World Arts West
SF Ethnic Dance Festival


Arenas Dance Company

GENRE: African Cuban Folkloric (Lucumí)
COSTUME DESIGN: Adriene-Amadìs Harrison
First Appearance in SF EDF: 2006

At the confluence of the Caribbean Sea, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Atlantic Ocean, lies the relaxed yet spirited subtropical island of Cuba, the largest island in the Caribbean. Cuba’s culture is a mix of African, Spanish, and indigenous traditions that blended together to produce unique forms of language, religion, music, and dance.

The slave trade brought many Africans to Cuba, and while they belonged to various ethnic groups, a majority were Yoruba, from the region now called Nigeria. The traditions so vital to Yoruba life were carried on and mixed with Spanish and native influences on the island, resulting in an Afro-Cuban religious practice known as Lucumi, derived from Yoruba's traditional religion Ifa. Lucumi, meaning “my friend,” became known as Santería (way of the saints), which was the term originally used by the Spanish colonizers to mock the African’s seemingly exaggerated worship of saints. During Lucumi ceremonies, the dances, songs, and rhythms honor spiritual deities known as orishas, which represent different natural phenomena. In order to maintain their own beliefs in the new context of Spanish-ruled Cuba, devotees disguised their faith in the form of Catholicism, often linking their orishas to specific Catholic saints. Thus, their original traditions were transformed into something unique and new. By the late 1950’s, the music and dance associated with these traditions became recognized as a national treasure and promoted internationally as Afro-Cuban folkloric dance, with national dance troupes and schools re-interpreting, re-choreographing, and adapting the rituals to modern stages.

Artistic Director Susana Arenas Pedroso, began her dance career at age twelve, studying and later performing with leading dance companies in Cuba for fifteen years. In 2004, she merged two former companies (Olorun and Sandunga Cubana) into Arenas Dance Company, with a commitment to sharing Cuban culture in an accessible form for a wide audience.


TITLE: Oya: The Female Warrior/Oya: La Mujer Guerrera
COSTUME DESIGN: Adriene-Amadìs Harrison
SOLOIST: Susana Arenas Pedroso
DANCERS: Stella Adelman, Carmen Aguirre, Isabel Estrada Jaminson, Jasmine Holsten, Monica McDuffie, Christina Navarro, Cynthia Renta, Kristin Sague, Morgan Simon, Mitzi Ulloa
MUSICIANS: Colin Douglas (bata), Vanessa Lindberg (singer - coro), Matt Lucas (bata), Michelle Martin (singer - coro), Andy Ryan (bata), Carol Steel (singer - akpon)

Arenas Dance Company presents a new staging of Oya: the Female Warrior, based on the orisha Oya, who is identified with wind, lightning, rainbows, fire, tornadoes, hurricanes, and the marketplace. Oya is a warrior, whose strength is said to be equal to or greater than that of a man’s in battle. She is often referred to as the one who "puts on pants to go to war," rides into combat on a horse, and is associated with change and righteous anger. She is connected with the nine tributaries of the Niger River, and she is synchronized with the Catholic saint, St. Teresa, and Our Lady of Candelaria.

Oya’s costume, a multi-colored skirt, represents the colors of the rainbow. The dancers hold irukes, or horsetails, to whip up the air, creating the energy of storms. The swirling movement of the skirts and undulations of the torso also reflect her connection to whirlwinds and tornadoes.


TITLE OF PIECE: Las Dos Aguas-The Two Waters
COSTUME DESIGN: Adriene-Amadìs Harrison, SOLOIST COSTUME DESIGN: Lourdes Almaguer
NARRATOR: Lisa Frias SOLOISTS: Yemaya: Susana Arenas Pedroso, Oshun: Isabel Estrada-Jameson
DANCERS: Oshun: Carmen Aguirre, Jasmine Holsten, Traci Stovel, Mitzi Ulloa, Tammy Webb, Yemaya: Cora Barnes, Tanicia Bell, Adriene-Amadìs Harrison, Rufina Jones, Vân Minh Ņguyễn, Parousha Zand
MUSICIANS: Jesus Diaz, Colin Douglas, Mathew Lucas, Andrew Ryan, Michael Spiro, Coro: Vanessa Lindberg, Morgan Simon, Carol Steele

In the 2006 Festival, Arenas Dance Company presents Las Dos Aguas – The Two Waters, which depicts characteristics and qualities of two strong female orishas of water. Yemaya represents maternity, the salty water of the ocean, and she is associated with the colors blue and white and the Catholic Virgin of the Rule (Virgin de la Regla). Oshun, depicted in yellow and gold, symbolizes fertility, joy, the sweet water of the river, and is linked to Cuba’s patron saint, the Virgin of Charity (Virgin de la Caridad del Cobre). Everything in life starts with water; as the river runs into the ocean, salty and sweet mix, mother and daughter intertwine; maternity and love weave in and out of each other.

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