Dallas — Continuing Teatro Dallas’ deep commitment to entertain and edify, Poetry Dances features the rhythmic Afro-centric poetry of one of Cuba’s foremost poets, activist and journalist, Nicolás Guillén (Camagüey, 1902-1989).
Pan-Africanism was not only on Guillén’s ideological map, but it is also a visible trend in Teatro Dallas’ Cora Cardona’s frequent cross-pollination with the South Dallas Cultural Center’s Vicki Meek (in attendance). Running at about one hour, a series of vignettes, mostly in English and Spanish, poems translated by Álvaro Cardona-Hines are set in motion in various historical times by the percussion of Kweku Codrington’s Caribbean instruments and spirit. The five-person ensemble includes two dancers, Jamila Marie (also playing Guillen´s mother in the opening scene) and Dominique Edwards, with Kenny Gardner as Guillén, J.R. Bradford as the American poet Langston Hughes, and Omar Padilla as the Mexican writer Octavio Paz (and in multiple roles).
The figure of Langston Hughes looms large in both the theatrical mise-en-scène as well as in Guillen’s biography. Both poets met in 1930, right about the time of the publication of the Cuban’s first publication, Motivos de son (1939). The son is a traditional Cuban syncopated eight-count meter, the basis of the modern cha-cha-chá, the mambo and the popular salsa, all Afro-centric dances. Bradford portrays Hughes with the finesse behooving this important literary figure, while Gardner’s Guillén offers an undercurrent of poetic and revolutionary passion. This is Gardner’s first collaboration with Teatro Dallas, and we look forward to seeing his acting talent continue to flourish in Dallas’s stages.
Seasoned Teatro Dallas actor Omar Padilla strings the various vignettes together, offering continuity to the piece entirely developed and directed by Cardona, who also includes the luminary and prolific Mexican writer Octavio Paz (Padilla) and the legendary idealistic figure of the Latin American left, the Argentine Ernesto (Che) Guevara. In this way Poetry Dances artistically and politically aligns two important continental movements for human rights.
All of this works like clockwork through the expert musical interpretation of Kweku Codrington of Guillén’s onomatopoeic poetry illustrated in his famous Sensemayá, canto para matar una culebra (“Song to kill a snake”). Mexican composer Silvestre Revueltas first set this poem to music in Mexico City in 1937 and it would become one of his most famous compositions. This poem was choreographed as a dance in the performance through the articulate bodies of Jamila Marie and Dominque Edwards.
One of the most poignant and disturbing scenes brought up the real-life, racially induced 1955 brutal murder of Emmett Till, a teenage boy who dared to allegedly flirt with a white girl in Mississippi. This case deeply affected Guillén’s sentiments towards the United States’ racism. Bob Dylan, the American folksong balladeer, set this tragic event to music in the 1960s as “The Ballad of Emmitt Till.” Images of the brutally beaten young boy, alongside of an image of his 14-year old smiling and hopeful face, could break anyone’s heart.
On the topic of the projections, which were numerous and quite helpful, from poetry translations to grounding historical people and events, it would have been helpful to have held them in place just a tad longer. They disappeared way too quickly. The stage design by George Mecca engulfed the audience in beckoning shades of watery and celestial Caribbean blues, while Jeff Hurst’s lighting simulated the warmth of the equatorial sun. It felt like a vacation in the tropics.
The piece ends with Guillén’s death in Cuba, in 1989. However, it is evident that his poetry and uplifting sentiments of a world that treats racial differences with respect, live on.
» All tickets for Friday, May 22 are $10; and tickets for Saturday and Sunday, May 23-24, are $15.
» Teresa Marrero is Associate Professor of Latin American and Latina/o Theater in the Department of World Languages, Literatures and Cultures at the University of North Texas