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Agua Furiosa

Voices del Camino: [Formerly] Undocumented and [Now] Unafraid

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Voices del Camino: [Formerly] Undocumented and [Now] Unafraid

On the series: Voices del Camino is our series of stories and reflections from the company, while on tour. El camino, in Spanish, literally means "the road"; but el camino is also the journey that we're on towards witnessing, creating, and sharing the beauty and complexity of humanity, and towards transforming our world through love and movement.

Bentonville, AR | [Formerly] Undocumented and [Now] Unafraid, by Isis Avalos

We performed Agua Furiosa at the incredibly beautiful Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, as part of their series, “The Art American Dance”.  The performance itself was in a very intimate setting that was practically floating over water (very fitting for Agua's theme!).   

Isis (standing on a bucket) as Caliban 2 in  Agua Furiosa

Isis (standing on a bucket) as Caliban 2 in Agua Furiosa

After the performance we had our post- show Q&A.  A man sitting in the second row with his children beside him asked the first question, and it was directed towards me. He said he noticed that my character (Caliban 2) was going through turmoil, and he saw glimpses of water, but he also wanted to know if there were other stories connected to this character.  Ana Maria passed the microphone to me and I all of the sudden felt nervous—not because of the idea of speaking, but because of WHAT I was going to speak about. 

I introduced myself by stating that I was an undocumented child brought into the U.S. by my parents when I was 7 years old, and because of that, there was a direct connection between ‘the wall’ of buckets and the pedestal that my character stands on.  I mentioned how, ironically, when Ana Maria originally created this piece just two years ago, the phrase of ‘building a wall’ was not as big of a topic of conversation in America as it is now. And since I, like many others brought to the U.S. as young children, identify as Americans because we were raised here, we are now fighting against this wall just as Caliban 2 is in Agua Furiosa.  

Isis in front of an exhibit about undocumented immigrants at "Nuevolution" at the Levine Museum of the New South in Birmingham (another stop on our tour)

Isis in front of an exhibit about undocumented immigrants at "Nuevolution" at the Levine Museum of the New South in Birmingham (another stop on our tour)

In that moment I felt bold and proud to have said that publicly and in a way that the audience could connect to Caliban 2 but also to MY humanity as a Mexican-American immigrant.  Once the Q&A was finished I had a group of young women come up to me and thank for me sharing my story about being undocumented. I thanked them for accepting my story because it validates my existence in this country (internally, I felt touched and was choking up). I stared at them smiling and they stared right back at me. It’s those moments when you get quiet and you both understand the connection – no words are needed. That is humanity. This was the last show of Agua Furiosa in 2016. The year started off by me not mentioning my once-undocumented status, but now that IS how I introduce myself. 

 

I realized that who I am, has everything to do with the way I dance and why I dance.  Agua Furiosa is politically (environmentally- racially) driven and it is also very personal. I think it is necessary now more than ever to be ‘a voice’ for those who have similar stories to mine in order to give permission for others to share theirs.  I am thankful to be given the platform to be unafraid to tell my story. 

Isis, as featured on the Proud Mexicans site. #WeAreProudMexicans

Isis, as featured on the Proud Mexicans site. #WeAreProudMexicans

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Voices del Camino: When the personal becomes the artistic becomes the personal again...

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Voices del Camino: When the personal becomes the artistic becomes the personal again...

On the series: Voices del Camino is our series of stories and reflections from the company, while on tour. El camino, in Spanish, literally means "the road"; but el camino is also the journey that we're on towards witnessing, creating, and sharing the beauty and complexity of humanity, and towards transforming our world through love and movement.

Bentonville, AR | When the Personal Becomes the Artistic Becomes the Personal Again..., by Bianca Medina

During our performance at the Art of American Dance festival at the Crystal Bridges Museum of Art in Arkansas, I had the honor of dancing the character role of Caliban 3. Caliban 3 (one of 4 Calibans in Agua Furiosa) is a militant revolutionary trying to navigate how to fight for justice, but on that path ends up losing control and abusing power. Caliban 3 is originally danced by a male, so as understudy, I had to quickly understand what I was taking on, as a female Caliban 3. Now, this is a whole other blog post in itself, but what it means for Caliban 3 to be a woman, a woman leader, during this country's current state of affairs is something bigger than I can fully express right now. But as an artist, that is something I have to continuously do in each role I perform—truly understand and embody what my statement is on the stage.

