MODESTO -- Tango Del Cielo conveys the passion of Spain and Latin America through music and dance.
The Bay Area group kicks off the Modesto Community Concert Association's 62nd annual concert series Sept. 14 with a performance at the Gallo Center for the Arts in Modesto.
Founded by harpist Anna Maria Mendieta, who also performs with the Sacramento Philharmonic, the ensemble combines harp, strings, percussion, tango and flamenco dance, and film. She promised a program full of surprises.
"Our concert-show is truly the only one of its kind in the world," she said in an e-mail interview.
The program explores different dance rhythms and how everything is connected in a fusion of Latin styles. The show also illustrates how the music inspires the dance. "I don't want to give away the surprises, but I can say we enjoy stretching the envelope with each piece we perform, and educate the audience as we do it."
Mendieta comes from a musical family, where most members are involved in the performing arts. Her sister Suzanne performs flamenco in the show and her brother Bill created the film. Her great-grandfather was a conductor in Mexico, her great uncle was a concert pianist in South America and her great aunt danced the tango with silent film star Rudolph Valentino.
Mendieta became interested in tango when she a mesmerizing performance of "Forever Tango." She decided to adapt tango composer Astor Piazzolla's music for harp and decided to learn the dance so she could understand the music better.
"It was such an eye-opening and liberating experience," she said. "You can't have one without the other."
Mendieta was struck by the beauty of the tango dance. "It is very much like music in that one has to listen to the other very carefully and be so sensitive to every thought and direction, and be present in the moment," she said.
She also studied flamenco dance, which she said was more complex than any other dance she has tried, including ballet, tap, ballroom and folk dance. "It incorporated a strict posture, similar to what's needed in ballet, but while leaning backward in an extreme manner," she said. "The rhythms of the castanets were totally different than the rhythms of the feet."
She decided to leave the dancing to others and concentrate on the harp. Her group's name, which means "Tango From Heaven," is a nod to the heavenly quality of the harp. "Also, I wanted to be sure to present a wholesome vision of tango that is appropriate for all ages."
Mendieta is proud of the members of Tango Del Cielo, who include performers in symphony orchestras, choral ensembles, dance groups and world music bands. "I am very happy to be performing with such fantastic artists," she said. "They are performers of the highest caliber."
WHAT: Tango Del Cielo
WHEN: 7 p.m., Sept. 14
WHERE: Rogers Theater, Gallo Center for the Arts, 1000 I St., Modesto
CALL: (209) 338-2100