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A Victory for de Feet

By Natalia de Cuba Romero

March 21, 2003
Copyright © 2003 PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.

There’s a gypsy undercurrent to everything Puerto Rican. Think of the passionate dancing, the nasal wails of jíbaro music, the fact that you’ll find a boricua with a flag in every far-flung corner of the planet. We’ve got that Romany rumba running through our veins.

And now that gypsy fire has been harnessed on the stage. Paulette Beauchamp and DanzActiva’s Encuentro de pies, tambores y faldas (Encounter of Feet, Drums and Skirts) is a high-energy, sensual stomp of a performance that has just won New York’s Asociación de Cronistas de Espectáculo’s prestigious award for Best Musical Show of the Year.

Photo: Courtesy DanzActiva

Encuentro premiered last year at the Teatro Tapia in San Juan and played at New York’s Teatro La Tea in Manhattan in November to rave reviews. Now this gypsy production is back, at the René Marqués Hall of the Luis A. Ferré Performing Arts Center in Santurce April 4-6 as part of the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture’s Festival of Puerto Rican Theater.

Encuentro mines the far-reaching roots of Puerto Rican culture, which start in India, move with the gypsies into Spain and cross the Atlantic to this little island where they meet Taíno and African cultures. It’s a recipe for one hell of a percussion-driven dance party.

Explosive Afro-Puerto Rican bomba fused with modern dance, rat-a-tat Arab-laced flamenco and the twirls and bells of Northern India’s classic kathak dance meet on the stage in the persons of choreographer Paulette, Damaris Ferrer and Romanee.

Photo: Courtesy DanzActiva

I learned more over a recent dinner alfresco at Amadeus in Old San Juan with Paulette, her co-director and husband, guitarist/cuatrista Carlos Bedoya; Puerto Rico Herald columnist Gabrielle Paese; and Dance magazine’s New York editor Wendy Perron, Paulette’s former teacher at SUNY Purchase.

Over delicious nuevo puertorriqueño dishes on Plaza San José, Paulette described the vision that led to this award-winning and ground-breaking piece.

"We saw Festival Flamenca is New York and were inspired," Paulette said.

"Then we saw kathak dance from Northern India and instantly recognized the movements and the percussion," added Carlos. "It’s like blues — once you’ve heard it, you can’t unhear it. It becomes part of you."

So the couple began an investigation that took them to Florida and Spain and began putting together a show. Ironically enough, Encuentros beat out the Festival Flamenca for the ACE award.

The live music includes Carlos on the guitar and native cuatro, and flamenco guitarist José "El Tiburón" Linares on flamenco guitar, with the voices of local music singer Tony "Mapeyé" Rivera, flamenco artist Chayito and Indian singer Deepak Kumar. Indian percussionist Naren Budhakar duels with the bomba drums of Ángel Luis and Otoquí Reyes. Brianna Austin and special guest Paoli Mejías round out the percussion.

Photo: Courtesy DanzActiva

But Paulette says that the percussive pyrotechnics and passion are just part of the magic.

"Beyond the virtuoso performances of everyone involved in the presentation, its message of unity, respect and spirituality took over in the end," she said.

Spirituality and unity are major themes for this special company. Their "iBomba Libre…de norte a sur!" program is not just a rousing performance of indigenous dances and music. It’s a victory of spirit. The star performers are young people with Down’s Syndrome who study with Paulette. They bring the audience to their feet with their joy, energy and talent, helped along by DanzActiva’s professional dancers and musicians. So the ACE award couldn’t have happened to a nicer company.

For tickets for Encuentro call the Performing Arts Center (Bellas Artes) at 787-620-4444. For more information visit

Photo: Courtesy DanzActiva

Encuentro is not all that’s going on in contemporary dance in the next few weeks. Fancy footwork from contemporary dance and movement maven Viveca Vázquez and her Taller de Otra Cosa (Something Else Workshop) will be onstage at the Julia de Burgos Amphitheater at the University of Puerto Rico’s Río Piedras campus from May 1-8. The new show, iUy! is a multimedia exploration of the self in familiar places. Featuring dancers Patricia Dávila, Karen Langevin and Vesna Lantigua, as well as the video work co-created with Eduardo Alegría and filmed by Beatriz Santiago, expect a witty and poignant portrait of life in Viveca’s inimitable style. For tickets call 787-764-0000, x 2085/9. For information, email

And dancer-choreographer Ivan Olmo, whose Teatro Físico Polimnia (Polimnia Physical Theater) has been presenting experimental and traditional movement performances and festivals for close to ten years, is at it again with the Third International Festival of Mimes and Physical Theater of the Caribbean at the Carlos Marichal Hall of the Luis A. Ferre Performing Arts Center May 23-25.

The festival will include performances by Rick Warner from the US, London-based Ana Sánchez-Colberg, Juan Monsalve and his Teatro de la Memoria (Theater of Memory) from Bogota, Colombia, and local favorites Luis Oliva, Gil René and Myrna Renaud, as well as Polimnia.

For tickets call the Performing Arts Center (Bellas Artes) at 787-620-4444 or visit For information call Polimnia at 787-725-7792. 

Natalia de Cuba Romero is a freelance travel, food and arts writer. Her column, "Sights, Sounds & Tastes of Puerto Rico", appears weekly in the Puerto Rico Herald. She can be reached at

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