After she got married in the early 1990s, flamenco dancer Eva Lucena left New York and moved to New Jersey. Two of her friends and fellow artists, dancer Gisele Assi and singer David Castellano, soon followed her across the Hudson.
“All of a sudden we found we were a Jersey-based dance company,” Lucena says, still sounding surprised.
Lucena had been dancing with Maria Alba in New York. But after Alba’s death, she decided to reorganize and form a company in her new home state. Twenty years later, the Alborada Spanish Dance Theatre, based in Fords, has become a fixture of the cultural scene in Middlesex County. The troupe will celebrate its 20th anniversary there, Friday at 7:30 p.m., performing at the Crossroads Theatre in New Brunswick.
The program will be “a kaleidoscope,” Lucena says, offering a three-part retrospective of some of Alborada’s greatest hits over the years. It begins with classical Spanish dance, including a lively, castanet-clacking excerpt from the zarzuela “La Boda de Luis Alonso”; the stamping number called “Zapateado,” which Lucena describes as the backbone of Alborada’s repertoire; and the lilting “Clavelitos,” sung and danced to an old waltz tune.
After this sentimental opening, the company will plunge into the drama of “The Sephardic Connection.” Created in 2006, this cross-cultural epic recalls the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492 and features songs sung in Ladino and Hebrew. Lucena will take the principal role of La Petenera in Friday’s excerpt, “being that I’m a very dramatic person,” she says.
The tone of the program lightens again in the second half, when Alborada returns to its roots in flamenco. Here, several company members will have a chance to shine. Chavela will reprise her number “Garrotín,” which was part of Alborada’s first performance in New Jersey, at the refurbished high school auditorium in Plainsboro. (Guitarist Arturo Martínez, another veteran of that performance, will also be on hand.) Assi and Ricky Santiago will perform their duet “Tientos” and Assi will dance the lead in “Soleá,” which Lucena describes as the most forward-looking number on the program, incorporating contemporary influences. Displaying her gift for comedy, Lucena will join Lisa Botalico in the “Tango de Chufla,” wherein an egomaniacal dance student drives her teacher to distraction.
The event concludes with a tribute to Lucena’s inspiration, the late Maria Alba, reprising her choreography for shawls and fans.
In addition to performing regularly, Alborada contributes to the local community through its educational outreach activities and through Lucena’s work as a teacher. Some of her prized pupils will take the stage on Friday, including Krystina Cardenas, from Fords, who is now a full member of Alborada.
“I’ve been her teacher since she was 11 years old,” Lucena says proudly, noting that “whatever you throw at her, she can do. She’s just an all-around wonderful dancer.”
Mentioning company apprentices Rene Ybarbo and Jackie Gesumaria, Lucena adds: “They’re the future.”
Despite loyal support from the Middlesex County Cultural and Heritage Commission, which funded Alborada from the get-go, keeping a dance company alive for 20 years is no minor accomplishment.
“I’m cheerful, but at the same time I’m fighting for more funds, because we need help,” Lucena says. Still, she adds, “We found a niche for ourselves in New Jersey and we’re doing well. We’re successful.”
The Crossroads Theatre is located at 7 Livingston Ave. in New Brunswick; visit brownpapertickets.com or call (800) 838-3006.
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