Founded in 2005 by artistic director Ana Maria Álvarez, the Los Angeles based CONTRA-TIEMPO Activist Dance Theater will present the west coast premiere of their evening-length work ¡azúcar! at the Ford Theaters on August 18, 2023 at 8pm. The press release states that “¡azúcar![sugar!] is a courageous naming of and intentional obliteration of the undercurrent and often unspoken anti-blackness in Latinidad.” Tickets are on sale now.

Sugar is made from sugarcane native to New Guinea, India, and Southeast Asia. Europeans called it “white gold” and developed sugarcane plantations throughout their colonies with tropical climates such as South America and the Caribbean. What became known as the Sugar Age began in the late 16th century and in the early 17th century the Brazilian sugar industry became the world’s largest producer of a product that was in great demand in Europe. Second only to the mining of silver, this led to more Portuguese people migrating primarily to northern Brazil and a growth in the trade of African slaves.

Ana Maria Alvarez - Photo courtesy of The Doris Duke Charitable Foundation

Ana Maria Alvarez – Photo courtesy of The Doris Duke Charitable Foundation

Álvarez is currently in Ohio working on earning a Certification in the Katherine Durham Technique, but she took time to answer a few of my queries about her new work ¡azúcar!. I was curious about what led Álvarez to this project at this time.

“Originally this piece was inspired by my desire to create a work that harkened back to our Salsa roots as a company – and I began the creative process like I always do dreaming, writing, researching and following inspiration – which doesn’t often make sense at the time but always seems to lead me to a place that feels grounded, connected and whole,” She wrote. “So this beginning dreaming, writing and researching led me to explore more about Celia Cruz and her legacy as a powerful Afro-Cuban Salsa queen who unapologetically claimed space and transformed worlds with her energy, her exquisite voice and her ferocity – she’s known for yelling ¡azúcar! at the top of her lungs inside of her songs.”

During this time, the Getty Foundation commissioned Álvarez to create a film and she was reading “My Grandmother’s Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Mending of our Bodies and Hearts“ by Resma Menakem. Knowing that she wanted to make a work about sugar, the film developed into an homage and love letter to “sacred femininity, mothers, grandmothers and our lineages – rooting us back to where we come from.” She titled the film CAÑA and it became the beginning of ¡azúcar! and the ideas from Menakem’s book helped confirm her desire to delve deeper into the history of sugar.

Contra-Tiempos and Community Cast in "¡azúcar!" - photo by Robert Davezac

Contra-Tiempos and Community Cast in “¡azúcar!” – photo by Robert Davezac

I quickly began thinking of the ways in which sugar as metaphor for racialized trauma was so clear… once I began working with the company and it immediately became clear that this piece was going to be about healing – that we had to look back at the past – not turn away from what was hard and also reclaim the power and resilience of black and brown people throughout these horrendous times and learn about/uplift the stories of fight back, revolt, rebellion,” Álvarez continued. “So initial inspiration was Salsa and that became the desire to understand healing and more specifically collective healing through our bodies and through our practices of our ancestral wisdoms… that live in our dance and music forms…”

Her research lasted for over three years and another year and a half was spent working with her company to create ¡azúcar! which had its debut in North Carolina last March. Álvarez stated, however, that the work is not finished growing and evolving and that she generally allows a new piece a full year before announcing that it is complete.

I am excited to share that we have been invited to Jacob’s Pillow in the Winter of 2024 to continue working on the piece as part of their Pillow Lab. I will also be developing more of this work with my students at UC San Diego next winter (where I joined the faculty and started teaching last Spring),” she said, noting that CONTRA-TIEMPO’S performance at The Ford Theatres is part of that creative journey.

The Ford Amphitheatre

The Ford Amphitheatre

While touring, dance companies contend with a wide variety of stage sizes and shapes; proscenium stages, thrust stages, gymnasiums converted into temporary theaters and more. The Ford is a beautiful outdoor amphitheater with tree covered hills as a backdrop. The stage is a challenge to any company as it is built on two or three levels connected with several stone steps. With that in mind, I asked Álvarez if she had any concerns about presenting the work at The Ford.

