Costa Rican native Elia Arce opened the Teatro Dallas International Theater Festival on Friday with her performance art piece First Woman on the Moon, at the South Dallas Cultural Center. It's actually the second time in less than two years she has performed it in Dallas, having done it as part of the National Performance Network showcase at the Majestic Theatre in December 2010.
The show relies on text, background video and live video, with the spoken text coming back to the idea of the constant feeling of wanting to be in her native land, although she lives in California and has lived in 27 places since leaving Costa Rica.
But the text is, sadly, probably not what people will talk about most, considering that she begins the hour-long show by disrobing and performs most of it completely in the nude.
She moves slowly to different spots on the stage, carrying a suitcase and a video camera on a tripod with her. The video is to show her work live on the smaller of two screens in the background. The larger one displays images from her homeland, of the jungle, mountains, beach, cracked earth and urban areas.
From the suitcase, she pulls out various props throughout her thread. The first items are American camouflage military uniforms as he talks about the country's police. She compares the types of camouflage on them throughout the years, with the favorite being the ones from Desert Storm, with brown and green spots. "A combination of jungle and desert, for those uncertain times," she says.
Other props include a mango, which she devours; a lump of clay, which she molds into the shape of a baby when she talks about abortion (it's illegal in Costa Rica); a doll that is trapped in a bird cage; and liquid that she pours through strainers into a series of smaller glasses, before drinking it. The only time she is not naked is when she sports a leopard print cape and fur hat, and then takes a bite out of a Big Mac as she talks about vegetarianism.
It's the kind of work that turns many people off when hearing the term "performance art," and part of what makes it drag out is her constant adjusting the settings on the tripod as she moves the camera around. The set-up takes as long as the show's actual material.
But when you listen to the words, they provide the most striking images, especially a section in which she speaks of a broken mirror and her reflection in its many pieces.
Late in the show, the words "Immigrant go home," which she wrote on her naked torso, morph into "I'm home." She backs off of the stage slowly, filmming her feet, and then covers them with dirt.
Being performance art, it's a good guess that someone else has to clean up the mess.
◊ The Festival closes today, Feb. 12, with Adelina Anthony's La Angry Xicana, a comedy/theater solo show, at 3 p.m.
◊ Margaret Putnam's review of the Saturday night program, the butoh dance/video installation The Trace of Purple Sadness, is here.