Are you ready to be entertained? David Herrera Performance Company (DHPC) has the show for you! Órale, at Z Space runs September 7 through 9. It’s a fun, festive, and feisty fiesta featuring Latin singer El Vez (Robert Lopez), the Lovely El Vette (Crissy Guerrero) on back-up vocals, five-piece band the Memphis Mariachis, and a talented cast of classically and modern trained dancers many of Latin descent.
Decorated with flags and Dios de Los Muertos streamers, by scenic designer Rogelio Lopez, Z Space’s former-factory performance area is transformed into an outdoor plaza. Audience members sit along three sides of the dancefloor-cum-town-square. Along the fourth wall, a sparkling bandstand decked out in vibrant oversized paper blossoms awaits.
Nico Maimon in foreground, Fabiano Santiago center; Angel Velez right in the air dancing Soy Un Pocho, choreography by Yvonne Montoya; Photo by J. Norris
The evening is truly unique as it brings together a wide range of Latinx creative voices in service to a joyous extravaganza. Over the course of nearly two hours, including an intermission, we experience a dozen songs, each with its own dance. The glue holding it all together is the charismatic El Vez. Known for his covers of classic rock and roll tracks, El Vez sings rewritten lyrics that cleverly speak to the lived experiences of Latinx people living in the United States. His revolutionary ideas sneak up on one as he espouses them with a wide smile and good-natured humor.
The opening number, Immigration Time, choreographed by David Herrera and the cast, sets the stage for an exuberant evening. The costumes by Ismael Acosta are ever-changing and delightfully sassy, ranging from satirical cheerleader to Carnival Queen. In form-fitting day-glo costumes enhanced with sparkles and copious fringe, dancers Bianca Cabrera, Emily Hansel, Nico Maimon, Madi McGain, Valerie Mendez, and Brooke Terry cat walk, shimmy, and high kick, before sliding to the floor in an impressive line of middle splits. The tune is Elvis’s Suspicious Minds with lyrics adjusted to: “I’m caught in a trap, I canʼt walk out. Because my footʻs caught in this border fence. Why canʼt you see? Statue of Liberty, I am your homeless, tired and weary.”
El Vez, the ringmaster of this vibrant circus of dance, helps Órale flow freely from one dance to the next. Aztlan (Choreography: Gabriel Mata) begins with the insistent sounds of lapping water. El Vez sprinkles baptismal glitter over Brooke Terry. A cloaked figure hovers in a shadowy corner, as the melody for Paul Simon’s Graceland intercedes. Terry throws the shrouded one over her shoulder. Moving to center stage she unrolls the fabric, spreading it out to become the Rio Grande, and freeing Edgar Aguirre to join her in a lyrical duet. The river-yardage is their focus. It becomes a rope entrapping them. Later they circle the space grasping opposite ends of the cloth, their motion carving it through the space.
Choreographing to music with lyrics and strong rock and roll rhythm is difficult. Rather than fight the beat, choreographer Eric Garcia leans all in for Mystery Tren, El Vez’s cover of Elvis’s Mystery Train. In gold tinsel wigs, clutching bronze metallic pom-poms, a half-dozen women pulse rhythmically to the bass line. They lean in, heads down, head-banger style.
Garcia has gifted Nico Maimon with a star turn as the mustachioed Drag King lead singer of En El Barrio in which she lip-synchs about the struggles of life in the ghetto. Her back-up dancers are there for her as she leaps backwards, spread eagle into their arms to be carried above their heads.
Nico Maimon and cast of David Herrera Performance Company's Órale; Photo: J. Norris
Chicago Choreographer Stephanie Martinez’s contemporary ballet Ave Maria is movingly offered by the talented trio of Edgar Aguirre, Emily Hansel, and Fabiana Santiago accompanied by La Vette’s beautiful singing with instrumentals by keyboardist Ashley Rhu and drummer Declan Halloran. Aguirre lifts Fabiana, elevating her elegant lines. A palpable vibration of emotion is present throughout as they cross themselves, before placing a trembling hand under their chins, silent screams reverberate from their gaping mouths.
El Vez introduces Soy Un Pocho explaining “pocho” is slang for a Latino, typically second generation, who can’t speak Spanish. A quartet of cheerleaders takes the stage in short pleated white skirts, the letter “P” boldly emblazoned on their chests. Hands on jutting hips they celebrate the absence of language fluency with twirling arabesques and cartwheels, courtesy of Tucson choreographer Yvonne Montoya.
