Robbi Kenney is a world class violinist with a producer’s knack for putting talented people together to create something spectacular and unexpected. Her latest project is Strings and Salsa
, a performance that blurs the lines between music and dance styles, and even between performers and audience. The show is Fri. Nov. 21 at 8 p.m. at the Charleston Music Hall, and tickets are $20.
The ensemble includes five classically-trained string players, six Cuban jazz musicians, three singers and two dancers plus surprise appearance by a break dance crew). The project has gained momentum since its first performance last spring, which found audience members jumping out of their seats to dance with the performers.
Kenney has shared the stage with greats like Michael Bublé, Sarah McLaughlan, Elise Testone, George Benson, Yo Yo Ma, and Nestor Torres, but wasn't until Strings and Salsa
that the music she plays and arranges shared top billing with salsa dancing. “People came to me after [the first performance of Strings and Salsa
] to say how happy they had been after the show," Kenney says. "Listening and moving and connecting to one another transforms it into a much bigger experience than the sum of its parts.”
Kenney knew it was the dancers, local salseros Georgia Schrubbe and La Quinn Mims, who really added fuel to the fire. "The dancers are integral to the show,” says Kenney. “When we added them to what we were creating musically, it became something entirely new.”
The two dancers are passionate about what they do and together they have an vibrant chemistry. “Latin music is infectious," says Schrubbe. "You can't hear it and not smile, and not want to get up and dance. In my 16-plus years of dancing and performing, I've never been in a show like this before. We shatter the fourth wall between the audience and performers."
Schrubbe grew up studying ballet in Mobile, Alabama and was, she says, addicted to ballet. Along the way, however, she fell into salsa and that addiction transferred from one form to the other. “Salsa is such a contrast to ballet. You're not striving for a certain aesthetic — my sister and I always joke that the gorgeous women in salsa definitely don't miss meals. I struggled with eating disorders when I was in the ballet world, and salsa embraces women in all their sexy, curvaceous glory,” Schrubbe says.
La Quinn Mims first experienced dancing while deployed in Iraq as part of his seven-year career in the military. “There was a morale-building event which taught the soldiers how to salsa, and I was immediately hooked,” he says. From there he began learning from anyone who would teach him, and today is an avid dancer and instructor. He offers classes at several local studios.
For this production in particular, Kenney has been emotionally moved by the music she is playing and knows the dancers are so essential to the project. “When people play great music for me sincerely from their hearts,” Kenney says, “I am moved and generally feel a lightness of spirit. I feel like dancing. I feel gratitude. I want audience members to experience this type of direct response to our music right there in the moment that it is happening.”