dance: Gift of Love 

The Latin Ballet presents a Mexican holiday tradition of song and dance.

Resolutions for a fresh start have already been poured with the champagne. For some, however, the holidays have not ended, not until this weekend, that is, the day of the Epiphany, which marks the end of a month-long period celebrating the arrival at Bethlehem of the three kings carrying gifts to the newly born Jesus. The Latin Ballet of Virginia honors this and related stories in the musical and dance production, "The Legend of the Poinsettia," showing for one night only Jan. 5 at the Carpenter Center. This fanciful holiday production is as traditional in Latin America as "The Nutcracker" is in the United States.

Latin Ballet Director Ana Inez King, always keen to share the culture of Latin America, focuses on the Mexican story of a little girl who is too poor to offer any gifts to the baby Jesus on Christmas Eve. A handful of weeds is all she can provide, until by magic, they are transformed into crimson poinsettia flowers. Through the change, she learns about the value of heartfelt giving.

The high-spirited King is particularly moved by the sincerity of the destitute girl, whom she sees as embodying the spirit of the season. "Many think about buying the biggest or most expensive gift, but really, the best you can give is love," says King. "That's what this little girl offers."

Las Novenas, the nine-day period leading up to Christmas, also weaves into the production. As part of this tradition, practiced in places like Columbia and Venezuela, townspeople walk house to house, knocking on doors and once invited in, share songs and dance. "It's so much fun," says King. "Even if you have no musical instruments, people bring out kitchen pots, and everyone dances like crazy."

Like previous family-oriented Latin Ballet productions, "The Legend of the Poinsettia" is a colorful and festive display of Latin songs and dances. Guest artist Rossana Barragan joins the ensemble of 28 from the Latin Ballet. Sopranos Audra Harvey and Jennifer Nolte, and tenor Jeff Groom offer their voices to Spanish songs. Kevin Davis and the Ban Caribe Ensemble, composer Marc Langelier, and guitarists David and Kathy Robinson provide live music.

For those who want to extend the festivities of the season, "The Legend of the Poinsettia" offers just that opportunity. At the same time, it provides vibrant glimpses into traditions lesser known in North America. S

The Latin Ballet of Virginia's "The Legend of the Poinsettia" will take place Jan. 5 at 5 p.m. at the Carpenter Center. Tickets cost $18-$25, call 261-8100.



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