AFRO-LATIN FEST ARTISTS & INSTRUCTORS

* Afro-Latin Fest debut

ALEXIS ZANETY 

Contemporary choreographer and former first soloist for Cuba’s national Contemporary Dance Company. He studied under Escuela Profesional de Instructores de Arte in Villa Clara, Cuba from 1983 to 1989 graduating with honors and receiving the coveted Diploma de Oro award for best student. He began his artistic career right after graduation performing for several dance companies in Villa Clara, Cuba but primarily with Compañía del Teatro de la Caridad, one of the remaining colonial theatres in Cuba and a national monument. As a former first soloist for Compañía Nacional de Danza Contemporánea de Cuba from 1995 to 2002 he worked under the direction of several prominent contemporary choreographers such as Eduardo Rivero Walker in Zulkari, Narciso Medina in Metamorfosis, and Lídice Nuñez in Trastornados. He also had the chance to premiere Folía by Jan Linkens and several other leading roles in festivals around the world in places such as Holland Dance Festival, Nervi Festival in Italy, and Aida Opera at the reopening of the theater La Fenice. He has also toured extensively throughout France, Germany, Italy, Portugal, Puerto Rico, Aruba and Martinique. In 1999 Alexis was commissioned by the National Ballet of Cuba to choreograph a neoclassical piece for the intermediate level students of the academy. During this time, he trained and mentored Taras Domitro who later received 1st place in Alica Alonso’s International Ballet Competition and is now a principal dancer for San Francisco Ballet. Alexis then relocated to Mexico in 2002 after being invited by Teatro Degollado in Guadalajara, Mexico to choreograph for Festival de Danza por la Vida. Once in Mexico, he was invited to perform the principal role of “Don Jose” in Carmen by choreographer Adriana Quinto in Festival Internacional Cervantino and invited to portray the leading role in Besame Mucho (2003). The latter produced by OCESA, a conglomerate of artistic productions in Latin America under the mass media company Televisa. Throughout his lengthy artistic career, Alexis’ had an ongoing interest in choreography and pedagogy. Due to this, he looks for opportunities to combine the information he has learned from Afro-Cuban dance, neoclassical dance, and Caribbean rhythms and enjoys exploring movement to Son Cubano and Cuban Rumba. He merges these movement qualities along with classical ballet and Cuban modern dance in his own technique called Dibujo Circular de Movimiento (Circular Patterns of Movement). In 2015 he was commissioned by Compañía Nacional de Danza de Cuba to choreograph Retorno. In 2016 Centro Morelense de las Artes in Mexico also commissioned him to choreograph Sombras y Destinos en Imágenes en Desequilibrio, a multidisciplinary piece with actors, dancers, and musicians. Alexis relocated permanently to Houston, Texas in 2016. Since then he has been teaching independently in several cities in the US and has provided master classes at Cornish College of the Arts, University of Washington, University of Houston, and participated at the 2018 and 2019 International Association of Blacks in Dance Congress as a guest teacher.

