The Sun Gate: A Reimagining of the Peruvian Inti Raymi Festival

In elementary school most of us learned about the Incas, the indigenous people who Spanish “conquistadores” encountered in what today is called “Perú” in South America. Every year visitors from around the world travel to Machu-Picchu in the Peruvian mountains (the Andes) to hike and experience these famous ruins. Some people go for the adventurous trekking, some for cultural reasons, and others consider it a spiritual pilgrimage.

Machu Picchu, Peru


Peru still fascinates. The legends of the Incas remain prominent in the contemporary globalized and fast world, passed down through their descendants. Some even speak their language, quechua. Imagine being able to experience an Inca festival, recreated for the 21st century, right here in Philadelphia?

From July 26-29, 2018, Live/Wire Opera Company presents three works: Radiance, Pacamambo and The Sun Gate. (See my previous interview with Jon Mayse for a general overview of the evening). Earlier this week I spoke with Peruvian-American composer, Carlos Johns-Dávila, about his piece, The Sun Gate. Following is a summary of our interview:

Deslumbrar: Carlos, thank you for agreeing to speak with me about your piece, The Sun Gate. First, I’d like to know a little about your background and inspirations. How did you get started in music?

Carlos: So far I have had essentially two revelations about music. The first was when my mom took me for my first piano lesson at age 6. The second was when I applied to Interlochen for boarding school. I ended up attending for my last two years of high school, which really exposed me to completely new contexts for music and culture. There was some, but not much in my hometown. Anyway, I applied to Interlochen initially as a piano performance major. However, the level of competition is very high and I realized I might be over my head. Nevertheless I went to the audition, and eventually was offered admission as a composer! I had been dabbling in composition as a child and in my lessons I kept intentionally tweaking the piano scores (when I played them), to the dismay of my piano teacher. It wasn’t conscious then, but those were early indications of my composition talents. Right before I applied to Interlochen, I had won a competition for piano composition held by York Symphony Orchestra in Pennsylvania.

Later I attended Temple University in music composition and there I was exposed to electronic music. There I met Jon Mayse who is artistic director of Live/Wire and also a composer. What I like about it is that I can be original with electronic composition and blend it with acoustic instruments. Because my Peruvian ancestry is important to me and inspires me creatively, mixing the archaic and the contemporary is appealing. It reflects me: “What does it mean to be a Peruvian yet living in the United States?”

Deslumbrar: What is The Sun Gate about?

Carlos: This will be the second production of The Sun Gate. I set out to do one large scale production each year. I wanted to focus on myth, religion and ritual. The premiere was at Areté Gallery in Brooklyn, NY on June 9, 2018, curated by Melinda Faylor.

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The Sun Gate. At the premiere on June 9, 2018, Areté Gallery.

The Inti (Sun) Raymi (Festival) is the solstice for the Incas. It usually occurs in June, which is summer in the northern hemisphere and winter in the southern. This festival is enacted in Perú but it is not the same as what the Incas did—that was lost in colonial times. What I’m doing, and what is done now in Peru is based on the writings of the Inca Garcilaso de la Vega, who lived from 1539-1616.


(Video trailer of Inti Raymi Festival in Cuzco)

The performance includes two dancers, a 360 camera, the Quenacho flute and computer. Visual arts and dance have inspired me over the years. My Peruvian roots and composers like Eric Satie and John Cage have too. I appreciate these composers’ work because of its unique combination of strategy and artistry. Their pieces are captivating with depth.

Deslumbrar: Thank you for the interview. I look forward to attending the performance.

Check out more about Carlos on his website, https://www.newperuvian.net/ where you can see photos, videos and music samples.

For more information and tickets to the performance by Live/Wire Opera Company, July 26-29, 2018 at Temple University,

visit:  https://pepper-daffodil.squarespace.com/livewire/ 

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Electroacoustic Music Extravangaza at Temple University, July 26-29 in Philadelphia!

