Latin Ballet shines light on diversity

Photo by Emily Lewis

Jayla McNeill
Contributing Writer

Featuring diverse casts, dynamic costumes and intense choreography, the Latin Ballet of Virginia has been committed to preserving Latin American culture, promoting awareness and fostering community involvement through dance theater for more than 20 years.

Founded in 1997 with about 20 students, the Latin Ballet of Virginia (LBV) has grown exponentially. Now one of the state’s premier professional Hispanic dance companies, LBV has expanded to include two dance schools in Virginia and regularly performs locally, nationally and internationally.

To Ana Ines King — the founder and artistic director of the acclaimed LBV — the group’s productions represent far more than just dance theater.

“We tell the story through dance theater of who these people are,” King said. “[The audience] is learning not only history, but the power of the culture, traditions and legends.”

The latest step in this mission is LBV’s original production “VICTOR, The True Spirit of Love,” which premiered at the Grace Street Theater Sept. 7. This production told the true life story of Richmond local Victor Torres and his path from drug addiction to redemption. Torres moved from Puerto Rico to Brooklyn, New York in the 1960s where he endured substance abuse and gang activity. Today, he is a minister and founder of New Life for Youth, a non-profit rehabilitation center that includes two homes in Richmond.

“VICTOR” audience member Phoebe Ashley praised the cast’s ability to “bring to life” and encapsulate the pain and anguish of a drug addict’s lifestyle.

Ellie Martinez, Torres’ younger sister, said the performance brought back significant feelings and memories.

“It brought tears to my eyes,” Martinez said. “It was just very, very tender, very soft, very emotional.”

Roberto Whitaker, 25, who played the title character of Victor and has been performing with the company for more than five years, noted LBV’s dedication to inclusivity and cultural awareness.

“With this company, it’s just culturally diverse and sensitive,” Whitaker said. “We don’t just dabble into West African [dance] and not try to understand their tribe, their history, [and] not try to understand how to elaborate this through our physical speech.”

This October, LBV will travel to New York to perform “NuYoRican,” a production based on the experience of Puerto Ricans migrating to the U.S after World War II. The company will then travel to Mexico in November to perform “Mujeres” to impoverished and underserved communities. “Mujeres” is a production that pays tribute to three Mexican women who significantly influenced Spanish and Latin American culture.

“When we understand our people, when we understand where we come from — when we understand the struggles and hardships that we’ve been through,” Whitaker said, “everybody gets to know a little bit about themselves.”

LBV’s next local performance will be for Hispanic Heritage Day at the Children’s Museum of Richmond Sept. 29 from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.  

Photo by Emily Lewis

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