Shortly after premiering their newest work, “joyUS justUS,” conceived as a message of joy and restorative justice, Urban Latin Dance Theater company CONTRA-TIEMPO couldn’t just sit back and watch the refugee situation at the southern US border continue to escalate. The company gathered donated supplies, including tents, toiletries, clothing, socks, and shoes, and headed to Tijuana. Seven dancers made two trips down from their Los Angeles base. By happenstance, within a week of their first trek, the US Embassy in El Salvador called to invite CONTRA-TIEMPO to that country in crisis. On February 20, they will embark on the first of two planned visits.
“Our work is about creating social change nationally and internationally by using joy as a tool to fight back, reminding people of their humanity and possibilities. People are in danger in their own country. We enter the situation listening, asking what’s most needed and where can we be most helpful. How do we create change where we are? Our bilingual dancers connected with refugees in the caravan and listened to their stories. It’s heart-wrenching and deeply moving, the sacrifice people are making for their families and future,” said founding artistic director Ana Maria Alvarez. “‘joyUS justUS’ is a community collaboration with humanity at its core. That is what sets us apart. We strive to transform using physically intense movement and politically astute work like our latest production. Being involved feels like a need and a calling. So many artists look at community engagement work as an extra, but for us, it’s a critical part of who we are and how we both make and share our work.”
CONTRA-TIEMPO distributed supplies and volunteered at four different locations on the Mexican border the day after the caravan of refugees was hit with tear gas late last November. The company returned shortly before Christmas to visit four different locales. Stops included El Barretal stadium in Tijuana, an LBGTQ center, La Casa Migrantes men’s shelter and several safe houses in local churches. They lifted spirits by holding instructional sabor sessions, which are collaborative and improvisational in nature, fostering feelings of connectivity and humanity.
“Our goal is to create community space to connect, for people to feel joy and hope in a situation that feels hopeless,” she said.
After tour stops earlier this month in Connecticut and Pennsylvania to perform “joyUS justUS,” CONTRA-TIEMPO heads to San Salvador in El Salvador on February 20. At the request of the US Embassy there, four CONTRA-TIEMPO dancers will spend a week working with youth leaders in twenty different schools, empowering them through movement and rhythm to become advocates in schools. The embassy is characterizing this work as “violence prevention” through the arts. The entire company will return in June for a residency during which they will perform “joyUS justUS” publicly and share the stage with a select group of schools from this month’s trip.
Through expressive dance, impassioned spoken word, and enveloping layers of transcendent rhythms, beats, and sound, “joyUS justUS” joyfully celebrates community and connection. The work reclaims the dominant deficit-based narrative of people of color in this country as being underprivileged, voiceless, powerless and victimized, and flips it on its head by embodying stories of joy: personal truths about the power of hope, faith and family, the strength of villages that have raised our children and the wealth that lives in our collective histories of struggle and resistance.
“‘joyUS justUS’ is a work of radical joy. It connects joy to social movement and social change. That’s exactly what these humanitarian trips are all about. The world is calling, and we want to be in the conversation – locally at home in LA and everywhere we go on tour,” said Alvarez.
Bold, athletic and insightful, CONTRA-TIEMPO communicates and informs through body movement, striking visuals, and textured aural tapestries. Adeptly they craft uncompromising and riveting theater using Salsa, Afro-Cuban, hip-hop, and modern dance. It’s diverse membership of professional dancers, artists and immigrants come from the communities they embody on stage, serving as educators, activists, organizers, and leaders. Through profound work in the community, this dance theater company gives voice to stories seldom heard on stage. For more information, please visit .