From the Barrio to the Barre : Angel Ferreira uses his works to make a positive statement

A word to all you vatos out in pachucoland. It is time to wake up and realize the greatness of your culture!

--"Wet Jam” video

Dark-doe-eyed, feline Angel Ferreira stretches his 6-foot-2 frame across the floor of his Hollywood apartment as he shows his new video.

On screen, Ferreira’s pony-tailed silhouette glides languorously into view. A full moon hovers as he turns, extends his arm, tips his head and rolls a bowler hat neatly into his grasp.


“I learned that trick from an old vaudevillian on the subway,” explains this East Los Angeles-raised dancer/choreographer. “He needed money and tipped his hat and it just fell right in front of me when he asked for change. I said I’d give him a 10-spot if he’d teach me the trick.”

That was during Ferreira’s New York years when he studied on scholarship at the Joffrey Ballet School. But he had first trained at the Lichine Ballet Academy in Beverly Hills.

Tanya Lichine (a.k.a. the great Ballets Russe baby ballerina, Tatiana Riabouchinska) echoes the sentiments of many when she calls Ferreira “wonderfully talented.” And choreographer Jeffrey Hornaday, who cast Ferreira in the movie “A Chorus Line” and on a world tour as Madonna’s principal dancer, praises him as an artist “who doesn’t just become a device you put your (choreographer’s) voice into.”

“He’s an interpreter,” Hornaday explains. “It’s more like working with an actor than imposing steps on a dancer. He’s a specialist, not the kind of guy to put in a line, but someone who’d star in a show.”


Now back in L.A., Ferreira has choreographed videos for Johnny Hates Jazz, Pretty Poison and others. He also directed and choreographed the just-released video for his own first single, “Wet Jam.”

Cut from the slo-mo, filmic opening of “Wet Jam” to Ferreira rapping in front of an 18th Street gang logo. The contrast is literally night and day. But as he’ll tell you, it’s all about using familiar symbols to get the attention of people who might not otherwise pay attention.

“The suit that I’m wearing is a zoot suit, but it’s not the old kind.” Ferreira says of his video-garb. “It’s a new stylized version. It happens to stem from a negative social culture: gangland and gang warfare. But I’m not trying to glamorize that.

“Instead of me shooting up cars, people see me dance and have women around me--which is a lot more positive. Moving up in society: That’s what the message is.”

“Unfortunately (gangs are) a way of life with Hispanic culture in Los Angeles, but it’s a way that has to change for the positive and there has to be someone to set that example,” he continues. “Some guys might think it’s cool, but then they’ll see that what I’m doing in front of the 18th Street logo is not hanging out gang-banging.”

And at the end of the hip, urban jaunt that nods to such film classics as “Singin’ in the Rain,” there’s a message from Ferreira to the homeboys/girls, exhorting them to make something of themselves.

“I don’t have to say where I come from,” Ferreira offers. “It doesn’t really matter. That (coda) says it. It’s a message to the people who really need to hear it. It says this is something you can relate to: Pachucoland, low riders, meaning ghetto-land, wake up and excel. There’s got to be cool examples that inspire you to go for it.”

Ferreira’s home-turf scenario may sound similar to Michael Jackson’s gang fictions, but the visual styles of the two artists are entirely different. More important, Ferreira insists his work has an underlying verity absent from Jackson’s depictions.


“I am from the ghetto,” Ferreira stresses. “Jackson is not in touch with that. He was only there until he was 6, but I was there until I was 17. That’s why you can’t relate to his (videos) the same way. I did these things. The difference is I’m documenting reality, not making up a story.”

Ferreira also knows you can’t go home again to that reality. “I don’t go (back to East L.A.) lately because it’s depressing,” he admits. “The neighborhood has changed so much. People have died or overdosed on drugs or they’re in jail or have moved on to work at Burger King. It’s especially bad to see people giving up when you’ve got a culture like the Latin culture that’s so rich.”

Yet despite his belief that others can make it out of East L.A., Ferreira recalls the prejudices along the way. “I definitely look ethnic, meaning minority, and people do treat you differently,” he says.

“Unfortunately, there’s always those subliminal undertones (of discrimination), and if you’re very perceptive you feel the vibe from other people. Your esteem starts becoming strong or flimsy, and either you start losing that character or you start developing it.

“I didn’t like (the prejudice), so I challenged it constantly. I saw it in (dance) opportunities, who was first in line, simple things in class, at auditions. . . .

“Who sees a Latin prince? You want to see an Aryan prince in the ballet. The model is Baryshnikov.

“As a dancer, you’re trained to be a follower,” he laments. “You excel by not talking back and doing as you’re told. I have more dimension than that. Dancers say that you can be so free within the choreography, but you can be a lot freer if the choreography is yours.”

Now Ferreira is also being sought as a cultural consultant on commercial and video projects, although he still feels there’s some hesitation about using him in front or behind the scenes for mainstream ventures. “They want to use me to help with the Hispanic background, but they’re still scared (of my look),” he explains.


His trek from the barrio to the barre has also meant a certain irony to Ferreira. “I never used the Latin thing,” he admits, referring to the hype of Latino culture over the past few years. “I’m glad that people like the Latin culture and are beginning to see the influence it has, but I’ve been Latin all my life and I’ve always been proud of it.”