Saturday, November 14, 2009

Dance Narrative: An Immigration Story

In Origenes de Vuelo/Origins of Flight: An Immigration Story, David Herrera tells the story of his mother's youthful journey from Mexico to the U.S.

The dance begins and ends with strong solo dance by Evan Hart Marsh, framing the narrative within the perspective of the son of the immigrant. In the first scene, there is no music, but a voice-over reminiscent of the stale voice of automated messages. On either side of the stage hang two large screens, made up of various pieces of white towels and clothing, upon which play scenes from the San Francisco Mission district.This is the world that the son of an immigrant inhabits: a world between languages and cultures, the experience from which Herrera tries to tell his mother's story.

It is a fascinating story even in its commonness: a young woman, 22 years old and pregnant, makes her way from her small town in Mexico to the U.S. and must navigate the perils of the road. The story itself is rife with material for a dynamic performance, however, the choreography was littered with literal, trite movements that were often over performed and the narrative somehow got lost in the progression of the performance.

Mia Aiko Yamada, playing the part of the immigrant mother, executed her dances spectacularly, having both the technical foundation and compassion necessary to make emotive dance.

The music and the images that played upon the laundry-like screens were reprivals for the weak dancing, providing more dimensions to the performance. Shimomitsu, a music collaborative, created the score specifically for this show, and the music represented the duality of the piece--the struggle to know and understand each culture individually and to blend them seamlessly. Olivia Ting created the background images, working to create an "emotional landscape" for each dance. She layered images and played with movement and repetition and timing to create a viable background for the dance.

None of the dancers are immigrants, and they needed to find ways to connect to the piece. "As dancers, that--emotion--is all we have to give," commented Herrera in the post-performance discussion. In light of this, he concentrated his efforts on getting his dancers to connect to the piece emotionally. Choreographing the piece was a community process, with Herrera giving a fundamental choreography and then giving the dancers room to add to and change it as they saw fit. Marsh spoke of connecting to the piece through this process. "It was how I connected with the story--David tells the story and then we make it our own...I am close with my mother, so the duet was really powerful for me," Hart said. "Initially, I was connected to the giving, learning process but at the end, in her [the mother's] arrival, I understood." If only the audience was carried along in this journey as well--the performance had so much going for it, but it seemed as if it could have used more time in production.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Dia de los Muertos, San Francisco Style

Each year, San Francisco's Mission District hosts a celebration of Dia de los Muertos. The procession winds its way through the barrio, allowing for spectators to become participants, and ends at Garfield Park, at 26th and Harrison. Participants in the procession paint their faces and dress up, some in the traditionsl style of Mexico's Dia de los Muertos, while others throw a distinct San Francisco twist in. Playa dust coats many top hats and cloaks. Artists set up an array of alters at Garlfield Park, and when the procession arrives, musicians are playing at all corners and candles light up the alters.

The celebration has become a full-fledged festival in San Francisco, perhaps one of the strongest indications of border exchange. As la Mision has become the Mission District, the hipster population has embraced aspects of Mexican and Chicano culture (there are always several Frida Khalos in attendance at Garfield Park), and the celebration retains many traditional aspects: alters, sugar skulls, an abundance of marigolds and skeletal makeup, but there are many contemporary alters. Alters that ask for attendants to add to them, such as one that consisted merely of twine strung from tree to tree, allowing people to write their memories on slips of paper and attach them to the criss-crossing lines, like so much laundry fluttering in the wind. A few alters brought artifacts of other cultures together into an extravagant display of people honoring death and the dead. One in particular blended ancient Egyptian and Phoenician figurines, traditional Mexican, Thai, Tibentan and Japanese sculptures and objects, among others, on a tiered alter, with candles and incense.

The air was filled with the smell of burning sage, weed and incessant drumming. I danced and knelt before the alters to add my own rememberances. One alter was built of raw balsm wood, it was like a lace building that had seats inside. Sitting inside, under the intricate ceiling, the boundaries between strangers fell away. Festivals are meant to foster community and San Francisco's Dia de los Muertos celebrations accomplishes it. There is an emotional brightness to the celebration that comes, I think, to people letting go of their quehaceres to remember their lost ones.