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Tuesday February 27, 2001

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Mardi Gras, Veracruz style

Headline Photo

Photo courtesy of UA Presents

A dancer in the folklorico company "Ballet Quetzalli de Veracruz" reflects the brilliance of Cuban culture in the piece "Carnaval Veracruzano." The ballet performs tonight at 7:30 at Centennial Hall.

By Lisa Lucas

Arizona Daily Wildcat

Re-creation of Cuban festival plays at Centennial tonight

At the culmination of the first day of one of the biggest celebrations world-wide, "Ballet Quetzalli de Veracruz" performs its Cuban-style Mardi Gras festival tonight at Centennial.

The dance company, which performed in Tucson with UApresents about four years ago, has returned to perform "Carnaval Veracruzano," a performance combining live music and festive flair. The group will re-create a Caribbean-style carnival tonight at Centennial

Currently on its first U.S. tour, Steve Heath, the show's company manager, said the group has been on the road for three weeks now, with just two weeks remaining.

With only five more performances to go, the group is now ready to present itself to the University of Arizona.

The show - composed of 24 dancers - began in 1985, when a group of friends that had been previously involved in other dance groups created the ballet.

"(There were) eight dancers, no musicians, borrowed costumes - but it was something that they loved and wanted to continue," Heath said.

"Ballet Quetzalli de Veracruz" started putting this particular show together about 10 years ago, though it was then called "Fantasia Cubana" rather than "Carnaval Veracruzano."

Inspired by a trip to Cuba during a July "fiesta" celebrating the anniversary of Cuban independence, Heath said the company became interested in the Cuban culture - especially its music - and hence decided to create the show.

"We're trying to re-create the feeling of the carnival in Veracruz," he said. "In fact, right now they're having big parties down there (in Mexico), just as in Mardi Gras."

Heath said the two-hour show captures as much of the carnival as can be expected for a stage performance.

At the beginning of the show, the audience is treated to the traditional "burning in effigy of bad humor" that is custom to start the carnival's festivities.

"(The) personification of negativity and bad vibes symbolize (the) doing away with all things bad," Heath said. "There's a 'no whining zone' declared for the rest of the celebration."

While the beginning of the show displays a more negative aspect of Cuban culture, the close of the show depicts a more jovial parade.

Heath said this parade will include some acrobatics, as well as giant puppets and spinning lamps called "faroles."

The costumes used in the show enhance the tropical "party" feeling of the carnival.

"(The costumes are) provocative and sensual because that's the nature of this type of music and dance," Heath said. "(They) catch the eye, add more color and brilliance to the show."

The 12-piece salsa orchestra, "Combo Niguno," that accompanies the 24- member dance company also adds color to the show.

The orchestra consists of congos, bongos and horns, as well as the lead melody instrument, the Tres Cubano. The Tres Cubano, a guitar with three double strings, is the only traditional Cuban instrument used in the orchestra.

Although there are some props used throughout the show, Heath said the focus is primarily on the music and dance.

"When you're touring around, you can't carry as much as you'd like," he said. "(The props just) add a little flair to the show."

Commenting on tonight's show, Heath said the Tucson community should join in on the "flavor" of the festivities because it gives them a chance to experience the unfamiliar.

"We'd really encourage everybody to come out and enjoy the celebration - Veracruz style rather than New Orleans style," Heath said.