La paradoja del ser / Espectro (The paradox of being / Specter)
The contemporary dance Company 8ADN Bodies in Action presented two new works this past may 5th at Foro Periplo in Guadalajara, Jalisco.
“The paradox of being” is the result of a multidisciplinary laboratory directed by Luis Betancourt, where contemporary dance, flamenco, hip hop and circus arts converge. The collaborators in creation are: Cinthia García Ponce, Luis González Ortiz, Cesar Díaz Rodríguez, Abigail González Rodríguez, Estíbaliz Moguel, Francisco Villaseñor Martínez y Víctor Abraham Torres Díaz.
Betancourt starts with a solo with a powerful presence and focus as he sculpts his back to the audience, dimly lit. Suddenly, he is interrupted by a voice in the audience claiming his boredom and harsh judgement towards the contemporary clichés. A chorus joins expressing different opinions about the act on scene. The audience enters a meta event where bodies traverse the space while the same scene is projected but happening on the street.
With a post-modern feel, the collective is conscious of their pedestrian actions and they comment about it. They play as they pass energy between them, establishing their character as themselves. The game ends when Betancourt directs the energy towards the audience and yells: “LOVE”.
Perhaps the most representative scene of the multidisciplinary process is the one where Cesar Díaz Rodríguez presents a juggling act; along with Estíbaliz Moguel accompanying with the castanets. These two characters play rhythmically as they integrate different forms and styles.
“The paradox of being” is located in the streets of Guadalajara and in the brief moment of encounter where the artistic wealth of its habitants is visible. The collective identity of this community is questioned and 8ADN proposes a diverse and integrated expression, from classic traditions to urban contemporary.
“Specter followed”, directed by Danira Soltero y Narciso Sanchez. A dance led by Soltero with a virtuosic performance of contemporary release. The lighting design narrated a confined space that expanded with the movement and as consciousness inhabited the space. There is a projection of Soltero in the background showing her bounded by her costume. Sanchez enters the scene from darkness as an air being who follows Soltero. It’s a dance of light and shadow, a search for balance in the risk of falling, collapsing to the ground and accepting the human condition.
Detras de nosotros estamos ustedes (Behind us, there is yourselves) is a piece that I choreographed and it was inspired by a popular Mexican song called Te quedo grande la yegua and Audre Lorde’s writings. The narrative of the song is a woman trying to emancipate from her husband. She metaphorically compares their relationship with a horse and a rider. Her punch line states that she is going to find someone else who can be a better rider. In Mexico, this song represents strength and power for women; it is meant to shame men.
However, women are trying to reach emancipation through the same terms that are oppressing them. Audre Lorde shares: “For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change. And this fact is only threatening to those women who still define the master’s house as their only source of support.” I wanted to shed light on the “master’s strategies” to stay on power and go beyond women’s oppression and emancipation. Detras de nosotros estamos ustedes is an interdisciplinary piece that intends to present and examine heteronormative gender roles in Mexican culture. The audience is expected to interpret critically and is pushed to question the evident conventions that are presented. As the choreographer, I utilized contemporary dance and Mexican folklore dance and music in a theatrical setting.
The first section is a duet performed by a man and woman dressed in identical underwear. A third figure joins them on stage with a guitar. He speaks in Spanish; he introduces himself as a musician and starts to comment about the couple that is in front of him. The tension between the couple is dull and mundane. However, the third figure is acting as counterpoint. The musician is addressing the audience directly and telling them about these two characters. The couple is unaware of the musician and too occupied with their issues. As the piece continues, the musician’s words start to reach the couple; he is challenging them. He is asking them to fulfill their gender role and offending them if they do otherwise. This third character is meant to divert the attention from the couple’s issues and place it on a greater figure. The couple is being influenced by the third figure and they do not even notice. The musician’s character encompasses a broader patriarchal structure that not only oppresses women, but men as well. He embodies a cultural figure that perpetuates values through music and dance. Later in the piece, more musicians and a party crowd reinforce the image of the third character.
During the musician’s monologue, he pulls out from his guitar a case a pair of pants and a red dress. Immediately these relate to the undress couple that is dancing. These clothes are the most common symbols of modern gender roles and especially the pants are associated with power and control. Perhaps an expectation of emancipation is made when the musician throws the clothes at them. As a choreographer, I am interested in the reaction of the audience at this moment: Are they going to fight over the pants? Are they going to reject both clothes? Are they going to switch roles? These reactions or expectations are meant to question heteronormative gender roles and how are they delivered to us. The couple “decides” to put on their respective clothes and the musician proceeds to introduce them officially to the audience. They are Juan and Juana.
