Regio (Royal) employs contemporary dance, storytelling, and mojigangas, larger than life Mexican puppets, to uncover the experience of Latinx immigrant workers in meat factories impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The new production will be presented in different public parks and across Ithaca in May 2021. The performance will be a collaboration between me as choreographer/artistic director, two members of Lilypad Puppet Theatre, and three Latinx dancers from the community.
I am incorporating two mojigangas into the performance because of the puppets’ cultural relevance to the themes addressed in the performance. Mojigangas are large, 8 to 11 feet tall, figurines constructed from papier-mâché and cardboard. They are popular in Guanajuato, Mexico, a region with a high percentage of out-migration to the United States, and the applicant’s birth state. These puppets originated in Spain to represent nobles and royalty. They were introduced to the Americas during the colonization period. The mojigangas for this performance are going to represent workers from the factories. The design and garb will be fashioned after workers’ uniforms. The puppets will depict the factory workers as royalty, appropriating their original meaning of regality, and re-signifying it to working class immigrant.
The puppets will dance alongside three performers who will be dancing to accompanying narrations about the conditions of working in factories without the proper equipment. The stories emphasize stories about hardship, resilience, and hope. The dancers will express the physical labor that is required of these workers, as well as the precarity of their bodies in these factory plants and how they find inspiration for better conditions.
I was invited to show a work-in-progress version of this performance at the Festival of Latin American Contemporary Choreographers on November 11, 2020. I will use the feedback that I receive from this performance to develop it for its premier in Ithaca on May 21 and 23, 2021.
I feel so much joy, honor, and privilege to have co-lead the inaugural session Juntos with Liz Duran Boubion at LINES Dance Center. We attempted to create a space and time for Latino/a/x contemporary choreographers, uncovering what it means today to make art under/through/against the banner of “latinidad.” Thanks Miguel Gutiérrez, Adrian Arias, Irvin Gonzalez, Alfonso Cervera, Karla Quintero, Jocelyn Reyes, José Navarrete, Javier Stell-Fresquez, Debby Kajiyama, Rosa Rodriguez-Frazier, Gabriel Mata, and David Herrera for trusting us with your time, bodies, and work. What a treat to be in one room with so many fabulous, inspiring, funny, insightful, caring, nurturing, and relentless dance makers/poets/artists/singers/visionaries.
On Friday, three of us met in Oakland to resume the ideas that we started to develop during the FRESH Festival. I facilitated a movement and writing workshop focused on the kidney.
We explored movement initiation from the kidney. Then, we used this movement to investigate the images and mapping that arises when we focus on the kidney.
During the workshop, we drove to the East Side Arts Alliance in east Okaland to participate in a community screening of films that explain the rights that people can exercise when they interact with immigration and customs agents.
From January 22-26, 2018, I’m co-facilitating a workshop with Jose Navarrete at the Joe Goode Annex as part of a FRESH Festival workshop series.
“This workshop is an exploration of documented and undocumented bodies in motion across borders. We will center our time together on the complexities and residualities of the foreign body, considering exodus, memory, culture, and belonging. We will take a disembodied approach to foreground the felt conditions that force the body to immigrate and experience the multi dimensionalities of shapeshifting in new environments. We will consider the following concerns: How do the political, social, and economic conditions of immigrant bodies impact feelings of moving and dying across imaginary and real borders? What is the physical capacity of the body when it is blocked, obstructed, removed or impeded? How are these border-realities manifested through relationships, architecture, and public spaces? An inquiry of motion, memory, and borders facilitated by Juan Manuel Aldape and Jose Navarrete.”
January 21, 2018, we met at the cafe on Alcatraz and San Pablo to finalize our preparation for the workshop. My goal for this week to scaffold up the workshop from self to social justice, using performance to help us challenge the current anti-immigrant sentiments. The first day will be about preparing our bodies and our minds to treat other people’s stories and testimonies about immigration. The second day we will focus on other people’s stories. The subsequent days we will spend time preparing for direct action or to prepare a kit for dealing with anti-immigrant sentiments.
Here are a few images and reflections from the workshop:
I facilitated a warmup exercise that focused on the first chakra or energy center, the root chakra. This energy center is where we hold our connection to our roots and our ancestors, but it is also an energy center that can be unbalanced. When it is unbalanced it leads to fear of one’s safety. After I facilitated this part, Jose asked the participants to find a place of pain in their body and to explore the pain that can arise from that center. He wanted the examine how pain can be a source of movement and performance. He laid out images about the body that he collected from Mexico. We did this exercise for 25 minutes. The participants were able to use these for their inspiration. Then, we debriefed for 15 minutes.
On Tuesday, January 23, 2018, I wanted to focus on the second energy chakra and give attention to what can happen when this energy center is off-balance. l asked the participants to begin standing if they are able to. They held their right hand just below their belly button and their left hand on their back, asking them to explore this energy center for ten minutes, giving it different forms of attention, gentle, sped up, and pulsating. Our desire was to receive this energy center and to allow it to drive our movement as we moved through the studio and as we interact with the physical space.
On Wednesday and Thursday, I thought a lot about the aesthetics of cultural memory in performance and embodied dance practices related to social justice. I was thinking about these elements because I was captured by a couple of striking images that occurred during the structured score. At one point in time, I was looking around the room and I looked over and saw three bodies standing in front of the projection that featured the three armadillos. José was one of the people and he was trying to feed the armadillo. I knew that he could not feed the armadillo because it was just the screen projection. Also, I knew that the moment would pass when he would step away from the video. Likewise, in another moment as the score ended, a couple of the participants were on the floor and they had created different shrines or different installations that curated their experience that they had just developed. Several people had put lemons on one of the participant’s head with the lemon peel. These two moments stood out to me because they challenged me to think about how healing happens and what is the role of the aesthetics in helping us frame that trauma that we feel needs healing. Also, I was thinking about how those specific instances made me question what was part of cultural memory. Those specific instances were developed using contemporary modern dance and performance practices and they were drawing upon knowledge about energy flow and ancestral knowledge about the armadillo, as well as drawing upon information about the voice.
