When it comes to dance — the art form as well as the physical practice — Santa Fe is way beyond tap, jazz, and ballet. You can sample ecstatic dance at a cannabis dispensary; enjoy West African, Haitian, and Hawaiian dance; and watch or take part in American tribal-style belly dance, Argentine tango fusion, burlesque, Bharatanatyam (East Indian classical dance), family capoeira, folklórico, hip-hop, country and western, flamenco, 5Rhythms, Nia, the Lindy hop, Zumba, dance/fitness, improvisational dance, waltz, salsa, and bachata. It’s all here.
The 24th annual Mono Mundo World Dance Festival, presented by the New Mexico Dance Coalition (NMDC) at the Railyard Performance Center on Friday, Aug. 16, and Saturday, Aug. 17, is a chance to see a curated showcase of some of these dance forms, the crème de la crème, from the exotic to the erotic. Thirteen distinct dance voices — all Northern New Mexican artists — appear at the showcase.
“The dance scene in Santa Fe is ever-changing; it has its ebbs and flows,” said Jasmine Quinsier, producer of the festival. A Santa Fe native, she has been dancing for 20 years. “I do fusion flamenco, Middle Eastern, clowning, storytelling, and Balinese dance.” She is also a member of Wise Fool, the circus and social justice organization that puts on Circus Luminous at the Lensic Performing Arts Center every year around Thanksgiving, and offers gravity-defying lessons to kids and adults, as well as a summer women’s circus intensive called Bust!
For the past eight years, Quinsier’s job with the dance coalition has required her to keep her ear to the ground. “Some years it’s hard for dance teachers to make a go of it and harder to get audiences to come out to shows,” she said. It might have to do with the ups and downs of the economy, but like Santa Fe residents in general, she said, dancers come and go. “Right now, we’re flush,” she said. “I’ve been to a lot of shows lately. They’ve been rich in content and quality, and well-attended. I went to a performance by Rulan Tangen’s indigenous contemporary dance company, Dancing Earth. The choreography was really diverse, the dancing was really tight, and they had interesting storytelling.
“Katelyn Kollinzas is fairly new in town,” Quinsier said. “She recently had a performance at the Swan Theater [in the Rufina neighborhood, known as Santa Fe’s theater row]. There were 12 dancers. It was contemporary. I think she has a ballet background. She’s trying to put a dance company together now. She went through the art therapy program at Southwestern [College]. I see a lot of psychological elements in her dances.”
Myra Krien, the owner of the belly-dance-based Pomegranate Studios, does a concert every year called “Invaders of the Heart,” she said. “It’s always the same title, but the subtitle changes. This year’s theme was ‘A Mother’s Story.’ She also runs a program for empowering young girls, called SEEDs.”
Aspen Santa Fe Ballet, which is the most prominent dance company in town, is actually based in Colorado and only visits to perform at the Lensic a few times a year. Flamenco dancers vie for tourist audiences seven nights a week at venues around the City Different during the summer, but come Labor Day, many of them go home to Spain, or elsewhere. Dancing Earth has dancers who are similarly spread out — hired to work with Tangen’s company but not asked to relocate. Santa Fe is not considered a “dance town.” The serious dancers here are accordingly humble. They’re not like New York dancers, always looking out for auditions and attending cut-throat competitive dance classes. They’re amateurs in the best sense of the word.
Elise Gent’s long-running Saturday morning West African dance class at the Railyard Performance Center attracts a group of regulars — men and women of all ages, shapes, and abilities who gather every week to join Gent in sweating to the rhythms provided by a half-dozen live drummers. The studio doors, which face the farmers’ market, are left wide-open for air. During class, an audience always gathers, standing in the doorway, craning their necks to see what all the commotion is about. Others linger just outside the door. Every week, new batches of strangers are transfixed by the rhythms, the dancing, and the unforgettable sight of communal joy.
The annual Mono Mundo festival raises money for an NMDC program that offers scholarships to young dance students. The dance coalition also fiscally supports the efforts of local groups, offering an organization under which they can apply for their own grants without having their own board of directors. This year the coalition is helping Pomegranate Studios, the New Mexico Dance Project, the Wassa Wassa Festival, Ogap’oge Ecstatic Dance, and SouLFuL Dance Movement with Chelsee Stewart.
After 23 years of performances in the Santa Fe Plaza, the festival is moving indoors, to the Railyard Performance Center, which offers seating, better sight lines, theatrical lighting, and quiet. “There won’t be any cars or motorcycles driving by,” Quinsier said. Also, the show has been condensed from two and a half hours to a “power-packed” 90 minutes plus intermission, she said. Quinsier invites the artists and puts together the Mono Mundo program, trying for maximum representation and quality. “Unfortunately, there just can’t be as many belly dance groups on the program as I know would be interested. I’m aiming for diversity.”
At this year’s festival, Mike Garcia and Elli Hindmarch dance a tango fusion; Kalani Hawn brings her group Hui Aloha, a Hawaiian dance company with live music by Hula Mai Ka Lani; Zircus Erotique offers a burlesque number; Trupthi Panickor gives a taste of East Indian dance; and the Red Desert Dance Company presents belly dancing. A folklórico group from Aspen Santa Fe Ballet’s program is included, as well as ecstatic dance by Lee Johnson and contemporary dance by Abby Nace. The Middle Eastern dance company Mosaic, directed by Krien, also performs, along with Chelsee Stewart, and the Saltanah Dancers/Habibis, a belly dance group directed by Deborah Newberg.
Although some of the dance groups in Santa Fe may have specific agendas (Tangen’s Dancing Earth company is about social justice and creating change, for instance), Quinsier guesses that for most of the performing dancers in Santa Fe, it’s more about following bliss. “I think we all want to have fun, feel appreciated and supported by our community, and continue doing what we love.” ◀
▼ New Mexico Dance Coalition presents Mono Mundo World Dance Festival
▼ 8 p.m. Friday, Aug. 16, and Saturday, Aug. 17
▼ Railyard Performance Center, 1611 Paseo de Peralta