In the next section, I used a popular folklore song and dance called La Iguana (The Lizard) to further explore the question of how gender roles are delivered and perpetuated in Mexican culture. I believe the social practice of folklore naturalizes dysfunctional relationships and stereotypes. La Iguana is a Mexican custom performed on stage and in social settings. The specific steps and costume vary from state to state but the premise is always the same. It is a courtship dance between a man and a woman. The man loses control and “transforms” into a lizard. He performs athletic steps in and out of the floor while following the woman. The lyrics have a hint of sexual innuendo. The dance consummates when the woman steps on the man to “kill” him. This dance is performed within a conservative society; nothing is explicit and the couple never has contact. It is interesting to note the female passivity and the athletic male display. At the end, the female takes control of the situation and stands out being more powerful. In Detras de nosotros estamos ustedes, the ending victory is misleading. It does not intend to make a statement for women’s emancipation. It emphasizes the performativity of gender roles and of the dance itself.
The piece has an introductory feeling; it does not challenge or subvert. It presents the evident. Perhaps in its simplicity the master’s tools are more visible. The audience is invited to witness and participate in the performance. It is meant to passively provoke the audience to a critical interpretation of this Mexican tradition
The Community Arts Partnership (CAP) is a co-curricular program that reaches out to the Los Angeles County. This award-winning program is celebrating its 25th anniversary of growing an artistic community. Over a thousand students benefit from CAP’s free classes in Animation, Filmmaking, Digital Media, Music, Photography, Theatre and Dance. CAP is in charge of linking CalArts faculty, students and alumni to over 30 partners that include public schools, community centers and social service agencies. They offer classes in after-school programs and school-based arts programs for youth ages 6-18. Last summer, I was part of the Residency for Teaching Artists that CAP inaugurated. The program consisted on academic classes followed by a three-week practicum at the CAP Summer Arts Program taking place at the Ramon C. Cortines School of Visual and Performing Arts.
Over a hundred students were enrolled and engaged in the process of creating original work. The Teaching Artist Residency provided an integral experience; it was an intense and immersive course followed by direct exposure to teaching experience.
The dance department at the CAP Summer Arts Program was lead by faculty member Francesca Penzani and assisted by CalArts students Caitlin Adams, Whitney Jackson and myself. We had 35 students who had different dance background and three weeks to make a piece for the final show. Francesca had a student-based approach that encouraged them to make personal connections to the material and contribute to the overall piece. She guided them through a somatic process to develop movement for a solo. Also, she fostered a supportive and safe environment where the students could express themselves with confidence. Francesca is a great example of a Teaching Artist and served as a model and mentor throughout the practicum.
One of the best experiences from the practicum was the collaboration between departments to create a piece for the final show. Francesca was an advocate for interdisciplinary collaboration and arranged time to work with the music department. She gave me the opportunity to plan and teach an interdisciplinary lesson for dancers and musicians. I was thrilled to introduce the students to an interdisciplinary mode of composition. I followed Francesca’s student-based approach to guide the class through a collaborative process with their peers. They learned simple compositional structures and they were working as a team for a common goal. These academic and social-emotional outcomes enriched the experience of the students.
Lauren was one of the students that benefitted from this Summer Arts Program. She had been a problematic student in the past years when she was in enrolled in music and theater. This year she decided to try dance and we were warned about her attitude. At first she was shy and not willing to share when asked. After the first day, her disposition changed and was more engaged and active in class. She felt comfortable in a dance class where she was encouraged to express creatively and felt supported by her teachers and peers. It was very fulfilling to witness the development of a student and the benefits that an artistic practice can bring to teenagers.
Similarly to Lauren’s experience, other students in the L.A. area benefit from the free art classes offered by CAP. With this aim, the Residency for Teaching Artists prepares CalArts students to share their skills, knowledge and creative process. A teaching artist is not necessarily certified or trained as such, however this program gave us a broader context for a teaching practice. Teaching Artists often work or collaborate in a public education setting. During the residency, we learned the language of the National Core Art Standards, which are guidelines for teachers in structuring and planning content that is age appropriate. On the other hand, we discussed alternative education settings that rely on cooperative inquiry and how the arts provide a model for high-engagement learning within a community. In either public or independent education systems, my practice as an artist has value. Art and learning are at their core very similar; it is about making personal relevant connections between a new subject and yourself. I believe that is why CAP is a successful program; Teaching Artists act as facilitators of creative environments for an entire community as well as for individuals.
