We see Mobile’s roots wrapped around a fleur-de-lis, being the first capital of French Louisiana and all that. But there’s a little Latin heart here, too – decorative wrought iron is a Spanish influence – and it leads to an island nation roughly 600 miles southwest of here.
It’s the chief inspiration in Mobile Ballet’s newest fundraiser, Salsa Night, which takes place Thursday, June 20 from 6 – 9 p.m. at The Steeple (251 St. Francis St.). Perfectly placed in our sultriest season, it ties together past and present in an evening of indulgence.
“The members of the [Mobile Ballet support team] Barre wanted something fun and casual. It was their idea and we thought it was great,” Mobile Ballet Artistic and Executive Director Katia Garza said.
The downtown event space will be transformed into El Norte de la Habana, complete with food, libations and dance. Nuevo-flamenco stars Roman Street will provide the ideal soundtrack for a nod to Mobile-Cuba bonds.
Havana was a major stop for ships on the colonial Gulf Coast. When the Pelican Girls were inbound in 1704, they docked in Havana first.
Mobile founder Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville visited Havana in 1706, died during a yellow fever outbreak and was buried there. His statue stands there, with a counterpart in Mobile.
Havana was Mobile’s biggest trading partner until the Cold War embargo. We still hold sister-city status.
Garza is familiar with the largest Caribbean island’s dance styles. Growing up a dancer’s daughter in Mexico, there was an acquaintance.
“My mom had a dance studio so we were kind of exposed, not to salsa but other styles like cumbia and meringue. It’s kind of the same step but you just count them differently and it starts on a different beat,” Garza said.
When she began dancing professionally in Monterrey, Garza met Cubans in the company. After-hours fun led to new steps.
“Every time we had a cast party or something like that, everybody was dancing. It’s like salon dance, all in couples and they switch partners. They do it naturally in Cuba,” Garza said.
Her marriage to Cuban ballet dancer Israel Rodriguez – now Mobile Ballet’s Ballet Master – took her deeper into the culture itself. She cites its “magical” music and dance as infectious.
“Sometimes when I’m cleaning my house I’m like, ‘Let’s dance a little bit, in the middle,’” Garza said, laughing.
The pair will open Salsa Night activities on the dance floor. After breaking the ice, they will be available for short lessons with anyone who’s game.
Tickets are $40 in advance, $50 at the door. Entrance includes Bay Gourmet’s spread of Cuban heavy appetizers, wine, beer and sangria. A full cash bar will be there and Havana Rey’s will roll cigars.
Break out the guayaberas, gents; dress code is casual. Call Kendra Utsey at 251-342-2241 for details.
Garza is still putting together Mobile Ballet’s upcoming season. The fall show hews more to the classical after last year’s contemporary season opener.
“I decided on ‘Giselle’ because it’s like a ghost story for Halloween. Kind of mysterious but romantic at the same time,” Garza said.
Adolphe Adam’s 1841 work centers a beautiful peasant girl who falls for the deceitful flirtations of an upper crust Lothario and dies of heartbreak. A group of vengeful specters target the womanizer but meets unexpected resistance.
Long noted for its challenging nature, the performance will hold another distinction for Garza.
“It will be my last full-length ballet. I’m not ready to stop dancing but this is a full-time job. It’s different when you dance a little bit here and there but a full ballet takes a lot of time with rehearsal and training,” Garza said.
Rodriguez will also perform and a guest artist will join them. The show is slated for Oct. 26 and 27.
The traditional “Nutcracker” production takes place in mid December. In another Mobile Ballet first, “Beauty and the Beast” will be performed March 21 and 22.
After arriving in Spring 2018, the newcomer is satisfied with their progress so far. Time is the test.
“We had great numbers this year and I just signed a new contract for a few more years. We’re excited to see where we’ll be in a couple of years because that’s when you can really tell what you’ve done,” Garza said.
For now, indications are the spicy summer offering will be popular and exciting.
“I haven’t met a lot of Cubans here, maybe three or four, so I want to see how many show for Salsa Night. Who knew Mobile would have this connection with Havana?” Garza asked.
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