Category Archives: critical reflections

Support Migrant Children Choreographing Hope

Walking towards hope

Covering the recentwave‘ of migrant children, the usual headlines on newspapers are everywhere. Foreigners are flooding the border. ‘X’ President’s policies created a migratory mess. The country is being overrun and inundated by undeserving individuals. We need to close the border and keep gang members out. An unending list of blaring blaming goes on. Even stories that attempt to paint a humanitarian perspective on the issue unwisely chose images depicting children and families crossing under wires and hopping trains, catching individuals in the midst of a supposed deviant trespass. However, in all of this criticism and coverage, we are a missing serious conversation about what it means for the U.S.A to be truly global as a place of refuge within the continental Americas.

The rise in the number of undocumented children entering the country has been attributed to at least a couple of recent legislative acts, supported by both sides of the political table. First, in 2008 President George W. Bush signed into law the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act. The regulation correctly protects unaccompanied minors that arrive at the US border. Second, the legislative discussion about immigration reform in congress, and the resulting 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Act has been a pronounced topic which definesfor better of worse–President Obama’s term. These two acts alone highlight recent efforts by congress to actively deal with USA’s regional relationships. These are great steps in the right direction to deal with regional politics. Unfortunately, Congress did not pay attention to the recent migration trends from south of the border early on to recognize that an increase in migration was imminent, but not from Mexico.

Migration to the U.S.A over the last decade changed significantly. Douglas Massey, a credible authority on the subject of migration to and from the USA, over a decade ago highlighted that an increasing number of undocumented migrants were from Central America. In tandem with the increase, he finds that more Mexican nationals were starting to leave the U.S.A than entering. In fact, Massey identifies that Mexican migration is characteristically fluid and dynamic. Such findings are independently supported by the Pew Hispanic Center’s 2012 analysis that U.S.A’s largest migration surge has reached its peak.

Recently, virulent corruption, destitution and homicide in countries like Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala is driving families to take extreme measures to abate their pressured living conditions. What is more, a country like Guatemala, with a staggering indicator of roughly 14% of its population living under the international poverty rate ($1.25/day), highlights the lack of opportunities for economic advancement in the region. The concerning circumstances of the Central American countries provide a true glimpse of the regional conditions which the U.S.A finds itself. The U.S.A is seen as a place for refuge and hope!

We need to change the tone of our political discourse to deal with the current surge in immigration as a refugee and exile event. For far too long political discussion in the immigration reformdebate has blindly focused on nativist and xenophobic reactions to the logical factors that motivate people to migrate. Lack of work and food, coupled with fear, drive unaccompanied minors to seek out safe places. The recent arrival of children should remind all of us of our duty to protect human rights and our responsibility to provide children everywhere a place where they can run and choreograph their lives, not out of fear, but out of hope. Furthermore, we should see these children as examples of courage. They risk their lives, being raped and taken into slavery just to end up in a U.S.A processing center. We should treat the arrival of the most fragile, who risk everything, as a sign that some people and places in the world still see the U.S. as a place of hope. If the U.S.A cannot accept even children and families as refugees, we cannot and should not stand under the banner of hope.

The solution is tricky, but it begins with hope. First, let‘s accept them as we would accept any children fleeing violence. Yes, this involves investing financial resources to accommodate the youth. In doing so, we can provide temporary shelter while their respective immigration cases are processed. Melissa Aldape, former acculturation programmer for the International Rescue Committee (disclaimer: she is my wife), asserts that we must not fail to accept that this process will take time, think years. In other refugee camps across the world, she asserts, some refugees spend decades in processing centers!

The idea of refugee camps south of the border, along the Rio Grande, sounds unsettling for many ardent nativists. However, the U.S is a regional country with direct regional connections. Even if one accepts that the U.S. is exceptional, one cannot blindly believe that the U.S. is alone in North America.

Again, the migrant children making the treacherous journey remind us that people are willing to risk everything they have just to have one glimpse of America. The children choreograph unknown journeys, hoping that the destitution and atrocity that surrounds them in the countries that they leave will be a thing of the past. As a country, let‘s stage a country that knows how to receive hope.

Studio Porte Bleue

Theater is a schizophrenic experience.

Studio Porte Bleue reading.
Studio Porte Bleue reading series.

Colin Lalonde, Montreal-based performer and artistic director, is producing a new performance project about the cloud—yes, the one that promises to be available everywhere and house all of your family pictures! I met Lalonde during my Master’s studies at the University of Warwick (UK). Also, we have been regular collaborators for Unlisted: a performance series, both in Belgrade (Serbia) and Pittsburgh, PA (USA). Lalonde generously gave me  five minutes of his buzzing time to discuss the recent project phmrl.DATA,  as well as describe the process of starting a multidisciplinary performance studio in Montreal.

How did phmrl.Data develop from idea to production?

Like a lot of my projects I had the idea for form before the idea for the piece came. phmrl.DATA’s inspiration came from taking part of a conference on performance curation where one of the speakers was asking us all yes and no questions. I noticed that people seemed to get an odd joy from sharing this information in public. I then connected that to my growing interest in how we behave online and thought it would be interesting to write a piece that was simultaneously a pitch for a data-mining company and an act of data-mining itself. So I recruited Kelly O’Toole and we started research on big-data, writing and piecing the performance together in rehearsals.

phmrl.DATA Flyer.
Studio Porte Bleue’s latest production.

