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On healing, resilience, and resistance: A conversation about BlakTinx part 1

This is part 1 of a condensed transcript (edited by Dienae Hunter) of a conversation between Sofia Dotta and Dienae Hunter about their reflections on BlakTinx Dance Festival Phoenix 2019. In this part of our conversation we cover Connection Within Our Bodies, Danza Rancheros, ...And I Asked God “Why Must I Feel Everything So Deeply?”, Seven, Leanin’ In, and Menudo.

Courtesy of BlakTinx Dance Festival photos by Ashley Lorraine Baker

Dienae Hunter: So, should we go from the beginning and talk about what we found interesting?

Sofia Dotta: Yeah, sounds good. Let’s talk about that intro. [Connection Within Our Bodies by Paula Ortega and Ty Muhammad of Rising Youth Theater] They did a really good job of pulling you in, capturing your attention, and saying “this is what the show is about”.

DH: Yeah, they were talking about ancestral trauma and generational healing and how those things are felt in the body, which was a theme throughout this show and through BlakTinx shows year to year.

SD: Layers of heritage, layers of culture within your body and how you carry that within you was definitely something that kept coming up during the night in different ways. It was about the embodiment of where you come from.

DH: Which makes sense for a dance festival.

SD: Yeah, it’s all about the body.

DH: It’s all about the body! What did you think about the first piece? [Danza Rancheros choreographed by Martha Patricia Hernandez, performed by Brandon Farrer, Brayan Perez, Kathleen Kennedy-Estrada, Laura Belvado, Leo Caudillo, Micaela Church and Michelle Lemons]

SD: I thought it was very straightforward. It set the grounds to invite the audience into the show and was a good transition for what was to come. The narrative was clear. It was very much about labor and which bodies are taken advantage of. There was this sequence depicting money and someone getting injured and not being compensated for their time. It revealed the labor intensity of certain cultures that are assumed to be the ones taking on that labor.

DH: I thought the narrative came across and the topic is important. It was definitely a strong opener because the music was loud and upbeat, it was an ensemble cast, there was an interesting use of props where the wooden rods they used to mime farming tools were also used to create some percussive sounds. It was a good opener.

DH: What about the next one? [...And I Asked God, “Why Must I Feel Everything So Deeply?” choreographed and performed by Kyara Nycole]

SD: It was a rollercoaster of things that were happening. I wrote a note “learning how to walk and walking with care”.

DH: That pigeon toed walk was powerful. That and Kyara’s squeezing through and making herself smaller really struck me because it reminded me of how people of color have to walk on eggshells and constantly question our place in order to survive.

SD: I saw difficulty expressing curiosity, like that feeling of “I want to, but I don’t know how to”.

DH: The title of the piece is powerful and so intense, but her choreography and the quality of her performance definitely lived up to the title.

SD: Absolutely. I felt the softness, I felt the anger, I felt the need to fight. Her movements made me feel every step of it, which is important when you’re feeling so deeply and trying to make the audience feels as deeply as you do.

DH: If the choreographer’s intention was to make us feel deeply as well then she definitely achieved that.

SD: Bottom line- art is meant to, even if just a little bit, make the viewer feel something, to react, to respond, to reflect.

DH: One last thing about this piece- there was a sequence of Kyara just punching through the air, which I found really satisfying because I also feel that kind of anger at the way things are so often. It was also hard for me to watch though, because rage is such a viscerally painful thing to feel.

SD: But sometimes it’s unavoidable and necessary to feel. Another thing about the piece- the quality of breath. There was no music, but her breath was her score and the way we could hear her breathing throughout the whole thing made the experience more present in a way.

DH: More present, more vulnerable, for sure.

SD: We had different interpretations of the next piece. [Seven choreographed Steven Redondo, performed by Raji Ganesan, Daniela Prieto, Steven Redondo, and Ronald Vasquez] What was your take on it?

DH: My take was that it was a dance of a memory. The set and the costuming was all in a sepia tone and it reminded me of an old photograph or seeing something through a flashback. I saw themes of home, family, heritage, and reflections on how the choreographer grew into who he’s become. Steven was doing these delicate head movements in the beginning and then the cast came out as, in my interpretation, his family, and also performed similar head movements. I saw that as an acknowledgement of who he comes from and how, despite being an individual, there is all this important background.

SD: I also saw that as a conversation, like a call and response with movement. It was nice to see the reflection and how movement evolves from one person to the next. I see how the sepia tones and the movement themes do look like a memory but I also saw a story of the dynamic between a brother and a sister and how children are raised differently based on gender. When I saw it, I couldn’t help but think of my cousins and how they grew up. The boys were taken care of and the girls were expected to be independent and responsible, which is funny because it’s a reversal of the adult gender norms.

DH: See, I didn’t interpret that, but you probably have more insight with your cousins and growing up in Venezuela.

SD: Yeah, I don’t know if that was the intention but the piece did mirror my family experiences growing up. I’m an only child, but I saw that dynamic with my cousins.