Recently, I conducted an interview via e-mail with Jon Mayse, composer and artistic director of Live/Wire about the upcoming show, “Pacamambo/The Sun Gate/Radiance” on July 26-29, 2018. I’ve recently learned through interviews with Jon and his colleague, Carlos Johns-Dávila, that this type of music is a blend of computer generated music and acoustic (traditional) instruments. This program struck me as unique and also very fitting for Deslumbrar, because of  The Sun Gate written by a Peruvian-American composer.
Deslumbrar:  How did the Live/ Wire Opera Company get started? What kinds of productions do you do?
Jon Mayse: Live/Wire started because I saw so many great electroacoustic works that weren’t getting performed, so I figured I’d simply do them with friends. I ran the idea of doing an electroacoustic opera by Isaac Young, the Opera Company Music Director, who somehow convinced me that it was possible for us to do (which was a total lie! I am waaaay too busy!). Initially, we wanted to do a major festival with guest artists, workshops, panels, etc and promote it with solo house shows or gallery shows. Then we saw how much that cost, so we scaled back to just an opera, Pacamambo, and some installations, Sun Gate and Radiance. This is our first production, but we have programs set up for solo sets with bassoon, trombone, organ, and piano that we would love to get performed in the future!
Deslumbrar:  How did you get started in music?  Tell me about your composition process and inspiration.
Jon Mayse: I was originally a blues guitarist, but I got into “classical” music a few years ago, then got into electronic music when I was a member of the Boyer Electroacoustic Ensemble Project (BEEP) at Temple University. My process differs from project to project. For Radiance, there has been a lot of programming, so I haven’t sat down and written any music out. Instead, the bassoonist (Dominic Panunto) has some general guidelines (techniques, gestures, sounds) that he will realize on his own. My faith is my main inspiration. Radiance depicts different moments in scripture in which God’s presence is made manifest. Musically, I tend to use lots of extended techniques on instruments (such as bassoon playing multiple notes or cellists using the cello as a percussion instrument). I’m also inspired by visual artists, such as Olafur Eliasson and Cai Guo Qiang, and sound artists like Samson Young.

Deslumbrar:  There is an upcoming performance of three music works at Temple University this month. Tell me about these works and your role in this event.
Jon Mayse:So, the works are an opera, Pacamambo by Zack Settel, and two multimedia works, The Sun Gate by Carlos Johns-Davila, and Radiance, by myself.
Pacamambo explores grief, friendship, and innocence through the story of a young girl, Julie, who is found in a basement with her dog and the body of her grandmother. Through discussions with a psychologist and dreams/flashbacks, we learn Julie is waiting to confront Death and about a fictional afterlife called Pacamambo, in which everyone is with their loved ones. The opera is wonderfully vibrant, with great rhythmic action and a French language rap.
Here is a clip from a performance of PACAMAMBO by another opera company:

The Sun Gate, by Carlos Johns-Davila, is a modern realization of an Incan Sunrise Festival, Inti Raymi. Viracocha, the Goddess of Creation, walks among the animals on the Celestial River, realizes dawn is coming and wakes the Sun, Inti. The work is for Quenacho (a South American flute) which is played by Carlos, two dancers, and projected lights. The two dancers depict the Sun and the Moon. I’ve only seen some footage from the premier in June, which only made me more excited to see it in person!
Radiance is for Bassoon, Live Electronics, and Lights. The piece depicts various scenes from the Bible in which God’s presence is revealed, from the Spirit coming over the Deep to the reveal of New Jerusalem in Revelations. Four speaker/light stations react to the bassoon, creating an expressive, spatialized dynamic. For example, a crescendo from the bassoonist, Dom, will be matched by brighter lights or maybe by subtle hue changes.
Overall, I am doing the administrative, marketing, technology, and financial work for the Opera Company and the Ensemble. For the opera performance, I am performing the electronic parts. I also wrote the music and electronic part for Radiance.
Deslumbrar:  Congratulations to Jon, who has been accepted to the Royal Academy of Music in London to pursue his master’s degree! He plans to create a “portable version” of Radiance and work on some commissions.  To follow this emerging composer’s career check out his website at: https://jonpaulmayse.com/
Coming up next is a detailed interview with Carlos Johns-Dávila, the composer of The Sun Gate.
Purchase tickets for this musical event (July 26-29 at Temple University) online. For more information check out the website, and Facebook.