ARMANDO CRISANTO MELENDEZ

Director of the National Garifuna Ballet of Honduras, was born in San Juan (Tela Department, Honduras). In the early 1960s he had migrated to Tegucigalpa, where he graduated as a Bachelor of Science and Literature, at the Colegio Alfonso Guillén Zelaya. Since 1962, a group of Garifuna dances was integrated in Tegucigalpa, directed by Lino Álvarez Sambula, leader of a small Garifuna community based in the Honduran capital since the first decades of the century, which also belonged to the writer and first deputy Garifuna Castro Serrano. Armando Meléndez participated in Congresses of the Black Culture of the Americas: in Cali (Colombia, 1977), Panama (1980), Venezuela (1980), Brazil (1982), Jamaica (1982), and other countries. Thanks to these experiences he knew about the presence of African history and culture as he had not been able to do in his own country. Since then, it claims to have undergone a "metamorphosis". Crisanto Meléndez established the bases of the national Garifuna Ballet of Honduras. Between 1970 and 1976 he presided over an Afro-Honduran organization that preceded the Fraternal Black Organization of Honduras (OFRANEH), defender of the rights and claims of Afro-Honduran descendants. At the same time, it encouraged the participation of Garifuna dances in civic celebrations that took place in mestizo and Ladino settlements outside the Garifuna villages. Thus, by 1972 the old patron saint of San Isidro-which was celebrated in La Ceiba (Department of Atlántida) with a religious procession-had acquired a carnival character, which included public presentations of Garifuna dances that Meléndez coordinated. The African heritage of the Garifuna people, superficially understood and barely valued until then by their own representatives -especially in La Ceiba, began to be rescued by the commitment of Meléndez, with the support of the Honduran Institute of Tourism, founded in 1972 under the direction of Jacobo Goldstein. In this way, Crisanto Meléndez achieved an Africanist revaluation of the Garifuna culture in La Ceiba, a city with a particular racial history and a different meaning from other urban populations on the Caribbean coast of Honduras. In this context, Meléndez studied the rich ethnographic heritage conserved by the elderly Garifuna, who would provide the choreographic foundations for the dances for which it is now internationally recognized. By 1977 Meléndez had managed to integrate its cultural projects with private initiatives promoted by state agencies as part of a new nationalist cultural policy. The Ministry of Culture and Tourism of Honduras-founded in 1975-began funding the Honduran national Garifuna Ballet, which made its first presentation abroad in 1983. During the 1990s, Crisanto Meléndez published several works on the Garifuna culture and its roots, not only from San Vicente, but from Africa itself. Through his writings and publications he became the main spokesman of the Garifuna intellectuality both in Honduras and abroad. Currently, Crisanto Meléndez continues to lead the Honduran National Garifuna Ballet and also chairs the Tegucigalpa-based Garinagu culture center dedicated to vindicating the Garifuna culture. 

DANNY DIALLO HINDS

Danny Diallo Hinds artistic career began with the Yoruba Foundation in Barbados 1975, his teaching career began with the Barbados Dance Theatre in 1978, and as a Cultural Arts Specialist and consultant Danny Hinds has taught Pre-K to tertiary both in the Caribbean and in the USA. In 1982 while attending and teaching at an American Contemporary Dance Teachers Certification Course in Haiti, Diallo received an opportunity to further his studies with the Late Katherine Dunham at the Katherine Dunham Performing Arts Center at Edwardsville, Southern Illinois University, Illinois. 1982-84. After moving to Chicago Illinois in 1988, Diallo has worked as Assistant Director with Najwa Dance Corps, and Christian Community Services, he also worked as Social Reform Arts Consultant with Bobby E. Wright Mental Health Foundation, and Dance Education teacher with Northwestern University and the University of Chicago, Illinois. In 1990, Diallo founded and directed Sundance Production School of Dance and Performing Arts, Chicago Illinois, then in 1999 Diallo was invited to serve as Cultural Arts Director and Teacher with ACETI at ACECC for the Kansas City School District. In 2002 Diallo was invited to assist in the growth and development of Dance as a means of Educational development in the Caribbean Island of Barbados, where he served as Cultural Arts Officer for Dance with the National Cultural Foundation. At present Diallo is Cultural Arts Director and Teacher with ACCPA K-8 for the Kansas City School District, KCMO, Diallo is also founder and director of Art In Motion Blkdance School of Dance Kansas City, Missouri. Diallo has a mission to produce cultural and artistic experiences for children, teens, and adults in an effort to promote creativity, performance skills, awareness, understanding and appreciation for the arts as a means of education and cultural development. 

TRACIE JACKSON (Intuitive African Dance and Drum Culture)

Founded by Tracie Jackson and Mechelle Smith, the Intuitive African Dance and Drum Culture was created to preserve and cultivate the art and spirit of West African dance, drum and culture and its transitions through education and performance. Transplants to Houston from New Orleans, Louisiana, Tracie and Mechelle have, individually and collectively, over twenty years of West African (including Senegalese, Guinea), Afro-Cuban and Afro-Haitian dance performance experience.  Tracie and Mechelle both or independently have performed with Wonlande Dance and Drum Company of Houston Texas, directed by Mohammad Diaby; Kuummba House, Houston, Texas, directed by Dr. Lendi Yeni; N’Kafu of New Orleans, directed by Ms. Mariama Curry; Tekrema Arts and Dance Center of New Orleans, Louisiana, directed by Greer Mendy and Kumbuka African Dance and Drum Collective, New Orleans, Louisiana, directed by Ausetua AmorAmenkhu.

