Ricky Martin gets Beirut to let it all hang out on the dancefloor

BEIRUT: Ricky Martin has slid in the ranks of the Latino pop-star pantheon lately, landing somewhere below Marc Anthony and probably Enrique Iglesias, too. Martin, as current thinking has it, is an over-produced, questionably attired performer who coasted along the charts thanks mainly to a set of inhumanly white teeth and an improbable rack of abs.

But those who ventured to the Beirut International Exhibition and Leisure Center (BIEL) for Martin's show on Saturday night - even if they were initially motivated only by the chance to clap eyes on the Puerto Rican sensation - ended up clapping their hands a lot, too. This is proof that sex appeal is just only part of the Ricky Martin package, which managed to unite 16-year-old girls, 45-year-old men and 10-year-old boys alike in a notably wholesome good time this weekend.

Erstwhile "General Hospital" star and UNICEF ambassador Martin mixed it up for his first-ever performance in the Middle East, held at the behest of the Beiteddine Festival, weaving new numbers off his 2005 album "Life" with his (sort of) time-tested hits, including "She's All I've Ever Had" and "Livin' La Vida Loca."

With two giant screens on either side of the stage tracking the star's every move, even fans in the back rows were treated to an up-close view of his dance repertoire, which drew simultaneously on salsa, flamenco, breakdancing, and - in keeping with the performer's between-song inspirational monologue - yoga.

"This is the moment when we forget all the problems in life, we are here to fly, we are here to have a good time, to dance," Martin said to growing cheers. "That's the energy I'm talking about ... We are not here to be judged."

The Latin heartthrob kept the energy flowing for nearly two hours, with the help of some leggy back-up dancers and a band of least six instruments - depending on whether one counted the squeals of the crowd as a kind of percussion, which Martin activated at will with every thrust of his pelvis.

In one memorable segment Martin emerged from smoke and blaring sirens, in a sleeveless cotton undershirt and fireman's suspenders, and proceeded to lead the family crowd in "Drop it on Me," a happily sexual romp in which each chorus was punctuated with a pair of hip-jabs.

"Sometimes we hit the floor, dance like we never did before," Martin sang. "I'm gonna put it on you boricua style, drop it mami, drop it."

Mohammad Sarouji, 25, and Bilad Sharafeddin, 20, left BIEL elated, posters and cameras in hand. "I really liked the show, and the way the light went with the music," Sarouji said. "I like that he's very artistic on stage."

Elsewhere, six girls, all classmates at Broumana High School, were moving with skips and shrieks away from the scene of the pop throw-down. When asked if they liked Ricky, one scoffed.

"No, we don't," she said. "We are intimately in love with him." A chorus of assenting shrieks.

Did their parents mind them coming to the show alone? "My dad's in Saudi [Arabia]," said one. "My mom thinks he's hot," said another.

The love Saturday night flowed both ways.

"I come to this beautiful land," Martin said, "and I realize this land is full of winners, without a doubt."





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