Monday, July 27, 2009

About Dancemakers: Who cares! Just another..

From the program for Dancemakers, July 24-25:

Location: UWM Mainstage Theatre, 2400 E. Kenwood Blvd.
Performances: Each night will feature a different program.
Friday, July 24 at 7:30 pm (an informal reception follows this performance)
Saturday, July 25 at 7:30 pm

Dancemakers showcases work by the professional dancers and choreographers who travel to Milwaukee each summer to participate in the graduate program.

Who cares! Just another...
Choreography: Joel Valentin-Martinez
Performance: Javier Marchán
Costume design: Joel Valentin-Martinez
Music: Tacvba:12/12, by Kronos Quartet and Cafe Tacvba

This piece is a work in progress and it is a reflection of the times we live in. It is about the Mexican and Mexican-American experience. This is about one man's struggle to exist in a society that continue to reject and at times dehumanize him. In this piece we find our character in an imaginary Caribbean town, in Mexico, where time, space and history are compressed for the pleasure of the modern tourist.

On the evening of Friday, July 24th I witnessed a wonderful solo dance performance by Javier Marchán. I'm not just saying this as a proud older sibling: it was a mesmerizing show. It was clear that our family history and Mexican-American heritage gave him a unique perspective for his interpretation.

But first, here is a bit of our family history. Our paternal grandfather arrives in this country as an immigrant and migrant worker in 1927. Eventually his family emigrates to the United States in the 1950's and settles in Palmyra, WI. Our father is the youngest in his family, and our mother is among the youngest in hers.

Soon after our parents married in December 1972, our mom left Mexico to be with her husband. She was the only one from her immediate family to leave the country. Both our parents worked to provide for their family of four. They instilled in us a sense of family, service and individuality. Our family began to experience being torn between two cultures when the oldest three kids we were very young. Spanish was the first language the three of us spoke, and I have memories of our family dealing with my first grade teacher who nearly succeeded in getting me to change the spelling of my given name.

Now, on to the performance: Javier starts out with a simple representation of a campesino going about his life in Mexico. Later on, you see the campesino make his way to the north. During a poignant, pivotal moment he raises his hand to point to El Norte. While pointing he immediately looks back contemplating what he is about to leave behind as if to say, "but I have to go." What follows is calm determination as he journeys towards and crosses the border which is immersed by the Rio Grande. This transition is but the eye of the coming storm, a representation of the tumultuous, chaotic emotions and struggles that some Latinos of today face.

I witnessed images of the sensationalism behind the H1N1 variant of the common flu when Javier performed with a medical mask on his face. The unusual Republican rhetoric surrounding Judge Sonia Sotomayor's Supreme Court nomination and the scales of justice were very evident as he gracefully carried out moves that required focused balance. And the music: a simple flute melody at first which transitioned to a faster contemporary Latin beat, then became interspersed with the original theme and somewhat frantic sounds of a beating drum.

The audience showed their love of the performance with shouts and thunderous applause. An excited person said it best during the reception after the show, when I heard him proclaim to Javier something like, "you were so present in your performance!" I couldn't agree more with this assessment of the effortless grace embodied by his movements. Regrettably I was unable to chat with Mr. Valentin-Martinez about the work but the huge-ass smile, stretching from ear to ear on both of our brown faces, simply required no words.

What a show.

About the Artist (from the program)
Joel Valentin-Martinez is a Sr. Lecturer in the Department of Theatre at Northwestern University where he teaches courses in contemporary dance and world dance genres. Born in Guadalajara, Mexico, he grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area where he initiated his studies in dance. From 1990-2003 he performed nationally and internationally as a member of Garth Fagan Dance (Tony and Bessie award winner). His dance piece Tlatelolco Revisited (2008) was commissioned by Luna Negra Dance Theater and performed at the Harris Theatre, Chicago. As a choreographer he has collaborated with the visual artist, John Jota Leaños, with his multi-media opera Imperial Silence: Una Ópera Muerta/A Dead Opera in Four Acts (2008), which premiered at the World Theater in Monterey Bay and continues to tour throughout California. He has been a guest artist around the country, including S.F. State University where he mounted his piece, Brasos y Abrazos (2009). Mr. Valentin-Martinez has also served as rehearsal director for residencies by Delfos Danza Contemporánea, Nora Chipaumire and Robert Moses. At Northwestern University he mounted his work, Ask me in the morning light (2009), which was selected by the Joyce Foundation in New York City for The A.W.A.R.D. Show! 2009. He also reconstructed Nora Chipaumire’s Groundswell for the 2008 Danceworks concert and choreographed the musical SPUNK as part of the mainstage season. Prior to arriving at Northwestern University, he taught at Arizona State University and the University of Rochester.

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