TONY PARANA

Brazilian Artist, professional musician, and capoeirista, Tony Parana’s music knowledge was shaped primarily in the streets of Bahia – the epicenter of Afro-Brazilian music and dance, and in the giant cultural metropolis of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. Samba, candomblé, maracutu, maculêlê, where among the many rhythms he learned first-hand from the masters found in these cities as these traditional celebrations continue to be passed on from generation to generation. This ‘street conservatory’ shaped his passion for music and dance, making him the musician he is today. In 2002 he moved to the US resulting in performances from the Latin Grammys with John Legend to the American Folk Festival in Montana to Dance Africa in Denver to Jones Hall in Houston. Living in New Mexico, California and now Texas, his engagement in the Brazilian community, and larger art & music scene, has always been one of positive impact. Tony is passionate about continuously involving himself in cultural projects that bring people together and strengthen communities. Establishing deeper roots in Houston since 2007, he has been instrumental in the advancement of many disciplines and founded the Montrose Arts Society Artists (MASA), which hosts showcases for artists, and presents programs at schools and in the community. Through his work with the Brazilian Arts Foundation team (Houston) he taught music, Brazilian rhythms variations (samba, samba de roda, samba-reggae, and others), was a percussion leader in the organization’s band, performing around the city at venues such as Jones Hall, Discovery Green, Jones Plaza, Houston Latin Festival, Houston Brazilian Festival, International Festival and several more. Paraná first began his journey in Capoeira 12 years ago, and today he leads his own capoeira projects in Houston as a Graduado of Capoeira Luanda in Houston. Tony maintains an active artistic calendar that includes live performances, visual arts exhibitions, and regular trips to his native Brazil, which keep him connected and up-to-date with the new developments in the culture’s artistic expressions.  

JORGE ORTA ‘CRO CRO’

Venezuela percussionist, Jorge is a former member of the legendary Grupo Niche. He has performed with some of Latin music’s legendary and upcoming stars, among them: Celia Cruz, Pete “Conde” Rodríguez, Mimi Ibarra, Viti Ruíz, Ismael Miranda, Lefty Perez, Henry Fiol, Luis Felipe Gonzáles, Maelo, Kim de los Santos, Paquito Guzmán, José Bello, Wichie Camacho, and others. World tours include countries such as Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Panamá, Costa Rica, Guatemala, El Salvador, Mexico, Italy, Spain, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland, United Kingdom, France, Africa, Aruba, Curacao, and the U.S. Currently, he is working of his well received CD Capitan de mi Barco with his band’s, Tumbaká. He serves as music director for the upcoming Salsa y Salud and Festival del Sabor.

ROYLAND LOBATO

Royland Lobato is a professional dancer with an expertise in Afro-Cuban folkloric and Cuban popular dance. A graduate of the Escuela de Instructors de Arte de la Ciudad de La Habana (School of Arts Instructors in Havana) with a degree in Dance Education, Royland has participated as a principal instructor and performer in dance festivals all over the US, Cuba, and Mexico. Originally from Guantanamo, Cuba, Royland is a founding member of the Havana-based dance company, 7 Potencias, an Afro-Cuban Folkloric dance and music ensemble that is considered one of the most creative and acclaimed Cuban folkloric ensembles both in Cuba and internationally. Presently, Royland is proud to call the Bay Area his home as he teaches his Cuban heritage to students through his weekly classes, workshops and demonstrations. He is also one of the few instructors to incorporate live music into his teachings.

