“WHAT TYPE ARE YOU?” brought together talented local choreographers Juan Aldape and Sofia Gorder at the Rose Establishment in downtown SLC. Each choreographer created a work, with a 10-minute intermission in between to absorb the material and grab a cup of coffee. The two works have in common a thread of social commentary, and the evening’s name is aptly presented in the form of a question, as each piece begs of the audience a certain degree of introspection about their own role in the surrounding society and culture.
A Comic Hero of Two Cultures by Juan M Aldape/DANZAFUERZA examined the relationship between México and the United States as seen through the lens of one individual straddling the two worlds. Juan integrated text and movement, a difficult thing to do successfully in a performance. The text, both live and recorded, was one of the strongest aspects of this piece. The opening text was recorded, and sounded mechanical, detached, as it asked intimate questions about marriage, in the form of a naturalization interview. As an audience member it was impossible not to begin to examine one’s own relationships with a lens as wide as Big Brother’s. “What do you like most about her? What do you like least about her? If you had cancer, do you think she’d stay with you?”
Comic Hero illuminated the experience of an individual oscillating between marginalization and thriving, living in a place in which the surrounding culture makes up only one-half of his cultural identity. Emotionality and empathy were elicited in the last section, in which the recorded voice impassively described what was clearly a very charged experience for Juan, an experience described as a “racial bike drive-by.” Juan’s clever wording of the material and earnest execution of the movement helped the piece to not feel too heavy, while still maintaining its integrity. The text provided poignant messages about identity, self-realization, culture and love over a backdrop of piñatas, Lucha Libre masks and more. Perhaps a lot to pack in to one evening’s work, but it felt cohesive.
At one point, Reggaeton-inspired movements gave way to more traditional modern dance-inspired cadences as the music transitioned to a droning rendition of the Star Spangled Banner. The metaphor here was most likely clear to the dancers in the audience, but I found myself wondering if there was another way to express this thought in a more accessible way.
When She Becomes Un-Easy by Sofia Gorder opened with three women wearing cutoff jean shorts, printed aprons and colorful tops. The three created a mosaic of bright plastic smiles to a soundtrack of an old record talking about how to “gain an appreciation of your role as a homemaker.” The soundtrack provided a humorous backdrop to the frenzied movement of the dancers as they baked, pressed, cleaned and prepared. Their smiling exteriors and increasingly anxious actions conjured images of the Stepford Wives. True to this form, the three collapsed by the end, apparently overtaken by their efforts to maintain the perfect household.
Following the collapse, the rest of the dancers entered the performance area as a crew, efficiently maneuvering those that had “failed” off the stage. The remaining six took turns dancing out of a line, and being helped and adjusted by the other women. Eventually, each dancer was painted with permanent marker, in a clear allusion to plastic surgery. The zombie-like expressions of the performers indicated acquiescence, if anything.
The most intriguing section was actually the most difficult for me to watch as an audience member. All nine women huddled close to the middle of the performance space, and began to dance when one yelled out “yes!” A Brittany Spears song then played while the women took turns dancing in the middle of the stage, in a way much like “Brittany” probably would. The others yelled, in fierce support or defensiveness of what was taking place. Eventually they all collapsed. The through-line became clear here, and the point that even though we as women may feel liberated from the “stifling” past in which we were expected to cook and clean and please “our men,” overt societal expectations still abound, which we actively endorse.
Gorder proved to be an effective communicator regarding women’s perceived role in society, and was able to raise significant questions regarding whether certain expectations remain relevant, or even more so, in the current social context. Her movement vocabulary was succinct and well-executed by the talented cast of women involved. While the issues raised here by Gorder are important to consider in any social context, the piece at times seemed quick to revisit already familiar territory, rather than to consider the material in an innovative way.
About halfway through A Comic Hero of Two Cultures, Juan spoke the words, “All writers only ever write one story- their own.” This is true of all art, and was well-reflected in “WHAT TYPE ARE YOU?” Both Sofia and Juan drew on their personal stories to create their art; Sofia’s, of being a woman, a mother, and a provider for her family, and Juan’s, of being a man who identifies with two cultures, in two places nearby in geographical proximity but perhaps worlds away in reality. I much appreciated being able to listen to these stories.
Emily Haygeman is a graduate of the University of Utah dance department and a graduate student in psychology. She regularly choreographs and performs in SLC.