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Miami Light Project presents a futuristic, modern Latinx opera by Sol Ruiz

A person gestures while singing in pink lighting.
Photo courtesy of Miami Light Project
Artburst Miami
Presented by Miami Light Project, “Positive Vibration Nation” encompasses live, interactive performances of “Sol and The Tribu,” with creator Sol Ruiz, left, foreground, and musician Alejandro Sierra, right, background,  on Friday, April 12 and Saturday, April 13 at Miami Theater Center, Miami Shores.

There are two words that are rarely (possibly never) shared in the same sentence: guaguancó and opera. The first term defines a type of rumba originated in Cuba, in which percussion predominates, the vocal part tells a long story, and the accompanying dance emulates a sexual courtship. The second is a genre associated with classical music, considered a theatrical form that tells a story, completely or partially, with music and singing.

It is clear that the common denominator between the two musical forms is this: that they both recount a tale from beginning to end. “An opera narrates a story from beginning to end through music. So for me it could be any kind of music . . . it doesn’t have to be classical music,” says Sol Ruiz, Grammy-nominated artist, producer, deejay and multi-instrumentalist.

It was that line of thinking that motivated the Miami-born Cuban American musician to create her own opera: one that might attract the attention of a younger generation, for whom a contemporary sound might be more appealing. Incidentally, this work might resonate with this audience through the artist’s own questions about her personal identity and cultural heritage.

“One day I said to myself, ‘You know what, I’d like to (write an opera) but in a contemporary way, that would appeal to people today and also tap into my own roots and cultural heritage (guaguancó and cubanía),'” says Ruiz.

The result of that idea became “Positive Vibration Nation,” a new multimedia musical theater-rock-guaguancó opera. Created by Ruiz, directed by Teo Castellanos and choreographed by Sandra Portal-Andreu, the plot involves six characters who embark on a journey in search of their roots. In that endeavor, their discoveries as a group unlock their powers as musical superheroes.

A person playing a guitar and singing into a microphone.
Photo courtesy of Miami Light Project
Artburst Miami
Presented by Miami Light Project, “Positive Vibration Nation” features a group of Miami-based Latinx artists and performers including: Sol Ruiz (right, foreground) and Rey Rodriguez (left, background).

Presented by Miami Light Project on Friday, April 12 and Saturday, April 13 at the Miami Theater Center, the show is performed primarily by the band “Sol and The Tribu” although, as described by its producers, it involves much more than music. The experience will include elements of visual art, fashion, dance and, of course, Caribbean music.

According to its creator, the main topic of the work is the uniqueness of Miami—the particularity of its roots as the cultural foundation of this multinational enclave. ”A big part of the concept is about returning to our roots,” says Ruiz. “The plot starts in the Miami of the future, in the year 3050, and little by little — I don’t want to reveal too much — it comes to the present. On my journey, I meet the different characters that make up the whole story.”

“Positive Vibration Nation” features a group of Miami-based Latino artists and performers including Rey Rodriguez (as Rey Sugar), Carlos Jose Martinez (as Octoman), Alejandro Sierra (as Alibaba), Nayah Mericier and Nichole Machado (dance performance), Fernando Perdomo (guitar) and Fernando Abad (piano and synthesizers) and, of course, the creator herself, Sol Ruiz (as La Barbara),

Artistic collaborators include Greth Castillo (media and film), Winston Vargas (lighting), Beth Gladen (sound design) and Celia Ledón (costume design).

“We are all Latinx in the production: some of us are from Miami, but for the most part everyone comes from different parts of Latin America, Colombia, Haiti, Cuba and the Dominican Republic. All those influences are closely linked to the music; it’s what we define as the ‘Miami sound’,” says Ruiz, who adds that she does not shy away from “Spanglish” in her vocal work.

Castellanos has collaborated with Miami Light Project over the past 25 years. For him the overall challenge of directing “Positive Vibration Nation” has been to create a unified sense of meaning for a performance composed of so many layers. Basically, his method is to devise theater making, he says, which combines the work of artists who excel in their respective disciplines, but who may have less training in the area of drama.

“I’m used to working with a community of artists who may be great at either music, dance or poetry, but don’t necessarily have theatrical training that is important in the process of coming up with a new play. So that was my first challenge,” says Castellanos.

“Then to visualize a coherent story from each of the layers made up of video technology, lights, music and dance,” says the director. “For that we had creative workshops in which we worked together on each of the ideas.”

Castellanos says he is satisfied with the structure of the piece because, for him, it’s all about the sound of the show. “Sol’s music is great, very Miami; I think it definitely identifies us as a city and as a culture . . . it identifies us as Latinx people living in the diaspora, in this place we call Miami,” he says.

Grammy-nominated artist, producer, deejay and multi-instrumentalist, Sol Ruiz, wanted to create a “futuristic, multimedia musical theater-rock-guaguancó opera.”
Photo courtesy of Miami Light Project
Artburst Miami
Grammy-nominated artist, producer, deejay and multi-instrumentalist, Sol Ruiz, wanted to create a “futuristic, multimedia musical theater-rock-guaguancó opera.”

The show’s choreographer, Portal-Andreu, says that her own process in this montage has been quite different from what she is used to, but no less rewarding. “It is completely different from what I normally do in developing my own independent work: the structure and the way we collaborate and work with movements. Here I am not only moving two amazing dancers, but also a great group of musicians.”

An additional incentive for Portal-Andreu is the way she has coupled her work with that of Castellanos. “It’s uplifting to work with a director so influenced by movement. He would give me notes that made a lot of sense in moving people from one point to another on the stage. It’s almost as if we were reading each other’s minds.”

She continues: “I think people will love that this is a multigenerational performance, so anyone of any age can come out to see it. And (I also love) that Sol is tapping into these Miami rhythms and sounds and, at the same time, into a personal history through a futuristic approach. She’s addressing issues that are obviously in the conversations we’re having today about the future of this city,” says the Colombian-Cuban-born choreographer.

For director Catellanos— who was born in Puerto Rico but has lived in Miami since he was 6 years old—working from such a rich musical base is one of the best and most rewarding experiences in this project, and a dream come true. “Music has made me what I am today. I grew up with salsa, hip hop, reggae and punk, so rhythm has always been a driving force in who I am as an individual and as an artist.”

Ruiz, as a creator, feels that today’s audience needs operas like this to ground people within an uber-fast, evolving culture. “In many ways in Miami we have lost our identity. And as technology progresses, the less we can identify ourselves, we risk becoming a mere mishmash of things. I don’t want to lose my heritage, my roots, or forget where I come from,” says Ruiz.

WHAT: “Sol Ruiz: Positive Vibration Nation,” presented by Miami Light Project.

WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday, April 12 and Saturday, April 13

WHERE: Miami Theater Center. 9806 NE 2nd Ave., Miami Shores

COST: $33.37 and $106.52 VIP; $22.92 student and senior, all include fees

INFORMATION: 305-576-4350 or miamilightproject.com

ArtburstMiami.com is a nonprofit news partner of WLRN, providing news on theater, dance, visual arts, music and the performing arts.

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