My character literally runs herself dead at the end. So, it was a true emotional roller coaster during that experience, to say the least. But that's the beauty of art--it transforms us, personally and collectively.

It's a powerful ride when your artistic life, personal life, and the life of this big world around us come together. And speaking of art bridging life and life bridging art…  

I studied visual art heavily throughout my life, and spent so many years walking through museums, analyzing art and art history. I also studied dance history heavily as a dance major in college, reading lots of books, doing research, and writing papers on the pioneers of dance.

After we performed in Arkansas, we were able to walk through "The Art of American Dance" exhibit. On the walls were paintings, photos, videos, artifacts, set pieces, and costumes worn by some of the most significant pioneers of dance - Katherine Dunham, Martha Graham, and Merce Cunningham. The exhibit also brought up conversations around the political birth of social dance forms like Jazz and Hip Hop, the depiction of cultural & racial inequality in the rise of dance, and how many of the pioneers in Modern dance were women. 

Personally, that exhibit walk-through truly felt like a bridging of my visual art & dance history, years of education in museums, years of study in the books, in the studio, and on the stage - all in one night. It was a beautiful little remembering that my life has always been so interwoven with art. It’s what has kept me going, striving, malleable, discovering, and wanting more out of life.

To be a company member in CONTRA-TIEMPO and to be associated with this exhibit as a live performing dance company representing American Dance in this country right now is an honor. Being a part of this during this specific time where the creation and performance of art is crucial to the connection and social change moving forward in this country, is a mighty grateful, humbly proud, “Ay! Dios mio, pinch me!” moment in my career as a professional dancer.

#ArtTransforms #ArtOfChange #Artivist #DanceYourTruth #AguaFuriosa  

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Voices del Camino: Compassionate Community at NCSU

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Voices del Camino: Compassionate Community at NCSU

On the series: Voices del Camino is our series of stories and reflections from the company, while on tour. El camino, in Spanish, literally means "the road"; but el camino is also the journey that we're on towards witnessing, creating, and sharing the beauty and complexity of humanity, and towards transforming our world through love and movement.

Raleigh, NC | Compassionate Community at NCSU, by Ana Maria Alvarez

North Carolina always feels like a bit of a homecoming for me (afterall, my brother and I were born here, my parents met here, and I went to high school in Greensboro). I get excited by coming “back home”, but also a little nervous. I have some violent memories of this place from childhood (enough to fill a whole other blog post or two), and recently North Carolina passed one of the most horrendous pieces of anti-LGBT, anti-worker legislation: HB 2, the Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act. This Act:

  • requires transgender people (and everyone else) to use public restrooms according to the biological sex on their birth certificate
  • strips North Carolina workers of the ability to sue under a state anti-discrimination law
  • bans local minimum wage laws like the $15-an-hour "living wage" ordinances gaining traction around the country. The state minimum wage is $7.25 an hour.
Our dancers lead a Salsa Rueda class in the NCSU Commons

Our dancers lead a Salsa Rueda class in the NCSU Commons

The week we were gearing up to come out to Raleigh, the start our four-city tour (supported by the South Arts Dance Tour Initiative), other artists were beginning to cancel shows, boycott and create economic sanctions for NC, to send a strong anti-HB 2 message. Our work has always been about creating dialogue and building compassion and community, though, so we knew that now, maybe more than ever, we NEEDED to be in North Carolina. We rolled our sleeves up and got ready for the work we had ahead of us. 

I had visited Sharon and Stephanie and their team at NCSU in October 2015, to plant seeds for a powerful (albeit brief) residency in Raleigh that included several lecture demonstrations, master classes, community meet-and-greets, lunch meetings and a choreographic lab. 

CONTRA-TIEMPO shares smiles with Dr. Alison Arnold

CONTRA-TIEMPO shares smiles with Dr. Alison Arnold

We found the students that we met on campus to be bright, engaged, politically conscious and fired up. They had so much to share and teach us about HB 2. We learned that the NCSU Student Senate had voted to ignore the legislation, deeming it unconstitutional, against Federal law, and against the anti-discrimination policy at NCSU! We heard about the struggles they were having to advocate for true diversity on their campus. We met future engineers, designers, and architects who will be designing levies and water treatment systems and who felt frustrated that in their chemistry classes, although they were learning the equations for how to measure contamination in water, they weren't talking about Flint. We encouraged them to start those conversations with their professors. It was exciting to meet young people who were so clear about their own personal responsibility to positively impact this world. 

 

The dialogue is happening. The compassionate community exists. And we’re honored to be part of it and help continue to move it forward. Thank you, NCSU!

(Mother Jones article on HB 2)

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Voices del Camino: Southern Hospitality and Southern "Animosity"

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Voices del Camino: Southern Hospitality and Southern "Animosity"

On the series: Voices del Camino is our series of stories and reflections from the company, while on tour. El camino, in Spanish, literally means "the road"; but el camino is also the journey that we're on towards witnessing, creating, and sharing the beauty and complexity of humanity, and towards transforming our world through love and movement.

Stops 1 & 3: TX & TN | Southern Hospitality and Southern "Animosity", by Chris Cuenza

Chris flashes a smile for the camera while leading a Rueda workshop

Chris flashes a smile for the camera while leading a Rueda workshop

It so interesting that when people talk about “the South”, there are two things that seem to always come out: Southern food and Southern hospitality (I loooove Southern food, by the way!) Now, Southern hospitality is alive and well in Texas and in Tennessee. The local people were extremely welcoming and extremely nice. They made staying in a city that I have never been, feel as if they’d opened the doors to their own homes. There was a warmth that came from the community—a warmth that didn't make me feel like a visitor, but rather as if I just moved to the neighborhood and my new neighbors were welcoming me with fresh baked pies. It was beautiful. I swear, if the whole world acted with Southern hospitality, it would be such an amazing world (not to mention, we’d be extremely really well fed!). 

But there’s a flip side to this hospitality. I think I want to call it “Southern animosity”.  It’s a condescending and sometimes hostile vibe given to people of color. I don’t want to say it was racism, and we didn’t feel it from all the Caucasian people that we encountered, but when I felt it, it was definitely heavy. Coming from a big city like LA, that is a melting pot of so many different types of people, this animosity started to really stand out to me. 

The company all went out one night to a local bar in Midland, and the entire time we were having fun and dancing together, a [Caucasian] man across the room stared at us—like a lion about to pounce on its prey. It was definitely not a welcoming look, to say the least. And then we overheard people saying things about us—or even TO us—that made me feel like they were trying to be the “cool group in high school,” judging us because we didn't buy name brand clothes. Except, it wasn’t about what we were wearing…

Now being a man, of course I wanted to puff my chest and “go caveman” on some of these folks, but instead I tried to put my energy and focus on the warmth that was given by the majority instead of the cold received by the few. The warmth that we received from Robbyne 

and her community in Midland, TX, and from the waitress from Gus’s Fried Chicken in Memphis, TN, and from the students of University of the South in Sewanee, TN… We can all take a page or two from their handbook, on how to welcome new faces to our communities. To the South: thank you, and I shall see you soon.

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Voices del Camino: The Struggle within the "Struggle"

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Voices del Camino: The Struggle within the "Struggle"

On the series: Voices del Camino is our series of stories and reflections from the company, while on tour. El camino, in Spanish, literally means "the road"; but el camino is also the journey that we're on towards witnessing, creating, and sharing the beauty and complexity of humanity, and towards transforming our world through love and movement.

Stop 2: WASHINGTON, DC | The struggle within the "Struggle", by Ana Maria Alvarez

I have always had a tumultuous relationship with our nation’s capital. I am the child of Communist union organizers. I’ve seen the impact that the U.S. embargo of Cuba has had on my father’s patria. I endured years of miseducation from teachers in the South, who only told “his-story” and hid the truths of lies that our country has been built on. There have been times in my life where I have not stood when the national anthem was played, times when abroad that I pretended to not be from this country. …And then there have been those times when I have felt so incredibly grateful to have been born here and to call the United States of America my home. 

Some of the company (and Ana Maria's son) at the Memorial for Martin Luther King, Jr. in Washington, DC

Some of the company (and Ana Maria's son) at the Memorial for Martin Luther King, Jr. in Washington, DC

Being in Washington DC, bringing my son for the first time to our nation’s capital, and especially performing Agua Furiosa, brought up all of this and more. Saturday [our first show there] was a sold out audience, and for me, it felt like one of our hardest shows. Everything that could have gone wrong did (with tech, with space, with hitting choreography…), yet people seemed to still respond well; things resonated, and the piece worked. They didn’t know what went wrong. They hadn’t seen it 30 times. They weren’t the authors, and therefore they weren’t judging it as harshly. 

The second night of our show was an audience full of my parents’ friends—the village that raised me, the community who made me a “red diaper” baby, and the folks who are passing the torch to the next generation of change makers. The Q&A with this audience was one of the most interesting and inspiring for me—to hear their appreciation, but also how they were struggling with how I placed responsibility for this country’s current state of affairs on ALL of us. It was unnerving for some of my folks. They (we) have spent so much of our lives fighting the ‘enemy’, so to have one of their own offspring state publicly that WE are also the enemy, was hard for them to hear. 

I never thought about this in quite the same way until this Q&A —this idea that I am taking a different route than my parents. My village of my parents’ generation weren’t artists, they were revolutionaries, fighting the system. Fighting the system will always be at the root of my work, but as I am growing as an artist, as I continue to age, as I raise my own child (soon to be children), I have become more nuanced about that fight. It’s about resistance as love versus as violence. It’s the idea that pushing back and fighting can be done so much more effectivelythrough the arts, because it’s the ultimate tool to help us feel and remember our humanity.  

Who knew that it would be in DC that I would really find that?! This trip gave me more love for this city, for this nation and for exactly how I was raised to resist it all. 

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Voices del Camino: A love note to Robbyne and James

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Voices del Camino: A love note to Robbyne and James

On the series: Voices del Camino is our series of stories and reflections from the company, while on tour. El camino, in Spanish, literally means "the road"; but el camino is also the journey that we're on towards witnessing, creating, and sharing the beauty and complexity of humanity, and towards transforming our world through love and movement.

Stop 1: MIDLAND, TX | A love note to Robbyne and James, by Ana Maria Alvarez

(Editor's note: Robbyne Hocker Fuller and James Fuller are with the Midland African-American Roots Historical/Cultural Arts Council, the presenters who brought CONTRA-TIEMPO to Midland)

To Robbyne:

You are a force of nature! What an inspiration! From one hard working, ambitious, and determined woman to another, you give me LIFE and LIGHT! I knew the minute I met you, we were going to be friends. You have this spirit that gives one the sense that you know something the rest of us yet don’t and that you are floating about an inch off the ground.  You never stop sharing and making connections. It’s the reason we were able to bring our work to Midland – because of the incredible belief you have in others, in building community and in the power of unifying around a cause. I want to be you when I grow up!

Robbyne and James

Robbyne and James

To James (Robbyne’s other half, but also quite a life force, as well):

You are on the other side of the universe from the love of your life. The two of you all are like yin/yang – you complete the full spectrum of energy and light. You move at a different speed than the rest of us, yet you get there at the same time – if not earlier. I learned to stop and breathe and slow down from you – I also learned that you don’t have to invite the Roots Council audience to express themselves – because, goodness me – they DO! You told people to think, think, think and feel before our show. That was so wise, and I have thought about that with every other audience since. How I wish we could have recorded you speaking, to play for every audience we meet. What's funny about this is, I don’t think you had anything written; I believe you just listened and delivered. You spoke truth, and I thank you for that. 

Thank you both. I look forward to staying connected and hopefully finding ourselves out there in TX with you all again soon! 

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Voices del Camino: Dancing Out on Faith

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Voices del Camino: Dancing Out on Faith

On the series: Voices del Camino is our series of stories and reflections from the company, while on tour. El camino, in Spanish, literally means "the road"; but el camino is also the journey that we're on towards witnessing, creating, and sharing the beauty and complexity of humanity, and towards transforming our world through love and movement. 

Stop 1: MIDLAND, TX | Dancing Out On Faith... by Samad Raheem Guerra

Initially, I had questions about the way that our work might be received in Midland, Texas - a predominately Christian town with very liberal gun laws. How would a piece like "Agua Furiosa" sit with people, I wondered. All of my concerns seemed to fly out the door as soon as we arrived at bag-check. We were greeted by the nicest man, Mr. Fuller, who turned out to be the husband of Robbyne Hocker Fuller, one of our presenters. He introduced us to Pastor Hale and then briefly explained the strong network of faith-based communities, the Midland African American Roots Historical Cultural Arts Council (MAARHCAC), that rallied together on our behalf to make sure that we could perform in Midland. I immediately felt at home with Mr. Fuller and Pastor Hale and had questions about the role that faith plays in the African-American community in Midland. I wondered if they knew that "Agua Furiosa" conjures up the spirit of Oyá, a deity in Africa and the Diaspora, who narrates the story from Her perspective. 