The piece is designed with a large set of tarps and creates floating mountains – I became clear during our walk through at the Ford – that we won’t be using the full set because the Ford already has a natural floating mountain! It’s the natural backdrop of the venue – so there are design elements that we will be completely shifting and changing. Our video designer and incredible collaborator Meena Murugesan designed multiple projections including floor projections that won’t be possible at the ford -but again the space asks for us to be responsive to her – and that is what we will do,” She answered. “I’m not concerned – more excited to have this opportunity to be in this beautiful venue where you can feel spirit so clearly in the space, because of the connection to madre tierra. The wind and the earth will be dancing with us at the Ford and I know this will deepen the work and be both a profound experience for our artists and for the audience.”

This will mark CONTRA-TIEMPO’s fourth appearance at The Ford and Álvarez expressed that it is one of her favorite venues to perform at. It is one of her favorite venues to present her work because of the close connection to nature one feels while onstage, and there is not a bad seat in the house. “It’s been such a hard time for performing arts and the we are all in need of so much healing – so I’m really looking forward to this performance as a kind of gift to our community – it’s a love offering and again getting to share this love offering at the Ford is so meaningful,” she added.

CONTRA-TIEMPO - (L-R) Kati Hernandez, Jannet Galdamez, Jasmine Stanley, Alek Lopez, Edgar Aguirre in "¡azúcar!" - Photo by Robert Davezac

CONTRA-TIEMPO – (L-R) Kati Hernandez, Jannet Galdamez, Jasmine Stanley, Alek Lopez, Edgar Aguirre in “¡azúcar!” – Photo by Robert Davezac

There are a total of nineteen performers in ¡azúcar! They include seven company members, one of their mentors, Kati Hernandez dancing the role of Celeoshun, the goddess, and a cast of ten community members from Los Angeles and San Diego. The latter will be working with CONTRA-TIEMPO a few weeks prior to the performance at The Ford.

Our incredible projection designer and video artist Meena who will be running projections live. We have a number of other collaborators from all over the country who have been a part of creating the work including Anaïs Maviel and Rashaan Carter who created and designed all of the original music and sound vibrations,” Álvarez said.

Finally I asked Alvarez what else she would like the readers to know about her new work.

CONTRA-TIEMPO - Ruby Morales in "¡azúcar!" - Photo by Robert Davezac

CONTRA-TIEMPO – Ruby Morales in “¡azúcar!” – Photo by Robert Davezac

That it’s beyond a piece of work for the stage – that it’s really a framework for how we live, move and relate to one another,” she began. “I hope that this framework will ripple out beyond our company and that folks who come to share in this incredible evening will leave feeling soul filled and inspired to care more for themselves and for the people in their lives – and to know and understand our past so that we may build a more loving and just future… it’s why we dance. What does it look like to heal? This is what it moves like.”

Ana Maria Álvarez is a choreographer, dancer, and educator who in 2005 created the Los Angeles based, multilingual activist dance company CONTRA-TIEMPO as a result of her master’s degree thesis work at UCLA in the Department of World Arts and Culture. Her work has been presented in Germany, Bulgaria, Cuba, Bolivia, Ecuador, Chile, and El Salvador. Her awards include NEFA’s National Dance Project, National Association of Latino Arts and Cultures, LA City Department of Cultural Affairs, Los Angeles Women’s Theatre Festival Rainbow Award for her work with C-T called “Agua Furiosa.” Álvarez was a 2020 Doris Duke Artist and an inaugural Dance/USA Artist Fellow.

WHAT:  ¡azúcar! West Coast Premiere

WHEN: Friday 8/18 at 8pm – There will be no intermission.

WHERE: The Ford Theater, 2580 Cahuenga Blvd E, Los Angeles, CA 90068

To purchase tickets to CONTRA-TIEMPO at The Ford Theatres, please click HERE.


  • Parking on-site at The Ford is stacked and limited. You will be directed by an attendant upon arrival.
  • Off-site Parking and free shuttle service is available from two locations:
    1. Universal City/Studio City Metro Station (3913 Lankershim Blvd, Studio City 91604)
    2. Ovation LA (formerly Hollywood & Highland) from Orange Court (1736 N Orange Dr, Los Angeles 90028)

The shuttles begin running 2 hours before show time and every 20 minutes.

For more information on CONTRA-TIEMPO, please visit their website.

To learn more about The Ford, please visit their website.

Written by Jeff Slayton for LA Dance Chronicle.

Featured image: CONTRA-TIEMPO – Jasmine Stanley in ¡azúcar! – Photo by Robert Davezac.