Puerto Rico on the Canvas: Diego Hiromi

I saw this painting at the opening of PAFA (Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts) annual student show in May 2018. It has been on my mind ever since. I spoke with the artist, Diego Hiromi, at the opening, and he said that it has been hard for him being in Philadelphia away from his family and friends in Puerto Rico especially after the hurricane. I have friends from Puerto Rico and regularly have heard for months about the devastation that they and loved ones experienced due to the hurricane. This painting is a stunning and powerful representation. Technically it is spectacular, but I don’t even know how to explain the feelings that it invokes. I’ll just let the painting “María” speak for itself:

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Hiromi also had other paintings in the exhibition which related to Puerto Rico. One of those that we discussed was a portrait of his grandfather, “La oración de abuelo”:

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I am not usually drawn to realism, but Hiromi’s paintings are beautifully rendered and powerful. Full of emotion, they communicate a love for his family and native island. To see more of his work and read his bio, please visit his website:  http://www.diegohiromi.com/gallery/ He is definitely an emerging artist to watch out for!

You can still catch the student exhibition at PAFA this weekend! IMG_20180511_184903

An Interview with Playwright, Erlina Ortiz

I can’t believe that nearly two months have passed since I saw Las Mujeres, a captivating play by Erlina Ortiz, which premiered at Power Street Theatre Company in Philadelphia.

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Cast of Las Mujeres. Photo by Corem Coreano

I caught up with Erlina with some interview questions. These are her responses.

Deslumbrar: When did you know you wanted to be a playwright? How did that come about? 

Erlina Ortiz: The first time I proudly introduced myself as a playwright without feeling like a fraud was two years ago. I had been accepted into The Foundry, a Philly Playwright’s collective and for me that meant I was an official playwright now. I have always been a writer. When I was a little girl I would staple pieces of paper together and make little books. When I was in middle school I would come home from school everyday and plop in front of our family computer and commandeer it for the whole night while I worked on my ‘novel’. I still have that book I wrote and you know what, it is not that bad. My secret passion however had always been performing. I wanted to perform. Stage, film, tv, it didn’t matter. I loved assuming characters and getting that possessed feeling. My best path for this was Temple University. It was the only school I applied for and met a few important criteria for me; multidisciplinary program (I knew I needed to be a well-rounded artist and not just an actor), in a big city with lots of theatre going on, and relatively affordable compared to my other options. I had a fairly good experience at Temple, I wouldn’t take it back. However, I soon felt the sting of exclusion in my theatre department. At the most diverse university in the country I was one of 3 Latina’s in the department, and I soon realized that there was very little opportunity for me to showcase my talent on a Temple stage. The shows were either always an almost all white cast, or there would be the one ‘black show’ which I of course wasn’t right for either. I was stuck, and I realized as soon as I started seeing more shows in the city that the problem was not limited to my university. Around this same time I was taking a playwriting course. I found a strange power in writing my own characters. It was like acting, getting possessed by these voices that demanded to speak through me. It was more fun even because I wasn’t limited to one character. I got to be all the characters! A little while after that I was approached by Power Street Founder Gabriela Sanchez. Gaby told me she was starting a multicultural theatre company and I was like UM YES. So I joined, and I started writing the characters that I had so longed to see on stage. I started writing the stories that I thought mattered to my people, and the rest is herstory.

Deslumbrar: Tell me about your experience writing “Las Mujeres.” When did you start? What was your inspiration? etc.

