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Review: ‘Passion & Struggle’ at The In Series

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Poetry can be the seed of music, and music the seed of love. Music may even be used as a form of protest—and ultimately a promoter of peace. This is evidenced by the music of composers and performers such as Spaniard Joan Manuel Serrat; Chileans Violeta Parra and Victor Jara, Puerto Rican Rafael Hernández, and Cuban Silvio Rodríguez, who wrote songs about love, life, and the plight of the oppressed and the poor, mainly in Latin America.

Suzzette Ortiz (Piano), Vocalist Diana Sáez, Pavel Urkiza (guitar, timple, and cuatro, the national instrument of Puerto Rico),  and Leo Alvarez (drums). Photo courtesy of The In Series.

With direction and design by Abel Lopez, Marianne Meadows, and Jonathan Dahm Robertson, and the heartfelt performance of Diana Sáez & Friends, Passion & Struggle is an intimate Latin cabaret that educates, entertains, and soothes the senses.

The strength of the show lies with Diana Sáez & Friends, which consists of vocalist Pavel Urkiza (guitar, timple and cuatro, the national instrument of Puerto Rico), Suzzette Ortiz (piano), and Leo Alvarez (drums and the bombo). Passion & Struggle, in its cozy black box setting, was a marvelous evening of music that celebrated Latin cultural identity. The standing ovation at the conclusion of Passion & Struggle, proved that this show is both a passionate plea for social justice, and an auditory treat for the ears. In front of a screen on which was projected various scenery from Latin America, and song lyrics, Diana Sáez & Friends beautifully performed several songs that addressed struggle, love, and triumph.

 “The 33”, from the movie of the same title (about stranded Chilean miners), with music and lyrics by James Horner, featured Pavel’s passionate cuatro playing and Ortiz’s flute. The song had an Italian Western feel, and featured a desert and mountains projected on the screen, thanks to Robertson.

Haunting vocals by Sáez and Ortiz conjured composer Atahualpa Yupanqui’s “Song of the Moon Over Tucumán.” Urkiza’s vocals helped tell the story of a peasant going into a city to sell what he can to improve his lot, in “Puerto-Rican Lament”, by Hernández.

The upbeat “Walking and Singing” with music by Geraldo Vandré and lyrics by Ana Belén carried the theme of, by “walking and singing the same song we are all equal.” Ortiz’s piano solo stood out. With a theme of “All is not lost”, “I Come to Offer My Heart” by Fito Páez, featured rhythmic percussion by Alvarez.

Ortiz’s piano and Sáez’s vocals lifted Rodríguez’s “The Story of a Chair”, which, according to Sáez, metaphorically spoke of a chair in the road being an obstacle in life. “Strange Power”, by Caetano Veloso, spoke to the creative soul of the artist (“a strange power impels me to sing…”) and featured Urkiza’s fantastic guitar work. Sáez’s vocals fit along nicely with the upbeat, tropical “My Only Possession”, by Victor Jara.

“Mediterráneo”, with music by Joan Manuel Serrat and lyrics by Antonio Machado, was an ode to the Mediterranean Sea, and lately, said Sáez, a song apropos to Syrian refugees currently crossing those waters to Europe. Urkiza’s vocals worked a wonderful tune in “Mediterráneo”. The theme of love was explored in the percussion-heavy “Love Poem”, with music by Claudia Gómez and lyrics by Darío Jaramillo Agudelo. Alvarez’s drum work bolstered the song’s driving beat.

Gratitude was the theme of “Thanks to Life” by Violeta Parra. Sáez’s delightful singing helped offer “thanks to life which has given me so many gifts. Like my eyes which can see color and the stars and the man I love.”

Passion & Struggle, in its cozy black box setting, was a marvelous evening of music that celebrated Latin cultural identity. The standing ovation at the conclusion of Passion & Struggle, proved that this show is both a passionate plea for social justice, and an auditory treat for the ears.

Passion & Struggle plays through May 7, 2017, at The In Series performing at Atlas Performing Arts Center – 1333 H Street NE, in Washington, DC. For tickets, call the box office at (202) 399-7993 ext. 2, or purchase them online.

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