Academic journal article Centro Journal

Dance and Performance in Puerto Rico: Striking Back, Striking Forward

Academic journal article Centro Journal

Dance and Performance in Puerto Rico: Striking Back, Striking Forward

Article excerpt

The year 2013 was particularly important for the contemporary dance and performance art scene in Puerto Rico. First of all, there was new work in a provocative venue: two Afro-Puerto Rican sisters, Lydela and Michelle Rodríguez, in the San Antón marginal neighborhood of Carolina, a suburb of San Juan, presented Manual del bestiario doméstico. As an artistic collective they call themselves "Las Nietas de Nonó," and the venue is a house in ruins on a lot inherited from their grandfather. Real life and art converged for the price of the minimum wage in Puerto Rico: $7.25, or free for residents of the community. The performance piece presented a combination of text, abstract movement, vignettes, and auditory experience. It tells the story of their family, which mirrors many Puerto Rican families, where most of the men are either gone, dead, or in prison. It was a particularly moving experience, probably because of their absolute defiance of the presuppositions of artistic production in Puerto Rico.

In contrast, veteran choreographer of contemporary dance and a recognized rule breaker of conventional dance forms in Puerto Rico, Viveca Vázquez had a 30-year career retrospective at the Contemporary Art Museum in the heart of Santurce. Conducta, Coreografía del error (Choreography of Error, April-September, 2013) featured an exhibit, live shows, and academic discussions. Although the Nonó sisters could be considered informal theater, and Vázquez' retrospective at the museum, formal high culture, both itineraries deviate from what we expect from art forms and performance spaces. On one hand, because Vázquez' work has always been perceived as transgressive regarding the canons of beauty and the classic form that underlies the modern dance esthetic, and on the other hand, because Las Nietas de Nonó exhibit a possibility of freedom from the institutional apparatus for art-making. This freedom includes not participating in the denial of racism expressed by many Puerto Ricans, as demonstrated in the work of Juan Flores. Such liberty includes not participating in the stifling of new forms because they are considered not considered Puerto Rican enough or not representative of nationalist values. Finally, this freedom recognizes the exact opposite of this trend, namely, that the work may not represent any "international" current easily recognized by those deciding its pertinence: critics and event producers who could give Puerto Rican work more exposure in other scenarios.

The idea of itinerary as cited above in the examples of the newcomers, the Nonó Sisters and veteran dancer and choreographer Vázquez, is intended in this article to map creation, presentation, and the transformational esthetic practices these artists take on in contemporary Puerto Rico. I will also discuss the work of Karen Langevin, who has a similar trajectory to Vázquez, but performs improvisation instead of choreography. Paramount to this discussion in the conceptualization of an itinerary is that despite the generational difference between these artists, there have been few institutional changes taking place on the cultural front with regard to dance and performance art in the period spanning from the 1980s until today. The artists devoted to experimental art forms in Puerto Rico continue to be the main producers, sponsors, and promoters of their art works (Fiet 2004). Artists then create and uphold their own circuits of presentation, depending on the moment and range of possibilities. There may be a small theater open to receive them, or in the case of Vázquez, the museum's recognition that experimental dance and the body are "acceptable" to form part of the contemporary history of artmaking in Puerto Rico. The Nonó sisters have created their own route, which implies production with an urgent need to be shared by using the device of the personal space as the most logical and possible venue, where no government permits or bureaucracy intervenes.

Itinerary in this article refers to paradigm switches and the intention of constructively mapping. …

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