The summer that I spend studying and working for CAP enhanced my experience at CalArts and gave direction to my teaching career. I am in the fourth year of my undergraduate degree in Dance and have always regarded “teaching” essential to my artistic practice. I decided to apply for the Teaching Artist residency because I thought it would be beneficial to improve my teaching skills before I graduated. However, the outcome exceeded my expectations and now I have a broader panorama for my teaching practice. More importantly, it bridged my interest in choreography with my passion for education. I can stay grounded in authentic artistic practice and use those skills to guide learning in many settings. The academic classes from the residency complemented my dance studies and further developed my artistic practice. Moreover, it was very rewarding to teach at the CAP Summer Program where I was given the opportunity to try my lesson plans and be mentored and guided by outstanding faculty. CAP is a wonderful link for CalArts students to engage with and to help grow the artistic community in the city. I’m very proud for being part of the CAP Program and help foster the creative and social development of the children and teenagers of Los Angeles
The ethos of the remix culture has never been more pervasive in popular culture than it is now in the digital age. Artists like Beyoncé are really testing the line between plagiarism and remix. Our definition of property and ownership is traced back to capitalism where artistic work is considered intellectual property and it adopts the law and rhetoric that is granted to other tangible assets. Following this ideology, choreography is credited to an individual and it becomes part of his /her identity. In Memory Mash, choreographer Julia Rhoads explores movement that is transmitted by oral tradition and accumulated to build a dance lineage that forms part of an individual and collective identity. She acknowledges ownership of work but questions and redefines authenticity and originality more specifically in the digital age.
Every year, the CalArts Sharon Disney School of Dance hosts a residency of the winner of the Herb Alpert Award of the respective year. For 2013, Julia Rhoads was the winner; she is the founder artistic director of Lucky Plush Productions based in Riverside, Illinois. She visited our Institute for a weeklong residency to teach classes and set a piece on selected undergraduate students, including myself. Memory Mash, which is an excerpt from the evening length Punk Yankees (2009), was performed last December at the Modular Theater in CalArts and at REDCAT as part of the Winter Dance Concert.
In Memory Mash, Julia introduces the term “dance sample”, which can be a brief series of movements or gestures. She examined the dance lineage of each of the cast members by asking us to bring several dance samples. These could be taken from popular modern and contemporary choreographers to pop culture and even social dance. The piece required a broad skillset: triple threat performers proficient in various dance genres. I remember struggling with one of the sections that required doing the gestures of a sample from Xsite! Performance Group: walking in a grid pattern while singing the melody of a classical tune. The next moment, we were rocking out Beyoncé’s Single Ladies leading into a corps du ballet from Petipa’s Swan Lake.
Julia and the cast remixed the pool of samples that we had collected to create variations on the material. The new movement phrases could mix the stylistic quality of a gesture sample with the rhythmic structure of the footwork from another one. First, I was mashing up an expansive sweeping upper body swing from Stephanie Nugent’s technique class with the rhythmic footwork from the tap dance routine Shim, Sham, Shimmy. Next, I was scrambling to connect a Lion King split leap with Ohad Naharin’s highly specific and expressive gestures. My performance quality was drastically contradictory to perform Tere O’Connor’s elegant and poised movement followed by the explicit and grinding moves from Michael’s Telo’s popular song Nossa Nossa. The act of remixing dance was a mind-juggling task and required maximum concentration. Organizing and performing these samples took me on a physical journey condensing my own dance lineage yet fully realizing the emotional potential of each one.
Julia was particularly interested in how we had learned the samples and/or who had taught it to us; every detail was important. It came to my attention that she specifically used the word “steal” to refer to the act of taking a sample and reproducing it. She was very clear in crediting the choreographers reassuring their ownership for the creative rights. The samples or references were verbally cited during the piece or included in a bibliographical list in the program, even if it was from an unknown author found in the Internet. The piece also comments on media like YouTube or Vimeo and their potential to be a source for plagiarism and remix. Julia’s remix questioned originality and theft. An entire section was created based on the original samples yet Julia nor the dancers choreographed any of them. In some cases, the samples were still recognizable even when far removed from their original context thus making plagiarism debatable.
I believe the value of the remix relies on the creative repurposing of the material and how it revolutionizes our definition of creativity. Our former notion of creativity emphasizes and fetishizes the individual as an isolated creative source and creativity as an act of absolute creation from nothingness. On the other hand, the remix allows us to see the deconstruction of various aesthetic elements that form a complete piece and reveals the act of creation as dynamic. It redefines art with a dynamic purpose: we experience, we assimilate and then redeploy our relationship with the material. It demystifies the artist as the absolute creator and repositions art as accumulative and evolving in a continuum of creation.
At first, the cast and I were overwhelmed by the challenge of genuinely embodying a mixture of samples. “We learned this off of YouTube! I hope we are doing it right!”; we cried out in the melodic tune of Ohad’s Minus 16. Ironically, we had to resort to the Internet to perform accurately the samples. As we continued with the rehearsal process the material started to naturally blend in my muscle memory. It seemed new exciting material but its similarities were resurfacing familiar movement. A codified dance technique like classical or contemporary was serving as a commonality or base to allow an efficient process. The material seemed to make connections from social dancing, ballet, modern and back again to popular culture because we already embody a multifaceted identity. We are vessels that absorb, carry and project cultural content and in consequence our movement accumulates to an extensive dance lineage. The result is a remix of diverse aesthetic influences filtered through our individual experience, tools and skills. On top of that, the Internet provides the ultimate platform to share and release our work to an audience that will “steal” it and remix it to add to the collective continuum of ideas that we call “Art”.
Here’s a video of Julia Rhoads talking abut her work: