Strong Women, Strong Voices

juanita-suarez.jpgPerformance review by L.A. correspondent, Benn Widdey

(Photo by Daio Hoffman)

The Latina Dance Project came from Texas, North Carolina and upstate New York to spend the weekend in Los Angeles at the Bootleg Theater in Silver Lake (September 6-8, 2007). The group consists of four highly accomplished dance artists/educators who have joined forces to share their stories as dance theater.

Coyolxauhqui Remembers (pronounced ko-yo-shall-key) is based on an Aztec myth of sibling murder and dismemberment that morphs into the phases of the moon. With that as a jumping off point, each member of the company created a work that examines one part of the Latina experience–victimization, feminization, objectification and empowerment.

New Moon Over Juarez begins with a video of a flowing river and Eva Tessler (who conceived the piece) miming a walk through the water. She kneels as she crosses the stage and, through characterizations and a dialogue between Ms. Tessler and Licia Perea, we are told one story of the 300 women who have been murdered around that border town in the past ten years. Strong performances and an articulate text by Victor Hugo Rascon Banda make the work clear and affecting.

The muscular and petite Eluza Santos conceived Invocada as what seems like a demonstration of oppression in the office and the possibility of taking action against it. Allowing each artist/woman an opportunity to tell her tale, we hear some of the personal challenges and threats each has incurred and how they conquered or withstood the adversity.

Through a close-to over-the-top evocation of contemporary notions of beauty, Juanita Suarez enlisted balloons, blonde wigs, sunglasses and platform heels in Sacrifice (all costumes by Ann Closs-Farley). Beautifully singing the theme from the US Miss America pageant while swinging from a large gymnastic ring hanging from the ceiling, Ms. Suarez adds a few nods to Marilyn Monroe and the performers’ bodies are re-designed in day-glo colors. Comic and biting, Sacrifice seems right at home here in LA.

Preceding each section of the 75 minute work, director and videographer Jose Garcia Davis has injected short video moments that bring the outside world into the theater. Beginning the evening with variations of solar system arrangements, he introduced the final section with footage of a black-booted percussive dance for the women to original music by William Campbell. Videotaped in what resembled a mechanic’s garage, the dancers soon brought the rock’n’roll energy onto the stage as Dismembered Moon (conceived by Ms. Perea) completed the program. My favorite moment of the evening was this last section’s use of the movement to subtly convey the women’s anger, frustration and power.

It can be difficult for dance artists to articulate broad themes. Relying too much on text can make movement claustrophobic, but sometimes movement alone is too abstract and resists subjectivity. In Coyolxauhqui Remembers, The Latina Dance Project makes a noble effort to find this balance. Sometimes it worked, other times not. But these and other Latina/o voices haven’t been heard nearly enough in the performing arts. As political theater and in front of mainly white audiences, the work might easily open some eyes to a co-existent experience of contemporary life in the southwestern US, which fails to be appropriately represented in mainstream media. Though I could argue that a more nuanced approach to these subjects might have left more room for the audience to enter the work, it is no less important work, and work that should be heard.

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