DH: Speaking of family structures, I was really enamored with the way the ensemble, as his family, was nodding approvingly towards Steven as he performed these beautiful, juicy, intricate solos that are characteristic of his work.

SD: I saw that as him taking flight and growing up and that process of transitioning into being seen as an individual.

DH: What about the next piece? [Leanin’ In choreographed and performed by Bernard Brown]

SD: The lighting was really nice in this piece. There was a spotlight on the performer and with the way he started the piece in a seated position with his arms and legs flailing as if he was falling, it looked like he was in one of those bad dreams where you’re falling forever.

DH: I saw falling as a motif throughout the whole piece with him falling and getting back up and then he ended the piece in the same position. Something else I saw in this piece was him fighting against limits. Especially with the repeated falling and getting up, it seemed like he was fighting against and being pushed back down by, and I always go here but, structural oppression and those extra barriers to success that have been institutionalized. He did a really good job of showing not only the struggle, but also the resiliency by continuing to get back up.

SD: I was thinking “Does the work ever stop? Can we stop? Do we want to stop?”. So many questions came up for me when watching this piece. The title “Leanin’ In” also speaks to the way the performer responds to that fight. He’s not running away from it, he’s there and present with his whole self, which we saw in his facial expressions too. I appreciate it when the face also dances and in this piece the performer did a great job of using every part of himself to tell the story.

Courtesy of BlakTinx Dance Festival photos by Ashley Lorraine Baker

DH: Should we talk about the next piece? [Menudo choreographed by Angelina Ramirez and performed by Angelina Ramirez and Elisa Lucia Garcia] From the very beginning when they came out with the roses in their mouths and those uncomfortable, forced smiles, I was so intrigued.

SD: Those forced smiles were everything, like how much do you need to suffer for spectacle? I wrote “passion, love, and obsession”, which you can find in all types of partnerships, whether it’s romantic partners, creative partners. No matter what, you have to keep showing up for your partner out of love for each other or for the work and that’s where passion and obsession can come into play.

DH: Yeah, like what different forms can love take and what kind of pain and suffering can come into your life because of passion and obsession? And especially as artists because sometimes loving your craft is hard and lonely and… sucks.

SD: It can be painful how much people sacrifice for what they love and there can be so much doubt there too. Is it worth it? Should I change my path? Do I let it go? And those questions can apply to loving your work and loving another person.

DH: There was this point in the piece where the fake smiles were dropped and Angelina started sobbing and crying. Seeing that shift from putting on a happy, smiling face to finally showing vulnerability and emotion was really meaningful to me because I realized that faking it is a waste of effort. Being vulnerable is hard, but so is lying to yourself and if you’re going to do something hard, why not do the one that builds connection versus the one that just builds walls?

SD: Yeah, like putting on a fake smile puts you in a box and in the piece, the two of them were going in and out of these boxes on the floor. Also, can we talk about the pills?! Like, the shaking of the bottles and the tapping of the bottles on their bodies.

DH: That part totally reminded me of the love of dance because dancing is hard on your body and it hurts so a lot of us will take painkillers in order to continue, which isn’t healing the issue that’s causing pain but it does cover it up so we don’t have to think about it. And the same can be said for relationships in a sense because there are so many things you can do to try and make a partnership stay afloat without getting to the core of what’s causing hurt.

SD: Yeah, and it’s hard to identify when you’re in it if you’re just treating a symptom or if you’re actually working towards healing.

DH: I feel like I could talk about this piece forever.

SD: I loved that this was a flamenco piece and the way the floor moved with their steps. The performers also did an amazing job deconstructing gender roles in flamenco because it’s a dance that’s very much about gender. How much love must you have for an art form when you choose to enter spaces that are designed to not be welcoming to you?

DH: When you bring that up, it takes me back to that theme of passion, love, and obsession and the pain that can come from that because sometimes the work you want to do exists in spaces that are so hostile towards anyone who doesn’t fit the norm. When that’s the case, it’s tiring because you have to work so hard just to be there.

SD: Is that something you feel?

DH: In dance? Yeah, definitely. Western dance is so gendered and it’s why I’ve stepped away from identifying as “a dancer” in favor of more vague terms. How about you? What’s it like as a visual artist?

SD: Photography wise, there have been points where I realized that male photographers were all anyone talked about and any women were swept under the carpet. In art school, I never really saw myself in art history.

DH: That sounds like dance history too. Going back to the piece, I think when we encounter these norms we have a choice to either put on our fake smiles and pretend it’s not a big deal or we can be vulnerable by putting ourselves out there and saying “this isn’t right and these are the things we need to do to make things better”.

Dienae is a movement and performance artist who is currently in ASU’s Creative Enterprise and Cultural Leadership Master’s program. Sofía Dotta is a visual artist from Venezuela based in Tempe, also a student in the Creative Enterprise and Cultural Leadership master’s program.

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