Erlina Ortiz: Las Mujeres was quite the journey. I actually wrote the first one act version of it when I was a senior at Temple yet. It was the first piece of theatre I ever wrote to be seen in front of an audience. I was president of Lambda Theta Alpha Latin Sorority, Inc at the time so I was able to rent space and hire a few of my friends to present it (something I was not able to do through my theatre department). It was not very good, but it was a great experience writing, casting, directing, producing etc and I knew that there was a lot of potential. I remember telling myself, one day you will produce a full length version of this play when you are a better writer. About 2 years ago I mentioned this to Gaby and she was like, OKAY, LET”S DO IT. So, I got to work on re-writing it as a full length piece, and Gaby got to work finding grants that would support readings of the play as it progressed. This was essential to the process and so helpful having clear deadlines with the goal of a production coming up. The inspiration for the piece is hard to remember since it was so long ago. It had mostly to do with me being angry at my theatre department and being like OKAY I’m going to do my own thing and I’m gonna write 6 Latina’s so ha! Later… As I researched the women I was writing about I felt an intense urgency to tell their stories. When I picked the play back up to rewrite it 2 years ago, I knew that I wanted it to be about what it means to be a Latinx Woman in 2018, and the sacrifices that women have to make to survive in male dominated work spaces. I wanted to educate people on the true lives of these courageous women, and I wanted my audience to see themselves in them and be inspired to take action. I hope I accomplished those things!

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Cast of Las Mujeres. Photo by Corem Coreano

Deslumbrar: What writing projects do you have coming up?

Erlina Ortiz: Currently I am working on a piece with Pig Iron Theatre called The Caregivers. This is a community based project led by Nell Bang-Jensen starring real life people who are taking care of ill loved ones. It is a story that does not get told, and it has been so beautiful being in the room with these big-hearted people. I am also working on a project with Power Street called Hidden Disabilities. I have Crohn’s disease, and other PSTC members have hidden disabilities as well. We wanted to break the stigma around these topics and offer an experience to our audience to consider what their own hidden disabilities are, or that of the person next to them. Both of these projects are premiering in June. I am also writing the book for a musical called Silueta about a Cuban- American immigrant and a Syrian- American refugee living together as roommates in NYC during the year 2016. I am so excited about all of these projects!

Deslumbrar: Describe your role in Power Street Theatre Company. What are goals of the company, and what plans are in store for the future? 

My role in the company is multifaceted. First and foremost I am Resident Playwright. So, I’m always writing with Power Street in mind. I am also artistic director, so I help plan out our seasons with Gaby, and am independently always thinking of ways we can meet the companies artistic vision. I am also an administrative member. We are small so we all play A LOT of roles. I help with grants, I make connections with artists we may want to work with in the future,  I represent Power Street wherever I go. We just had our three year planning meeting and I’m so excited for what’s to come! Gaby Sanchez quit her full time job for the start of this year to focus on Power Street, one of the main reasons Las Mujeres was such a success. We want to keep growing, at a reasonable pace so we can learn as we grow. We want to keep producing dynamic and important theatre in North Philly. We want to continue touring to universities and schools. We plan on starting two adult classes, one in playwriting, one in performance, within the next year (grants pending). Eventually we want some type of structure to call our Home.

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The altar that community youth made for Las Mujeres. Photo by Corem Coreano

Deslumbrar: Erlina, Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions. I’m sure readers out there are grateful too! For more information about Power Street Theatre Company, and upcoming productions visit their website:  https://www.powerstreettheatre.com/

 

Edna Santiago: Painting Puerto Rico!

No hay mal que por bien no venga is often translated in English as “Every cloud has a silver lining.” This is the expression that came to my mind as I conversed with Puerto Rican artist Edna Santiago at her recent exhibition “To Print or Not To Print” at DVAA (Da Vinci Art Alliance) in Philadelphia.

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Santiago was compelled to start making art after the death of her only son, 11 years ago.  She worked for 40 years as a physical therapist as well as tending to her family, so art was put on the backburner. But after her loss, she began painting and proceeded to experiment with different media. Today Santiago specializes in printmaking, painting, and crafting lampshades from gourds. She maintains a studio and gallery in Puerto Rico, but is moving back to the Philadelphia area for most of the year, due to the recent storms and damage in Puerto Rico.

I saw some of Santiago’s work in person at DVAA. She is inspired by the sea, by the nature and people of Puerto Rico. I love her prints, which follow a long tradition of woodcut prints in Latin America. She showed me one of her plates made out of a softer material than wood. We discussed how important it was to determine the values (darkness and light) in a print. Santiago sometimes adds color to her prints–this happens  in the printing process itself or she paints a “finished” print.