Setting the stage as the Mission High School Prom circa 1977, an oddly dressed couple meet in an embrace under a starry mirror ball for Samba Para Elvis. The dancers, Edgar Aguirre and Juan L. Ruiz, are well disguised in flowing fringe-striped pants and sheer tunics, their heads masked in brightly colored crocheted hoods. Alfonso Cervera’s dance is a rich and rapid-fire collage of Latin and American partnered social dances. Aguirre and Ruiz show off their versatility and close bond, which has us rooting for them as El Vez croons, “Are you lonesome tonight, dear?”
The action-packed evening contains more dances than can be described here, but let’s suffice it to say that I went back a second night to absorb the party atmosphere and even found myself on the dance floor with the rest of the audience for El Vez & the Memphis Mariachis’ final two songs. For those curious about the clever lyrics, they are available here.
Rogelio Lopez's set for David Herrera Performance Company's Órale at Z Space; Photo J. Norris
Review by Jen Norris, published September 11, 2023
ÒRALE! Co-presented by Z Space September 7-9, 2023 Director: David Herrera Live Music: El VEZ and the Memphis Mariachis Choreography: David Herrera (San Francisco) Alfonso Cervera (Columbus, Ohio) Eric Garcia (San Francisco) Stephanie Martinez (Chicago) Gabriel Mata (Washington D.C.) Yvonne Montoya (Tucson) Dancers/Choreographic Collaborators: Nico Maimon, Edgar Aguirre, Bianca Cabrera, Fabiana Santiago, Emily Hansel, Brooke Terry, Madi McGain, Valerie Mendez, Angel Velez, and Juan Ruiz Contributing collaborators: Katie Florez and Maya Diaz-Vallalta El Vez: Robert Lopez Lovely El Vette (back-up vocals): Crissy Guerrero Memphis Mariachis: Pat & Lety Beers, Declan Halloran, Ashley Ryu Rehearsal Director: Leesha Zieber Assistant Rehearsal Director: Yayoi Kambara Light Design: Ray Oppenheimer Associate Light Design: Victoria Langlands Scenic Design: Rogelio Lopez Costumes Design: Ismael Acosta Sound Design: Michael Creason Sound Mixing Engineer: Dan Hall Electricians: Wolfie Lewandowski and Charlie Mejia Poster Design: Olivia Ting Videography: Loren Robertson Productions ASL Interpretation (Sept 8): Norma Sanchez & Juan Ramirez ÓRALE PROGRAM ORDER All Songs by El Vez & the Memphis Mariachis Prelude "Órale" El Vez & the Memphis Mariachis Welcome David Herrera Immigration Time Co-Choreography: David Herrera and cast Dancers: Bianca Cabrera, Emily Hansel, Nico Maimon, Madi McGain, Valerie Mendez, Brooke Terry Aztlan Choreography: Gabriel Mata Dancers: Edgar Aguirre, Brooke Terry Mystery Tren and En El Barrio Choreography: Eric Garcia "Mario Chi" : Nico Maimon Dancers: Bianca Cabrera, Emily Hansel, Nico Maimon, Madi McGain, Brooke Terry, Valerie Mendez Ave Maria Choreography: Stephanie Martinez Dancers: Edgar Aguirre, Emily Hansel, Fabiana Santiago Cuauhtemoc Walk Choreography: Yvonne Montoya Dancers/co-choreography: Bianca Cabrera, Nico Maimon, Fabiana Santiago, Angel Velez INTERMISSION Huaraches Azules EL Vez & the Memphis Mariachis Black Magic Woman Co-Choreography: David Herrera and cast Dancers: Bianca Cabrera, Nico Maimon, Valerie Mendez, Fabiana Santiago, Angel Velez Walk A Mile Co-Choreography: David Herrera and cast Dancers: Madi McGain, Valerie Mendez, Brooke Terry Taking Care of Business Choreography: Gabriel Mata Dancers: Edgar Aguirre, Bianca Cabrera, Emily Hansel, Nico Maimon, Valerie Mendez, Brooke Terry Soy Un Pocho Choreography: Yvonne Montoya Dancers: Bianca Cabrera, Nico Maimon, Fabiana Santiago, Angel Velez Samba Para Elvis Choreography: Alfonso Cervera Dancers: Edgar Aguirre, Juan L. Ruiz Viva La Raza Choreography: Yvonne Montoya Dancers: Bianca Cabrera, Nico Maimon, Fabiana Santiago, Angel Velez Post Show El Vez & the Memphis Mariachis