Bridging the Latino Diaspora Through Dance

Photograph from a performance at Channel Sur.

Latino dancers from Peru, Argentina, Brazil, and New York took part in Channel Sur, a festival celebrating Latino dance through a series of workshops, classes, and performances. The festival, organized and directed by Luis Lara Malvacias of Full Fat Dance, offered dancers—including this dancer—a month of technique classes, lectures, and performances, presented as part of Danspace Project’s Out of Space/Global Exchange from April 28 to May 1. In two weekends, dancers presented their own work as well as works created during the festival’s many workshops, collaborating with dancers from other countries.

The first weekend of performances included Under a Big, Bright Yellow Sun, a four-part installation work that brought audiences to Peru, Argentina, Brazil, and New York. For both audience and dancers alike, the performance was an active journey that invited audience members to move throughout St. Mark’s Church to dance installations evoking the essence of the four different countries. The texture, color, and size of each performance varied. The Peruvian dancers performed on a multitextured floor with alternating panels of bright blue and dark brown. Brazil, decorated with Amazon-jungle wallpaper, included a large, circular yellow raft on which the dancers performed. For the Argentina segment, the dancers moved on an enlarged tile design taken from the floor of an Argentinean home. The New York installation presented dancers on a very large open black space.

Such attention to setting allowed, at least, this audience member to feel as though each new dance installation signified an arrival at a new destination, rich in history. Spoken text helped underscore the changes in setting and culture. For instance, the Peruvian dancers walked intently at a steady, easy pace while cursing audience members’ mothers in Spanish. The Spanish-speaking members of the audience laughed at each offense. The Brazilian dancers also performed with text, but their words served more as a kind of sound score than as an actual message. Three dancers sat in the raft, moving torsos to create the effect of floating while speaking the words in rhythmic patterns. The Argentineans did without spoken word, and the five dancers moved in quiet vexation.

The shift to New York was a monumental change, big and imposing and in stark contrast with the smaller, contained performance spaces carved out for the Peru, Argentina, and Brazil installations—all perhaps a metaphor for the actual trip these Latino dancers and their cultures have taken. For the New York segment, audience members who had been sitting close to each other in the smaller installations were now separated. Dancers stood on mini-platforms like mannequins, dolled up in various New York fashions. Meanwhile, dancers from Peru, Brazil, and Argentina, dressed in white, lay side by side along the perimeter of the stage space. They rolled from one end of the floor to the other as a crate moved along their backs and stomachs. When the crate reached one side, a dancer took its place and the group transported the dancer to the other side in the same manner—a visceral image of what it is to migrate and be an immigrant.

As the work drew to a close, the performance gained a cohesiveness as all the dancers took on a “New York” look and pace, dancing quickly and taking up space. However, each dancer’s movement held the essence of his or her respective country. As such, the work commented on migration and transformation and how New York has a way of blending our differences. Under a Big, Bright Yellow Sun reminded us that our culture has many origins and that the life of an immigrant in America has a specific kind of journey, one that is distancing and evolving. The interplay of actual journey and thematic movement was central to the Channel Sur festival; the classes and workshops explored this theme both physically and metaphorically and in the end revealed that traveling any distance, whether it be a journey of the mind or the body, takes time.

Contributor

Tina Louise Vasquez

Vasquez is a dancer and choreographer. She currently dances with Von Ussar Danceworks.

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