with the exit of César Pedroso. Nonetheless, there were two numbers which stood out straight away: 'La Bobería' and Yeni Valdés-fronted 'Que Tiene Ese Guajiro Que'. Although I've since come to appreciate 'La Maquinaría', I can't say that it's captured my imagination as much as 'Llegó...' did before.

In the run-up to the concert last Friday, Los Van Van suffered lineup upheavals which seems to have plagued them since Juan Formell took a back seat. The band's press release of 11th October 2011 announced the departure of Mayito Rivera, the only singer who displayed real passion that fateful night at the Roundhouse. I was dismayed, but cautiously welcomed the news that his space on stage had been given to Armando 'Mandy' Cantero, formerly of César Pedroso's ensemble. Then there was the tragic loss of their conguero Manuel Labarrera less than two weeks before tour, which triggered the departure of their bassist Pavel Molina not long after.


So I walked into the O2 Academy in Leeds not expecting too much - a combination of previous experience, and knowing the backdrop to the tour. The venue has a capacity of about fifteen hundred, of which more than a thousand tickets had already been sold; no mean feat, and largely due to DJ Lubi Jovanovich's titanic promotion efforts. This was our old stomping ground, where Lubi used to have his Thursday night Casa Latina residency  in the basement called the Underground. Above it would sit the Town and Country club which has played host to Eddie Palmieri and Issac Delgado (with a fledgling salsero me in the audience).

Now it's whitewashed, blue-LED lit, dark-floored, and modern.

Oops!?! Los Van Van still setting up after doors open
Much to my surprise, some of Van Van were on stage. That indicated to me that they'd probably only recently arrived, and that there might not have been a full sound-check. Okay... things were going to be interesting. A quick glimpse at the Front-of-House (FoH) desk told me that it was a Soundcraft Vi6, about forty-thousand pounds of digital mixer; the engineer had better know what he was doing to be let near the thing! I put all of that to one side and indulged in antics and banter, surprised to see the likes of Chunky - an  instructor with Red Hat Salsa - from as far afield as Reading. When all the introductions were said and done, the only thing left was the moment of truth.

The band opened up and the singers strode onstage.

I let out a breath that I hadn't realised I'd been holding. Los Van Van were hungry and they sounded like they'd appreciated the lengths to which some of their fans had travelled (I met a young lady who'd flown from Ireland). Their delivery was consummately polished and nimble, with the ensemble's powerhouses clearly being Samuel Formell (on drumset), Yeni Valdés and Mandy Cantero. The years have been kind to Yeni's stagecraft; she now exerts a commanding presence where she only showed glimpses of before. Mandy was the real surprise of the night, giving it as good as Mayito ever did; perhaps moving away from Pupy's group to LVV will prove to be the liberating challenge that his performance career needed.

The band didn't reprise any of their previous material. Neither did they play 'La Bobería'. I understand, because there had been only a few months for Mandy, less for some others, to learn the songs they had to sort their priorities out. And knowing U..K salseros' preferences for up-tempo music, it was also natural to expect them to shy away from the slower numbers. Although Los Van Van's performance lacked the rage of Maikel Blanco's (I think that their gig in London the night before took a lot out of them), they convinced me enough to be a concert-goer for them again.

But not at the O2 Academy.

Sadly, FoH sound failed to match the calibre of the band. The order of instruments which the sound engineer chose to tackle: brass, vocals, bass, keyboards told me he was unfamiliar with Latin music; and the opportunity to create a strong acoustic space for one of LVV's key assets, the lead vocals, (and well within the Vi6's capabilities) was overlooked. Aggressive high-frequency distortion from a damaged driver on the top-left of stage remained untamed, as did the low-frequency boom left to chase itself in the auditorium's corners.

An enthusiast of live Latin music based here learns to look past deficiencies in Public Address provision (due to their lack of familiarity with the genre) and peer into the heart of a performance. I, probably more than any of the 1000 present, was grateful to find Los Van Van with a properly thumping one.

Loo Yeo