Photo: Pumla Kalipa. The Mexican ensemble Jarana Beat performs at the sixth annual Stage Garden Rumba at Pregones Theater on July 23.

Stage Garden Rumba returns

Sweetness was on tap in Melrose for an eagerly anticipated, in-person opening with a them of “Bronx Bees and Honey” theme.

Pregones/Puerto Rican Traveling Theater and Nos Quedamos are collaborating for the multidisciplinary performance Stage Rumba series, an annual South Bronx stalwart, which kicked off its sixth summer season on Saturday. The sweltering afternoon heat almost matched the sizzling hot performances, vibrant music, dance, activism and art.

More than a hundred familiar and new faces walked into Pregones’ intimate green space outside their theater at 575 Walton Avenue, and huddled together under shade for the thought-provoking performances.

“We’re really excited to be back in-person, and today’s topics have been around wellness and around environment,” said Pregones’ managing director, Arnaldo J. López. “But we didn’t limit it to that. We also call on activists to try and make sure that we’re listening to what’s happening right now. For example we’ve had folks talk about health and COVID, displacement and gentrification, as a result of developments that anybody can see has finally arrived.”

The opening event’s performances featured musicians such as Honduras-born poet, rapper and DJ, DeLaCeiba who hails from Los Angeles; vocalist Nina Dilet, who enfuses her sound with Yoruba sacred song and Afro-Caribbean inspired dance, accompanying poetry from an award-winning performing poet known as Advocate of Words.

Pregones’ spoken word artist, poet and ensemble player and seasoned MC Caridad De La Luz brought the performers on and off stage, and kept the creative flow going between performers and the audience.

“People don’t really know the Bronx for their green spaces,” De La Luz said. “The fact that we do these performances highlighting the green spaces and having a green Bronx as a backdrop is so important.”

Photo: Pumla Kalipa. Taking in the performances at the Stage Garden Rumba.

Right next door to the performance venue, a building that served as an indoor cooling station during the stifling heat wave welcomed guests and performers seeking shelter from the blazing sun, with snacks and cold drinks. The makeshift shelter became a happening place of its own, as artists and guests networked—-some for the first time since the pandemic forced performances to stream online. Inspired by those two years of remote performance and interpersonal isolation, this year’s series will also feature hybrid viewing performances so those preferring not to mingle can catch the acts streamed online and broadcast on cable TV.

All performances will start at 2:00pm-5:30 pm from July 23 – October 15 and will be free to the public.