LUANA MEIRELES DA SILVA

Brazilian artist and trauma-healing therapist based in Houston, TX, is originally from the city of Brasilia, where she grew up dancing and performing. Formal training was done in classical ballet for 7 years but remaining close and involved in the roots of her native Brazil led to an even deeper immerision in Brazilian rhythms such as samba and others. After moving to the United States of America as a teenager, she became one of the founding members of the United States’ first-ever Afro-Bloco (samba reggae) Group in Washington, DC - Batalá. Through this experience, Luana began to flourish as a musician, too which complemented her knowledge as a dancer. When she moved to Houston in 2010, she then became involved with a local Brazilian cultural organization, the Brazilian Arts Foundation (www.brazilianarts.org), as a member of the performance group. There, she continued to expand her dance and musical repertoire by taking master classes and workshops from world renowned Brazilian Masters in dance and music, focusing primarily on traditional Brazilian arts forms, such as Samba de Roda, Maracatú, Afoxé, Afro-Brazilian, and Capoeira. She taught dance classes at the organization for several years. Today, Luana continues to practice Capoeira and is the Musical Director of the percussion band Batalá in Houston (www.batalahouston.com). Through her training in somatic approaches to trauma resolution, she wishes to create a class dynamic that fosters grounding, connection to inner felt sense and embodiment through movement. Luana is grateful to all those who have shared their talent, passion, and knowledge with her throughout the years. She is honored and grateful for the opportunity to teach at the Afro-Latin Dance Fest, this her fifth time in the festival’s 6 year history. 

REINALDO COSTA 

A graduate of the Alejo Campentier School of Dance, dance was an integral part of his academic formation. Following elementary ballet, he continued studies at the Escuela de Espectáculos Musicales for three years where he focused on dance technique and performing. That period was the path that led to being admitted to Cuba's Tropicana 'little school', an intensive immersion to the company's style and performing vocabulary. Upon graduating from this program, he was admitted in 2011 to the professional company, fulfilling a life-long dream of performing on one of the world's most popular stages and with some of Cuba's most prominent artists. This success led to relocating to Mexico with the 'Cubáname Company' in the role of soloist with tours throughout the country from Mexico City to Guadalajara to Jalisco  to Puerto Vallarta, and others. Today, he resides in Houston and has quickly become a sought after dancer, choreographer and teacher.

RAUL ORLANDO EDWARDS

Panamanian native, recipient of a Certificate of Congressional Recognition, a Jefferson Award, and official recognition from four consecutive City of Houston’s Mayors, Raúl continues to use the arts to positively impact communities. His music studies began at Conservatorio Nacional de Panamá and continued in the USA where he earned a B.A. in Music. After establishing residence in Houston, Texas, he soon joined the arts scene in the role of singer, dancer, teacher, administrator, and producer of programs. A highly creative individual, he sought ways to effectively showcase the richness and the many influences Latin culture contains; with that vision, he established FLAMART in 2006. In 2008 Foundation for Modern Music (FMM) extended him and FLAMART an invitation to operate under its non-profit status, and in the spring of 2009, FMM appointed Raúl as its Artistic Director. In his first two years at FMM, he led the organization to become an internationally recognized entity, growing annual program attendance from a few hundreds to over 8,000. He is also the founder and director of the first established salsa dance studio in Houston, Strictly Street Salsa (1998), which in collaboration with FLAMART and FMM launched Salsa y Salud, the country’s first full salsa/health initiative program (September 2011), Navidad Latina (2011), El Festival de la Salsa (November 2012), the Afro-Latin Festival (2014), and other events. Raúl’s 20+ years of artistic work have been featured in more than 25 newspaper articles and over 35 appearances on TV and radio. Artistic professional and teaching engagements include VH-1's movie The Way She Moves, the Houston Grand Opera, the Houston Ballet, Society for the Performing Arts, the Ensemble Theater, Miller Outdoor Theatre, The Hobby Center for the Performing Arts, and MECA. He has been part of over 30 civic and cultural collaborations with the City of Houston, American Heart Association, Institute of Hispanic Culture, Solero Flamenco, DANMAR, and the Houston Argentine Tango Association (HATA), and has served as a panelist for the Texas Commission on the Arts and the Houston Arts Alliance.

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