Article and photos by Claudia Meléndez Salinas
Juan Sánchez has developed a winning formula for the Palenke summer arts showcase. Bring in the pros — the experienced Aztec dancers, the jazz musicians and the cumbiancheros — and sprinkle their performances with cute young performers showing off their dance moves and their foklórico twirls.
In the span of four hours this past Sunday, ten acts that ranged from Congolese crooner Elie Mabanza to Orquesta Rumba Café to hip hop dancers took the stage at Laguna Grande Park. It was a warm day that saw hundreds of families take in the sun and the art.
“This is the reward,” said Sánchez, looking at the crowd and the kids dancing, exhausted after countless hours of preparation for the yearly event.
After hosting Palenke’s Day of the Dead event in November, Sánchez asked me to return, this time to co-host with Garland Thompson Jr. How do you say no to the hottest ticket in town, to a man whose heart is pure gold dusted on those kids, the budding performers whose faces light up when they’re showing off their moves or belting out tunes? You can’t. I am certainly unable to.
But it’s all good, because the festival is wickedly fun. It’s a chance to see the goodness of our community come forth — not just the performers, but the families who cook for the dancers, the moms who feed the bodies and souls of those artists. The community members who set up information booths, the painters who are either creating the visual canvas or are using kiddos cheeks as tiny white boards. The view from the stage is inspiring.
But the view from below is just as good. After Calpulli Tonalehqueh performed a blessing ceremony and dance in honor of the original peoples of Monterey County — the Ohlone, Costanoan, Esselen — Mabanza took to the stage with his haunting melodies and guitar licks. The foklórico and hip-hop performances by adorable Palenke kiddos were staggered between the Paul Contos Jazz Ensemble and the Afro Cuban percussion. The day was capped with Orquesta Rumba Café, a band that, as we like to say in Spanish, tocan de todo — they play everything. Meaning cumbias, salsa, merengue, all dance music. Sánchez of course got the party going by encouraging everyone to dance. Again, I was unable to say no. With that energy, no wonder he was recently named a 2022 Champion of the Arts by the Arts Council of Monterey County.
Sánchez will be honored June 18 with a fundraiser gala at the Monterey Marriott. Other honorees include Carmel sculptor Steven Whyte; Jan Harkness, founder of Monterey County Dance Theater in King City; Visual artist Kati D’Amore; and Javier Tamayo, executive director of the Alisal Center for the Fine Arts.
But the Palenke party is not done for the summer just yet. On June 11, they will host “Speak your Truth” a poetry open mic event with featured performers Bianca Tonantzin Zamora, Porsche Veu aka The Poetic Activist, and presented by Monterey County Poet Laureate Daniel Summerhill.
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