/ser/ lights a fire in the heart of Phoenix
When I arrived at the Crescent Ballroom this past Saturday night, I couldn't help but impatiently crane my neck towards the entrance as I waited in the line extending past the patio and around the building in an effort to see and hear for myself the performances that were already enlivening the lobby. The venue was booming with soulful, reverberating flamenco singing and rapid, complex guitar strums that I could hear from my position in the back of the anxious with excitement crowd of a line. Once I got in, I saw that the music I heard was accompanying young dancers as they rhythmically stamped their feet on the stage and twisted their upper bodies to face all corners of the audience. As I watched the collection of pre-show performers, I saw the vocalist, guitarist, and each of the three dancers all take their own space and time on the stage to build intricate personal solos that held the audience's full attention, despite the loud and busy venue. Solo performances by the artists were punctuated with the occasional call or exclamation from the others that grew increasingly frequent until the solo became a collaborative improvisation, filling the small space with layers of aural and visual entertainment.
After watching several cycles of solo and ensemble performance, I reached the main stage, where although seats were filling up quickly with restless audience members, the environment was subdued and serious compared to the live energy inhabiting the pre-show area. I owe this to the solemn presence of the two people on the stage, one seated, wearing a mask over their eyes and the other circling around the chair while delicately braiding the hair of the seated performer. The movement is so soft that it felt irreverent to speak too loudly or move too suddenly, and judging from the relative quiet stillness of the growing crowd, others felt the same responsibility to protect the ritual of care being tenderly offered from one performer to another.
/ser/ began with an expression of strength that I found to immediately capture my interest in the rest of the work. Spoken word artist Ra Ruiz Leon exclaims a call of solidarity to the ones who don't belong in the male, straight, white spaces, to the angry girls. Sitting in the audience, I know that Leon is talking about me. I'm emboldened with the permission to feel anger, an emotion stolen from the oppressed in the name of respectability politics and neo-liberal compromise that says to temper the rage, hide the fury because no one will take you seriously if you can't speak rationally. When Leon talks about burning those spaces that resist inclusion I can see my queer, brown self angry, a wave of furious flames taking down the structures and institutions that maintain straight, white, male dominance.
That anger and its accompanying adrenaline remains a part of my experience throughout the show. When I note the stiffly outstretched arms and heavy, deliberate stamps of the dancers I admire the courage it requires to take up space, but I'm angry that the right to exist has been denied from so many for so long that the simple image of a woman occupying more than a square foot of floor space reads as a brave political statement. When an audio clip of a man asking for a “lighter” side of flamenco to present to the audience, I'm angry that men feel that it's their right to edit the weight and depth of individual narratives into fitting their aesthetic preferences. I see and hear the anger I feel on stage in the moments of defiant stillness, where performers gaze directly at the audience, unraveling the colonizer's expectations for entertainment and in the way three performers gesture into the theater with one arm extended, hand insistently grabbing for more, while joyfully eating a candy bar with the other hand.
As fierce as anger is, it's shaded with relief from seeing work that I can relate to, healing, if just for a night, the loneliness that comes from being denied representation for so long. I see myself in a woman swinging a suit coat over her shoulder and sauntering with hips swaying across the stage. I see my past in a duet between two women bound by a long braid attached to each of their heads, hands grasping and arms flailing until one woman cuts the braid and leaves the other behind. When I see women dressed in suits and pink skirts and mariachi dress perform a spectrum of experiences including hunger, longing, resilience, and sexual agency, my anger at the limitations caused by structural inequality becomes appreciation for work that so strongly defies it. /ser/ presents the audience with work that is especially relevant today where bigotry is afforded a hyper-visible platform, while people of color and queer identified people are shut down. I'm grateful for the gift that /ser/ is and honored by the presence of artists willing to be personally vulnerable in order to build collective strength.
Dienae Hunter is a recent graduate from Arizona State University where they earned a Bachelor of Fine Art in Dance from the Herberger Institute's School of Film, Dance, and Theatre and a Bachelor of Art in Earth/Environmental Studies from the School of Earth and Space Exploration in ASU's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Dienae is excited about dance and its potential to build shared spaces and uplift the narratives of marginalized voices.Using their experiences as a queer person of color, Dienae constructs a social lens through which to view dance works and their relation to intersectional identities.