Indigenous Latinx choreographers cultivate rest, unrest at FLACC 2017

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Meryl Francolini /Courtesy

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On a narrow stage, a figure sat illuminated only by a faint trickle of overhead light and the residual glow of a blaring green exit sign. Projected on the screen behind her, a hand swept at a plot of loose soil resembling an excavation site. The lights brightened almost imperceptibly to reveal the dancer’s features: a white headpiece resembling chicken feathers, a bare chest smeared with red, blood soaked arms smattered with protruding wooden clothespins, wide eyes staring forward unyieldingly, gray bones piled high.

As the dancer unearthed an adorned skull from her skirt and animated it with a ghostly path of its own, the hand on the screen overhead brushed soil away to reveal the living, speaking face of a woman under the dirt. Having given life to the bones and filled with the life of the dead, the dancer left the stage.

The dancer was Violeta Luna. Her captivating performance acted as a public burial and remembrance for those buried in Mexican mass graves. Though her piece, “Requiem 3: Fosas Cuerpo” came at the end of the show, it solidified the theme of the FLACC festival this year, “REST/UNREST.”

Now in its fourth year, FLACC, the Festival of Latin American Contemporary Choreographers, offers a space for Latinx and indigenous choreographers to explore a range of creative and political interests on stage.

This year’s theme was chosen by festival curator Juan Manuel Aldape Muñoz, a performance artist, dancer and doctoral candidate at UC Berkeley. According to Muñoz’s welcome in the program, he intended this year’s theme of “REST/UNREST” as a “space to support artists that is not solely about the politics of visibility.” He emphasized that the artists, “chosen for their ability to provide a clear vision of resistance, love and care across the labyrinth that is the Latinx and indigenous form of belonging … They have been fighting oppression well before the current administration.”

Though this year’s program was, in part, a response to the current political climate (see, for example, the Trump-in-a-diaper piñata in the lobby), “REST” and “UNREST” also connect to centuries-old practices of resistance and healing in the face of colonization, violence, racism, sexism, homophobia and exploitation.

Several choreographers chose to tackle content related to the election and immigration policy. Choreographer CatherineMarie Davalos’ “Nowhere to Hide,” explored migration and labor. The two dancers in her work seemed to move through their exhaustion with release, as if their bodies were held up and pulled around by some unknown force. Zoe Klein’s acrobatic and dreamy performance highlighted the injustice of international adoptees forced to migrate to the United States but denied citizenship. FLACC founder Liz Duran Boubion and Piñata Dance Collective Dancers choreographed a creaturely, covenly, unapologetic response to the infamous recording of Donald Trump speaking to Billy Bush as distorted by David Molina.

Others took a more individual approach. The show opened with an invitation to the audience to gather around a small wooden platform on stage. Zarina Mendoza and dancers entered as characters, from a gay cop in Mexico to a waitress spouting “America First” propaganda. With a series of negotiations, sudden lifts and daring drops, the dancers beautifully embodied the near impossibility of sharing space, yet ended by suggesting commonalities among even such diverse characters.

Vincent Chavez’s piece, called “Kuhn,” an Apache word for fire captured the audience’s gaze like a flickering flame. His seamless blend of fierce jumps that seemed to launch him out of the Earth and fluid graceful arms formed a dynamic that was at once ethereal and grounded.

Caleb Luna’s performance was an ode to “ecstatic bottomhood.” Luna enlivened an academic text on the politics of being a sexually receptive partner with a burlesque representation of what sexual pleasure can look like for a fat, queer person of color. Though the text was a bit dense, Luna managed to make it more accessible with sly comments to the audience.

Another highlight was Alfonso Cervera and Irvin Gonzalez’s incredibly athletic duet. They balanced genuine intimacy with cheeky humor and abstracted political commentary. Their duet, entitled “Q-lucha” was a queer reframing of luchador machismo. With their slow, tender partnering interspersed with aggressive wrestling, the luchador masks that obscured their faces, and the sounds of an “English Basic Phrases” instructional tape, Cervera and Gonzalez both counteracted and ironically exaggerated stereotypes of Mexican masculinity.

Through their diverse choreography, each of FLACC’s choreographers and performers brought an entirely unique artistic and political strategy to the ideas of “REST” and “UNREST.” Their works in conversation demand that audiences look not just at our current political climate, but into the past to explore options for ongoing resistance.

Contact Katie O’Connor at [email protected].