-Why do you have an interest in big data?

I guess you could say I’m interested in big data because big data seems to be very interested in me. I felt somewhat ignorant to trends that are increasingly having major effects on our lives. Living in the times that we do, most of us spend an immense amount of time online, we have GPS enabled smartphones, and have sensors that track insane amounts of data in our cars. All that data is being used to make decisions that have pronounced effects on all of our lives. The most obvious for me is getting information from Google or Facebook that Google and Facebook have determined is of interest for me. These trends in some ways raise serious questions as to the role of free will for individuals. There’s so much potential for good in big-data but there are some serious red flags to ponder on.

Colin Lalonde and Juan Aldape in Pittsburgh for Unlisted:a performance series.
Colin Lalonde (r) and Juan M. Aldape (l) in Pittsburgh for Unlisted:a performance series. Photo: Yinzerspielen

-How does performance help address the concerns or promises of big data?

Essentially phmrl.DATA is a participatory performance where spectators view a pitch by the phmrl.DATA team convincing them to join their “large net platform” where all the world’s data will be concentrated. The pitch is then interspersed with questioning of the audience, which acts as a tool for the company to collect everyone’s data. The idea being that we already give so much information online (which is ultra public), so how does that act feel in person and in a more intimate public? We hope that this uncomfortable feeling and dissonance to what is being said by the characters leads to some questioning of our current state of affairs regarding privacy and the Internet.

-What are the limits of the project to deal with issues about big data?

We have a fairly large scope for the project. It acts mainly as an introduction to technologies and anecdotes about big-data as well as its promises. We speak about past big-data projects like Google’s Flu Trends that tracks where the flu virus is spreading through the aggregation of search terms. We also talk about future trends in big data such as Facebook’s app that listens to what you’re watching on tv and the radio through the microphone on your smartphone. The piece really dances a fine line between being almost documentary theatre and sci-fi satire.

-Can you describe the development of SPB and your role within the project?

Studio Porte Bleue was my way of putting into practice all of the amazing experiences I had had over the past few years outside of Montreal, while living in Ottawa and traveling the world with the likes of you and the others in our Masters. I’m the artistic director of the company, so with a small indie company that essentially means I do everything that needs doing. In this case it was a bit too much as I literally wrote, directed, produced, and performed the piece. It was a bit all consuming and continues to be.

– How do you switch between the roles of artistic director, writer, actor and director?

I’m a collaborative artist by nature so I find it depends on the people I’m collaborating with and how I’m going to adapt for each individual project. The main challenge I’m discovering is letting go in some cases, I’m negotiating a project for November where I will be producing and performing in the piece and having a visiting artist direct. So I’m figuring out how to get out of her way and just do the nitty-gritty of producing and leaving out the early artistic planning which has to be owned by the director or the show will just be artistic soup.

-It’s almost a year since you started SPB, how’s the first year going? What are some of the challenges of managing the studio?

It’s going well! I’m happy with our progress, we’re creating interesting work and having the kind of connection with our audience that I think is unique and is genuinely respectful and constructive. My main challenge is working on multiple shows at one time. It is a bit of a schizophrenic experience.

-What other projects do you have lined up for the upcoming year?

This summer we’re inviting Chris Bell to stay with us and work on three performances with us. We’ll be working on one that explores labor and oral histories, we will be developing a show where he will be cooking for and eating with the audience while discussing the fall of Yugoslavia, and finally in November we’ll be presenting a piece on Jack Kerouac. All very different and all very exciting. And as always I’m thinking of what will be next.

You can keep up with Colin Lalonde and all other Studio Porte Bleue productions via Facebook or their blog.

Chris Bell

Chris Bell on Performance, Community and Labour

I’ve been privy to know about Chris Bell’s performance projects through a shared Master’s program experience in England. Upon returning to the US, I enjoyed learning about Chris’ recent work with the Minnesota Life College. He started and is currently facilitating The Community Living Program (CLP) Improv Club. The performance club is hosting a performance-based lecture June 19 at 6:15pm in the Minnesota Life College courtyard. I’ve asked Chris to take a couple of minutes to talk about his experience with the improvisation club.

Chriss Bell
Chris Bell in Cloneen, Ireland for A PerFarmance Project

-What do you do for the Minnesota Life College?
I am the out-going Program Assistant for the Community Life Program (CLP). The CLP works with alumni of the Minnesota Life College, a non-profit that provides an invaluable college experience for young adults on the autism spectrum. My main job function as the Program Assistant was to provide access to enriching community activities, both on- and off- campus.

-Why did you start a performance class?
The idea of starting a performance class first came up during my initial interview. However, it wasn’t until I started having conversations with the members that I realized how much of a demand there was for a performance-based club. From this demand, I founded the CLP Improv Club to meet once a week.

