Dallas — Presently celebrating its 30th continuous season, Teatro Dallas celebrates its 17th International Theater Festival by focusing on Mexico, Artistic Director Cora Cardona’s native land. The festival also highlights relationships and relevant social issues. Examples of one or the other include: the Dallas-based Danielle Georgiou Dance Group (DGDG) had its early presentations at Teatro Dallas; Mexico City’s Laboratorio de las Máscara founder Alicia Martínez Álvarez has collaborated not only with Teatro Dallas but with Cara Mía Theatre Company; Violeta Luna, a San Francisco-based experimental performance artist whose performance (Apuntes Sobre la Frontera/ Parting Memories) deals with border issues; and, finally, Grupo Tehuantepec (from Cardona’s native Oaxaca) questions traditional gender roles. Otro Día de Fiesta (Another Day Partying), performed by Grupo Teatral Tehuantepec, was not seen for this review.)
In a recent workshop by playwright Gary Garrison (New York University) at a theater educators’ conference in Dallas stated that “Theater is about relationships.” In the context, he meant about personal relationships, networks that artists must create for themselves to get their work out. In a broader version of his statement, however, theater, drama, is about nothing if not relationships. In this sense, the festival hinges on this notion. The event’s main venue, Dallas Children’s Theater, also marks many years of collaborations between Cardona and the DCT’s founder and artistic director, Robyn Flatt.
Kicking off the event with the DGDG’s piece Pizzicato set the tone at the Dallas Children’s Theater's Paul Baker Theatre. A mixed media performance piece for two, a woman (Georgiou, choreographer and dancer) and a man (Justin Locklear, composer and dancer), speaks from the universal, yet intimate (autobiographical) experiences of the performers about the disintegration of personal relationships. The stage design was set with white balloons of various sizes both hanging from the ceiling and on the floor. The balls served sometimes as a ludic and playful element, others aggressively so. The sound design was managed by Loccklear through a reverb machine that included prerecorded and live sentence bites.
Miscommunication, and an uneven exchange of energy between the male, whose gaze and main relationship was with the audience thus breaking the fourth wall, and hers, whose focus of energy and movement hinged on procuring his attention (at first). The energy of her movements did not seem to exhaust her. She remained engaged with her primary focus (him) until at some point later in the piece, his unwillingness towards true intimacy compelled her to finally walk away. Georgiou’s admiration for Pina Bausch’s work is evident not as a replica of style (as one often sees in “techniques” such as that of Martha Graham) but in spirit. I sensed an iconoclastically independent creative energy, and an uncompromising engagement with the physicality of her work. Locklear’s comic relief and his creation of a sound space were his forté.
Caracol y Colibrí (Snail and Hummingbird) by the Laboratorio de las Máscara (Laboratory of Masks) in collaboration with Idiotas Teatro (Idiots Theatre) was based on the theater for young audiences piece written by renowned Mexican playwright and screenwriter, Sabina Berman (Entre Pancho Villa y una Mujer Desnuda/Between Pancho Villa and a Naked Woman). Directed by Mask Maker Master at the Bali Museum of Masks and Marionettes, she teaches at Mexico’s National School of Drama. The set (a simple drop down strip of cloth with an inverted V opening) and the props (a huge snail shell and a tiny head cap for the hummingbird) was exactly enough to frame the physical gestures of the characters and the Old Grandfather.
The story hinged on the trope that both animal characters fell in love with the lovely flute (an indigenous Mexican huehuetl) coming from the Old Grandfather’s instrument. They each wanted to capture and save the sound for themselves. The moral of the story is that one cannot steal another’s music, one must find one’s own.
The masks and physical gestures made this performance a visual treat, going beyond stereotypical and dumbed down versions that often mascaraed as children’s entertainment. The director inserted an environmental twist at the end. The characters called to the children to come and claim their kernels of maíz (corn), which was said in various indigenous languages of the people of Mexico. Children (the future) were called upon to plant their kernels and watch them grow. No simple grade school project, the message about the corn involves a struggle to keep genetically engineered corn out of Mexico, the birthplace of maize and its gift to the world. Kids gleefully rushed the stage and, a good time was had by all. The piece was in Spanish with an English libretto. The language is universal.
Back at Teatro Dallas’ black box space, San Francisco performance artist/activist Violeta Luna’s poignant one-woman piece, Apuntes Sobre la Frontera (Parting Memories), explores the relationship between performance, the visual and community activism with a voice over of a real life testimony: the experiences as an undocumented Salvadorian woman in Los Angeles. As it turns out, the voice and testimony is that of the composer’s (David Molina) mother who tells her son the story of her plight for the first time while developing this piece. The design relies upon three elements: an engaging visual projection of moving images such as a bare-footed woman playing hopscotch, and the unearthing of the face of a woman from an excavation site, while the sweet voice of woman tells her story.
There is a hopscotch chalked in yellow on the stage floor, a suitcase, a while skirt which morphed into various costumes, a well-used shovel, twine, a loaf of round bread, and a small stool. While the piece is dedicated to all of those downtrodden of this earth, the main focus are the migrations forced upon various peoples (Central American, Syrian) due to political and military abuses of the populations.
Luna uses nudity in a way that desexualized her body; she also engaged the audience in a number of nonaggressive ways. From the various elements simultaneously at play in this performance piece, it is difficult to highlight one over the other. The recorded sound, the visuals, the physical props and the body of the performer wove together an engaging performance as well as politically important message. Possibly one of the most astounding visuals was the literal unearthing of a live woman’s face (Luna) from a roped-off space like that of a crime scene investigation, whose mouth began silently articulating (although there were no utterances heard). She was subsequently reburied. This called to mind the violent murders of the women of Cuidad Juárez, another border crossing fraught with violence.