A review by Holly Prestige for the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
They left their homes and everything familiar for nothing more than a chance at a better life. But for the steady stream of Puerto Rican people who came to the United States throughout the 20th century — to New York, specifically — their stories share similar threads of hardship, friendship and the power of the human spirit.
Those stories will be expressed theatrically through dance as the Latin Ballet of Virginia presents “NuYoRican” at The Cultural Arts Center at Glen Allen. General audience performances are Friday, March 17, through Sunday, March 19. “NuYoRican” refers to Puerto Ricans who migrated to New York City, and the second and third generations who followed and identified with both cultures.
Last performed in 2008 and before then, 2003, Latin Ballet founder and artistic director Ana Ines King said the stories that inspired “NuYoRican” came from Julia Torres Barden, journalist, political advocate and award-winning author of “Newyoricangirl … Surviving my Spanglish Life.”
Latin Ballet of Virginia presents “NuYoRican”
Where: The Cultural Arts Center at Glen Allen, 2880 Mountain Road
When: 10:30 a.m. (field trips) Thursday, March 16; 10:30 a.m. (field trips) and 7:30 p.m. (sold out), Friday, March 17; 3 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 18; 3 p.m. Sunday, March 19
Tickets: $20 for adults, $15 for military, seniors and students, free for ages 6 and younger
Details: For information and tickets, go to http://www.latinballet.com
The stories expressed within the performance reflect specific accounts of Barden’s life, though this newest production also includes stories from Puerto Rican author Esmeralda Santiago and her memoir, “When I was Puerto Rican.”
The show also pays tribute to Grammy Award-winning musician, songwriter and record producer Tito Puente, a native of New York City’s Spanish Harlem.
King said many Puerto Ricans moved to the United States after the signing of a 1917 congressional act that granted U.S. citizenship to anyone born in Puerto Rico on or after April 25, 1898. Large migrations came after World War II, she said, then slowed during the 1960s. No matter their family dynamics, they were looking for something better, she said. But assimilating to a new country proved extremely difficult for them socially, economically and politically.
Listening to Barden and reading her book, King said, which includes references to the crime-stricken, low-income New York City neighborhood of Barden’s childhood, “every single page I was in tears.”
Through the performances, however, those stories come alive and tell a tale of perseverance. One scene in particular — involving women working at a sewing factory — strikes the audience, King said, either because they can personally relate to working long factory hours to support their families, or knew relatives who did.
Today, she said, both the audience members and even her dancers, some of whom are Puerto Rican, “can relate to these stories,” she said, and “they are so proud that we’re doing something like this.”