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Few choreographers have captured the essence of Latin social dance in such exciting ways as Bessie Award-winning Merián Soto. Her visionary fusion of choreography and improvised movement transforms everyday life experiences, memory, and history into glorious dances.

Inspired by Afro-Cuban music and swing in the early Latin jazz formation era of the 1950s, Soto’s current project, La Máquina del Tiempo (Time Machine), will be presented 8 p.m. today at the Williams Center for the Arts. Tickets for the public cost $18 and can be purchased by calling the box office at 610-330-5009.

The performance features live salsa music by an ensemble of Cuban-American musicians and video projections that provide a luscious overlay of film clips and media images from earlier eras, showing America’s long fascination with Latin culture.

“There’s a pervasive lusciousness and ripe joy in the dancingLa Máquina del Tiempo offers much life, heat, and heart,” states The Dance Insider.

Soto’s residency during the week has included activities funded by the Dexter and Dorothy Baker Foundation:

  • a Latin music and dance workshop for community youth, primarily high school students involved in the Hispanic American League of Artists, 8-9:15 p.m. Wednesday at Kirby Sports Center;
  • a talk on Latin dance and music for senior Spanish students at Easton Area High School 9:30-10:15 a.m. Thursday;
  • a workshop on improvisation with dancers and musicians noon-1 p.m. Thursday in the Farinon Center Marlo Room;
  • and a salsa workshop at Lafayette for faculty, students, and community guests 7-8:30 p.m. Thursday in the Marlo Room.

La Máquina del Tiempo is a full-evening work presented in three parts. Part one, “The Art of Improvisation,” performed in black, white, and sepia-colored costumes and décor, is set amid the backdrop of a rehearsal studio. The piece, Soto said, “explores the ‘timeless’ present of improvisation.”

The production continues with “Paradise Revue,” which has a variety show format and features video and shadow projections.

“The full-color costumes and décor, and ‘numbers’ reminiscent of Hollywood and Mexican films from the ’40s and ’50s, explore temporal elements of memory and nostalgia,” the choreographer explains.

The show closes with “What’s Heart Got To Do With It?,” a selection “exploring the inner time of emotionality and the heart.”

Featuring video by Irene Sosa, musical direction by Elio Villafranca, lighting design by Dave Overcamp, set by Roger Hanna, and costumes by Christine Darch, La Máquina del Tiempo will be performed by musicians Villafranca and Yunior Terry and dancers Pablo Amores, Marion Ramírez, and Noemí Segarra.

Soto is the recipient of six Choreographers Fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, an Artist Fellowship from the New York Foundation for the Arts, and numerous project grants from institutions such as the Rockefeller Foundation, the Lila Wallace Arts Partners Program, and the Harkness Foundation for Dance. She has collaborated extensively with MacArthur Award-winning visual artist Pepón Osorio on critically acclaimed works, including Historias (1992) and Familias (1995).

Soto’s explorations also have produced Así se baila un Son, a celebration of salsa commissioned by Central Park SummerStage in 1999, and Prequel(a): Deconstruction of aPassion for Salsa, a dance of voice, breath, body beats, and rhythm commissioned by the Joyce Theater in 2002, in which she embodies a salsa band.

As artistic director of the Bronx-based Latino arts organization, Pepatián, Soto has developed and curated national and international projects featuring Latino new dance and performance artists, including ¡Muévete! and Rompeforma: Maratón de Baile, Performance & Visuales, the international Latino artists’ festival in Puerto Rico; and the first Bronx Dance Fest at the Hostos Center for Arts & Culture in New York City in 1999.

Her writings on dance have been published in Heresies Magazine and Movement Research Journal. In September 2000, she received a New York Dance and Performance Award, or Bessie, for sustained choreographic achievement.

Soto’s visit to Lafayette is made possible by a touring grant from the National Dance Project of the New England Foundation for the Arts, with lead funding from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation. Additional support is provided by Pennsylvania Performing Arts on Tour, with funding from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, the Vira I. Heinz Foundation, the William Penn Foundation, and the Pew Charitable Trust.

The nationally recognized Performance Series at Lafayette attracts more than 10,000 people each season. It has been cited for performing excellence by the National Endowment for the Arts, National Dance Project, Chamber Music America, Lila Wallace Reader’s Digest Fund, Pennsylvania Arts and Humanities Councils, and Association of Performing Arts Presenters.

The 2004-05 Performance Series at Lafayette is supported in part by gifts from Friends of the Williams Center for the Arts; by the F.M. Kirby Foundation; by provisions of the Alan and Wendy Pesky Artist-in-Residence Program, J. Mahlon and Grace Buck Foundation, and Croasdale Fund; and by grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts.

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