Cinco Palmas is a bilingual dance-theater performance that addresses child migration from Honduras to Los Angeles, written from the perspective of a circumstantial trafficker. The movement and text move across a range of emotions, from laughter to child-like curiosity to anger with corrupt governments. The script for this performance is based on actual accounts and is written in Spanish (the language of the original testimony), accompanied by an experiment of mistranslation in the form of English supertitles. The project is a collaboration between TDPS Ph.D. students Juan Manuel Aldape and Martha Herrera-Lasso. Read the review by Kumars Salehi>
Feature Image: Students of Color Solidarity Coalition and Performance Colectiva at the University of California Berkeley. Image courtesy of Natalie Sanchez.
Bubbles are meant to burst. Enter Natalie Sanchez and her collaborators of Performance Colectiva, a group composed of current students as well as recently-graduated students from the University of California at Berkeley (CAL). Natalie and the troupe’s collaborators successfully graduated from the Department of Theater, Dance and Performance Studies (TDPS) with the mission to connect and bridge communities in the San Francisco Bay Area through performance. Performance Colectiva’s story is one of an exciting theatrical beginning in a class that catapulted outside the campus. Natalie recently sat down with me at CAL’s Free Speech Movement Cafe to talk about her experience and the development of Performance Colectiva.
Performance Colectiva formed out of a desire to continue the work started in a class. Natalie registered in Performance Studies Professor Angela Marino’s Teatro Lab class, created by Marino in 2013 to give CAL students an opportunity to learn about theatre in Latin America. Teatro Project is a group of Latinas/os in the Theater and Performance Studies Department advocating diversity across the campus and the local community. Working rigorously throughout the Spring semester, the lessons culminated in a community performance Bodies, Buildings, Borders: An Experimental Showcase. The student performance addressed themes directly impacting students of color by weaving personal reflections on the experience of higher education with perceptions of community struggles and political challenges. Moved by the rewarding experience of the class and the reception of the production by the community attendees, the students felt compelled to continue working after the semester ended. Thus, Performance Colectiva was born. Natalie, in the final semester of senior year, felt the determination to enroll in one more semester to minor in Theater and Performance Studies.
Natalie’s decision to stay an additional semester proved invigorating, but also critical in crystallizing the reason for Performance Colectiva. Following the initial performance, the students organized other performances and community interventions to confront and burst the “Berkeley Bubble”. According to Sanchez, the “Bubble” is the resulting effect of students from CAL closing off ties with the communities in non-campus Berkeley and the greater East Bay. In the process of bursting the bubble, she has cultivated new relationships with the graduating students and with Marino, as well as found enriching opportunities to work with distinguished Bay Area Latino playwrights.
In Spring 2014, they helped bring Octavio Solis to CAL. As special guests to the Association for Theater in Higher Education annual conference, they, alongside the Teatro Project, adapted, directed and performed Luiz Valdez’s Zoot Suit. What is more, both the Teatro Project and Performance Colectiva are assisting TDPS with bringing eminent playwright Luiz Valdez to the UC Berkeley Campus. On November 18, Valdez will give the Keynote Lecture “The Power of Zero.” The lecture is opened to both the campus and community at large.
Ultimately, Sanchez remarks, Performance Colectiva’s goal is to be a “performance pipeline so folks that don’t identify with the [TDPS] department can go in and learn about their identity and find strategies and inspiration through taking classes.” They seek to provide a dual process for community engagement: CAL students connecting to the community and the community engaging with the department. Hence, while Performance Colectiva uses performance as their practice to speak in educational spheres about issues affecting students of color, they are equally involved in the community advocating migrant justice, fair wages and political enfranchisement.
On Sunday, I am traveling to Morelia, Mexico for a performance collaboration at the Mexican Centre for Music and Sonic Arts (CMMAS). This performance project occurs October 10, 2014. My performance will be a collaboration with Carol Borja, Morelia-based Performance Artist and resident fellow at CMMAS. Carol invited me to collaborate and perform her adaption of Sarah Kane’s 4.48 Psychosis. Kane’s brutal text deals with clinical depression and suicide. Borja adapted the original text and produced an accompanying sound score. I am developing original choreography to be performed in tandem with the sound score inside a unique set design, informed by Borja’s ethnographic field-work in mental institutions. According to Borja, the focus of the performance is to advocate the visibility of the mentally ill minority in Mexico. The performance intentionally coincides with International Mental Health Day.
Also, I will be co-facilitating a three-day movement and dance workshop at the Alfredo Zalce Museum of Contemporary Art (MACAZ). During the workshops, we will guide participants through the choreographic process used to develop my movement for Borja’s adaption. Also, I will concentrate on teaching performance methods that I have utilized for recent site-specific productions in Cloneen, Ireland and Belgrade, Serbia.
I have had the great pleasure of working with Carol Borja for over two years. She generously joined me in Guanajuato to document the performance Los Tres Peligros (2012). In addition to her literary and performance art skills, Carol possesses a poignant graphic and photographic eye. Though we met in Mexico, we were already linked based on our mutual education at the University of Warwick. While not part of the same cohort, we both received an MA in International Performance Research.