Ana Ines King celebrates the lively spirit of Spanish and Latin American cultures through the Latin Ballet of Virginia. 

Mambo Queen

"One day there will be no borders, no boundaries, no flags and no countries and the only passport will be the heart."

This quote from Carlos Santana, one of the musicians featured in the Latin Ballet of Virginia's "Alma Latina," reveals the soulful nature of its performance. "Alma Latina" continues the company's mission to promote understanding of Spanish and Latin American culture, and to celebrate its distinctively lively spirit through dance, music and poetry. Performances are for three days, March 9-11, at the Cultural Arts Center at Glen Allen.

Artistic director Ana Ines King founded the company in 1997 when, as a teacher, she realized that little history of South America was being taught in area schools. The Latin Ballet of Virginia was created to fill that hole. The slogan for the ballet, "a passion for dance, the love for life," fits King well, as she is as animated and high-spirited as the music and dance she promotes.

King teaches daily classes at the cultural arts center, in addition to orchestrating the ballet's current show. Her summer classes at Virginia Commonwealth University are always packed. "Latin music is happy and joyous," she explains. "My classes are like a party."

If last year's production, "Amoramerica," is any indication, "Alma Latina" will likely exhibit a similar gusto, with brightly colored costumes and vibrant, upbeat music and dance. The work begins in the 1800s with "El Mercado," which portrays a group of merchants "who love to have a good time." From here, the work hops through the years to the present, relying on flamenco, salsa, reggae, mambo and more. Each of the eight pieces tells a section of Hispanic history. For instance, "All Right" captures the protests and anger of the Jamaican people as they struggle for national identity.

A special tribute is given to musician Bob Marley, who developed reggae and ensured Jamaica its own distinctive music. Two poems by Spanish poet Garcia Lorca, "Bodas de Sangre" and "Yerma," inspired the piece "A Lorca," for which visiting guest artist Adam LaVier from New York will dance flamenco. An entire piece is devoted to Santana, one of the first Hispanic musicians to have hits on pop music charts. An homage also goes to the late Tito Puente who, King says, "is much more popular in South America than here." Her admiration is obvious: "There is perhaps one way that best describes him: the greatest," she says.

Though King draws from such well-known cultural icons as Marley and Lorca, she embraces local talent as well. Ban Caribe and Kevin Davis will supply live music in the final piece. Richmond Ballet dancer Pedro Szalay offers his exuberance, and Will Sterling, previously of Richmond Ballet, also lends his talent. Altogether, the production includes 10 professional dancers and eight children, many of whom King teaches at the arts center.

King is aiming for a "casual" show, with performers switching costumes on stage. "I want it to appear natural, not so formal — more like in a dress rehearsal," she says. "Things are not so perfect, but sometimes that is the best." Festive may be a better word, with the stage abundant in fruits, flowers, coffee and hammocks, and continuous rhythmic dancing.

This show marks King's first shot at writing lyrics, one of many roles in addition to artistic director, choreographer, dancer, fund-raising assistant and others that keep her busy. She admits that "sometimes I need five Anas." But she does not let the amount of work get in the way. "I am happy because I love what I do, and it is for a great cause," she says. The Latin Ballet of Virginia, is not, however, a solo enterprise. It includes a management staff that helped secure sponsorship from Philip Morris, Capital One, Dominion Resources, Wolff-Fording & Company and Roundtree's Luggage. With costs totaling $15,000 — a significant amount of money, though not much compared to most professional productions which run in the tens of thousands of dollars — sponsorship is vital.

King's hope in creating the Latin Ballet is to "spread the joy and happiness through the beauty of dance." Born in Columbia, King sees the dance company as one way to retain ties to her past. But more than nostalgic reflection, her passion for her art is readily apparent. When she pairs with her dance partners, a smile is never far from her face, and delight shows with every abrupt turn, long glance and stomp of her

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