Pastor Hale told me that Midland, like other small towns in Texas, faith is the binding force that keeps people connected to each other, regardless of their differing political views. We also learned that faith-based organizations like the MAARHCAC, are heavily involved in local politics in Midland. Mrs. Fuller, for example, has helped educate residents about policies affecting the environment and real-estate. 

 

Later in the week we were given copies of The Weekender, a local guide to events in Midland. On the front page was a picture of me and a large caption that read: Contra Tiempo brings themes of social justice. Whether anyone knew that some of the dances presented in our work embody African deities didn't worry me. I was excited to perform and couldn't wait to hit the stage! Before getting to my place, I peered into the audience and smiled at the almost-full crowd of predominately Black and Brown faces, young and old. If this is what faith can do, I thought, I want to be a part of it.  

Mr. Fuller sat us all down and reminded us of the importance of the work we are doing. “It’s God’s work,” he said, and the work of a true artist.
After my solo, the crowd clapped, which had never happened before. It must have landed and resonated with people in a way that it hadn't before. A Council member approached me after the show and said that we were the best thing that's come to Midland in a long time. I gave her a hug and introduced myself to her son, an aspiring performer. Before heading out, Mr. Fuller sat us all down and reminded us of the importance of the work we are doing. "It's God's work," he said, and the work of a true artist. 

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AGUA FURIOSA RESOURCES

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AGUA FURIOSA RESOURCES

Agua Furiosa has been in conceptual development since 2012. Over these almost four years, there have been countless texts, stories, songs, dances, images and conversations that inspired the work. Here we have listed some of that inspiration, from Artistic Director/Choreographer, Ana Maria Alvarez, sound designer, d. Sabela grimes, and chanteuse, Pyeng Threadgill. As well, there are resources to learn more about the themes of the work. 

Audre Lorde

Audre Lorde

Racism/Sexism

  • The Master's Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master's House, an essay by a fierce Black Feminist Lesbian activist and scholar, Audre Lorde
  • Sojourner Truth, an African American woman who survived chattel slavery to become one of the most renowned human rights activists in our nation's history
  • What is Internalized Racism?, an essay by Donna K. Bivens on one of the themes explored especially by Calibans 2 and 3, internalized oppression and racism
  • The People's Institute for Survival and Beyond, a trusted organization that is doing important work on "undoing racism". They describe themselves as "a collective of anti-racist, multicultural community organizers and educators dedicated to building an effective movement for social transformation". They offer outstanding workshops around several critical race-related issues.

Water/Environment

Oyá

Oyá

  • Oyá | Oyá is an Orisha, in the Afro-Cuban tradition of Santeria (or Lukumí), a tradition that was brought to Cuba from Nigeria when Yoruban people were enslaved through the Trans- Atlantic slave trade. Oyá is the deity of the wind, the air, lighting, fertility and magic. Oftentimes referred to as a destroyer, Oyá represents more the spirit of change, transition, and chaos. She is associated with the marketplace and the gates of cemeteries, which reveal Oyá in her aspect as facilitator of transition and transformation. She is a queen and a warrior orisha. In Yoruba, Oyá literally means “She Tore”. She is also called “the one who wears pants to go to war“. There are a number of websites that provide general information about Oyá, however, we cannot verify the accuracy of the information on these sites. 
  • The Tempest |  The Tempest, is considered to be one of William Shakespeare's greatest works. Written while Europe was colonizing the Americas, The Tempest is thought of as Shakespeare's in-depth discussion into the morality of colonialism and has been the subject of feminist critique, due to the lack of female voices in the play.  Alvarez created Agua Furiosa as a counter narrative to The Tempest, taking on many of the themes of the original play (magic, justice, "the soul") but from a clear female and contemporary perspective.  The work calls on two distinct characters of the play:
  1. Caliban, a disfigured slave; his name is connected to the word Cannibal, which is derived from “Carib”, the term then used for natives in the West Indies. In The Tempest, Caliban is very much in touch with the natural world, but demonized and not considered fully human.
  2. Sycorax, the mother of Caliban, one of the less-prominent women mentioned in The Tempest, is only described by the men of the play and never given body or voice. Woven throughout these descriptions of her is a suspicion of woman as evil, malicious and untrustworthy.

 

Musical Inspiration

The following artists were specifically identified by d. Sabela grimes as inspirations for Agua Furiosa's soundtrack: 

  • Celia Cruz- Quimbara
  • Duke Ellington
  • Fatoumata
  • Diawara
  • Petey Pablo
  • Kev Carmody
  • Soledad Bravo
  • Afrekete/Javier Campos Martinez

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