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