-What has been the most rewarding experience?
The most rewarding part of the experience has been watching the members develop as leaders. I took a weekend vacation in late March, and while I was away the members conducted a peer-led CLP Improv Cub. I thrive off of the moment when the student develops the confidence to make their own way.

Chris Bell working in Cloneen, Ireland
Chris Bell working.

-What has been the most challenging experience?
The most challenging part of the experience has been renegotiating my relationship with a more traditional aesthetic framework. A standard way to teach improv is to focus on keeping the actions/reactions fast and to avoid dwelling on the next move you’re going to make in the process of building a dramatic sequence. This mantra of don’t over-think and keep it fast is challenged when you’re working with individuals on the autism spectrum, but challenged in the best possible way because it redefines improvs traditional relationship to duration.

-What type of preparation goes into your classes?
At first, every class was very different. I was trying an assortment of physical/vocal warm-ups and improv games to see what was most beneficial for the group. Following two months of experimenting with approaches to the classes, I found it to be the most beneficial when I would worry less about what I was going to do and focusing more on asking the members, “What do you want to lead today?”

-Do you find that the more you lead classes the less you prepare?
Actually, I found it to be the other way around. I found myself preparing more when I was the one leading the class. Since I’ve moved to peer-led approach to the class, I’ve spent less time preparing.

-What are you up to in the coming months? Any projects?
I’ll be concluding my time at the Minnesota Life College with a performance-based lecture focusing on the similarities between co-existing within an improv classroom and within in a community. In early July I’ll be leaving Minnesota for a five month International Artist Residency with Studio Porte Bleue in Montreal, Canada. I’ll be working with performance practitioner/researcher Colin Lalonde in the development of three projects, each engaging, in different ways, with reconfiguring the traditional audience experience.

Chris Bell’s directed work for Unlisted. Pittsburgh, PA.

Learn more about Chris’ projects.

Showing with Molly Heller and Facial Expressions

Molly Heller, close friend and project collaborator, stopped by Minneapolis in March. She joined us for an intimate showing as part of a small residency exchange. molly_heller_showing flyer

Molly, Melissa and I met in 2008! We collaborated on a series of projects that resulted in creatively fruitful productions. In 2009, we were awarded first place in the Audiences Awarding Artists show  at the Sugar Space for the performance Prison of Form. The award stipend and free use of studio space helped us produce an evening-length work, titled The Grey Area.

The Grey Area 2009 Flyer

Reunions are always a treat. Molly coming to Minneapolis was an excellent opportunity to catch up and talk about her recent projects, the challenges of being in academia and balancing creative work with private life. In particular, the showing was a suitable time to see how our individual movement styles have shifted, evolved and crystalized over time.

Molly Heller Grips
Photo Melissa Aldape

Our movement have similar, but identifiable differences. Molly’s current movement qualities orbit around intimate tensions. She places great emphasis on straining her body to exhausting limits, all while inviting audiences to partake in the exhaustion.  Now, the invitation does result in participatory exchange. Rather, she is keen to create experiences that relay felt emotions across the immediate space. Especially, her current preoccupation is with “presence.” Molly’s current occupation is refreshing.

Photo Manny Palad

Her keen emphasis on charging space is uniquely  invigorating. She employs guttural textures to create perpetual forces that build upon each other, but does limit the experience to the abstract use of time, space and energy. There’s a personal quirk to her movement! She uses a range of full facial movement to create kilter emotions. They are spasmatic, funny, disgusting and revelatory. Incorporating grimace into performance is something new for Molly.

Molly hardly incorporated her face in performance when we first met. Upon meeting,  she had some aversion to using look and gaze in her creative expression. Instead, her expressions were invariably removed. While her movement has always combined a full-range of technical expression, there was something absent. In works like Vanities Faire the face was eerily neglected. Its affect was the epitome of postmodern dance. It was a postmodern photograph in motion. There was a simplification to the expression. Glossy eyes were always open and gazing beyond the immediate space, looking for something beyond the performance. Even in performance like $, a 2009 production with musical accompaniment from Rick Ross, there was an aversion to the visage. Then again, it was the very absence of facial expressions that was offsetting, creating  an aesthetic estrangement.

Molly Heller Vanities Faire

You can keep up with Molly’s projects and upcoming showings on her website or see her her regular appearances  at Mudson, Salt Lake City’s works-in-progress monthly dance showing.

Photo Sarah Parker

 

Going West

I’m excited to announce officially that I accepted an offer from the University of California at Berkeley (aka Cal) and will be starting my doctoral studies this fall. I am grateful to join an excellent group of people in the Performance Studies program.

 

One week away from 1st draft of dissertation

Time is passing by rapidly and the dissertation deadline is coming up. It's great that Coventry weather is turning and the beautiful English flora colors stand stark against the grey skies.??

P1011550

"As I return from my spatial exploration, a woman walks by me, she is eating a watermelon. Its size is about one sixth of a medium sized melon. I continue to wander across the space. Children leaving the school, adjacent to the gargantuan flora, zoom across my periphery. A young man being pulled by his pit-bull enters the tree scape. I am startled. Pit-bulls usually give an uncomfortable feeling. Their razor sharp ears and typically snarling teeth, are not conducive to petting cordialities."??