Shouts of “Onda, Onda!” rung through Iron Gate Theater as Onda Latina, Penn’s premier Latin dance troupe, presented the fall semester’s installment of their bi–annual showcase this past weekend. Onda Latina—affectionately dubbed “Onda” by troupe and audience members—has been performing  since 1996.  Founded entirely by students, the group's name translates to “Latin Wave” in English.

The audience's energy was palpable upon entrance: Friends brandished signs bearing dancers’ faces and supportive slogans, alumni chanted for current performers far before the lights went down, and guests still in line chattered and spilled out of the entryway. 

Photo: Sally Chen

As the lights began to dim and the crowd cheered eagerly, a scene from Jaws was projected onto the screen onstage. Just as a surfer was pulled off of his board and into the shark’s mouth, the image was replaced with rolling credits detailing choreographers and performers, and the opening number began. For each number, there was a central movie upon which the choreography and style was based—giving us the title of the performance, "Onda Latina: In Theaters Now."

The choice to anchor each piece with a movie—and the accompanying intricacies of plot, theme, and mood—was a risky one. Onda, however, pulled off a thematically cohesive performance. Although the films used were vastly different, the choreography and music still complimented each film and mood perfectly.

Photo: Sally Chen Processed with VSCO with m3 preset

There were several numbers that stood out particularly in this regard. “Mean Girls: Beware of the Plastics,” skillfully illustrated Regina George’s fuchsia, bedazzled self–assurance and manipulative charm with alluring choreo and very pink costumes. The choreography clearly played an important role in crafting the theme of the dance, but it was the charisma of the dancers that truly brought the piece to life. Each performer’s lively facial expressions—and the confidence that they exuded following every clean move—animated the performance.

“Inception: Dreaming vs. Living,” was the most mesmerizing piece in the entire production—the choreography drew from the theme of dreaming to create a sensual, quintessentially Latin performance. The dancers interacted with one another with all the romance, drama, and eeriness of a dream. 

From the ultra–steaminess of “The Devil Wears Prada: Everybody Wants to Be Us” to the sweet nostalgia of “La La Land: Rise and Shine,” there wasn’t a piece that didn’t entertain. "In Theaters Now" thematically cohered around film, yet each piece was distinct from its titular movie inspiration—and this is a mark of a truly artistic body of work. 

Photo: Sally Chen Processed with VSCO with m5 preset

Beyond this, the show was a celebration of Latin culture and dance. The audience had the pleasure of interacting with the troupe—the dancers constantly played off of the energy of the attendees. The social dance during the intermission and the audience's contribution to the intensity in the theater lent the performance a personal feel. 

Despite the occasional misstep or awkward move, the dancers smiled throughout and danced through a celebratory, professional, larger–than–life show. Onda’s record of continuously sold–out shows is not without reason—they live up to their reputation.