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Santiago is upbeat, optimistic and inpirational to me as an emerging visual artist. She said that we  might not realize what talents we have inside of us that haven’t yet manifested. I was impressed by her printing technique and knowledge, and her creativity wih the lamps. Her paintings of people communicated tremendous feeling and those of Puerto Rico’s landscape were enchanting and unique. Santiago has several exhibitions/showings coming up in the Philadelphia area. The next one is at the Mainline Art Center on May 5, 2018 in the Spring Craft Show. For more information on her exhibitions and art please visit her website: http://www.ednasantiago.com

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¨Valor, Agravio y Mujer:¨ A Play by a Woman, Curated by Women, at the Repertorio Español

¨Valor, Agravio y Mujer: escrita por una dramaturga del siglo de oro español. Dirigida y diseñada por Mujeres de Hoy.¨

The quote above appears on the playbill of the play,  translated as ¨Courage, Betrayal  and a Woman,¨ which is currently showing at the Repertorio Español in New York City. The rest of the quote in English reads: ¨written by a woman playwright of the Spanish Golden Age–directed and designed by women of today.¨

Repertorio Español (RE) added this production of the cape and sword comedy by Ana Caro Mallén de Soto, which was published sometime in the 17th century in Spain, to its repertoire in October 2017.  RE´s production is directed by Leyma López. On April 21, 2018, I attended, and I highly recommend this polished and engaging production to all who can get to the RE to see it.

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Zulema Clares and Luis Carlos de la Lombana. Photo by Michael Palma Mir. 

 

This was not my first time at the Repertorio Español, but I had not been in several years. Upon entering, I was greeted warmly at the box office and welcomed by the usher, into the familiar lobby. This was my first experience with the subtitles on the seats. In 2012 RE installed the Simultex In Seat Captioning System (similar to that at the Metropolitan Opera) and this makes their productions, which are performed in Spanish, super-accessible to non-Spanish speakers, and without distracting titles projected on a screen above the stage, as is done in some other theaters. Although I never used the previous system of bulky headphones to hear a simultaneous translation in English, I commend RE´s dedication in promoting theater in Spanish to diverse audiences. Now even deaf people can enjoy the shows in either Spanish or English, by reading the titles.

Honestly, I cannot wait to go back and see Valor, agravio y mujer again. Spanish Golden Age theater is usually written in verse, and this play in particular, is not that easy to visualize with just one read, due to the poetry and the somewhat archaic language. However, the ensemble in this production enthusiastically lifted this text off the page and brought it to breathing and pulsing life!

The interpretation is performed in rich, sumptuous looking period costumes on a virtually empty set, both designed by Leni Méndez. The only adornment to the stage are tall thin movable poles and a platform reached by stairs in the front and on each side. The actors use these structures to situate the action, which is sometimes indoors, on a ship or outside. The light design by Lucrecia Briceño, works in tandem with the set, costumes and sound (by Zulema Clares) to firmly support and elucidate the drama. Nothing else was needed to supplement the superb acting, which completely drew me into this 17th century world.

Zulema Clares stars as the strong, smart and courageous Leonor, who dresses as a man to avenge her honor by hunting down her untrustworthy suitor, Don Juan. She was convincing as both Leonor and Leonardo, with different expression and body movement for each. Don Juan is deftly rendered by Luis Carlos de la Lambona–who at times is confident and cocky and at others, remorseful and contrite.

The play begins with Leonor dressing in men´s clothes. She is aided by her manservant/squire, Ribete. Erick González adds zing to this fun sidekick with captivating movement and gesture. Gerardo Gudiño was Don Fernando Rivera, a clearly delineated and pivotal role as Leonor´s brother. Soraya Padrao (Estela), Maria Cotto (Lisarda), Sendor Juan (Tomillo), Rafa Sánchez (Príncipe Ludovico) and Gonzalo Trigueros (various roles), rounded out the talented and well rehearsed cast.

Unique moments that added humor, drama or delight to the staging, included the lights, mists, poles and movement to portray the voyage by sea, the baroque music, and the use of a male actor (Trigueros) to interpret a female servant.

The plot and message of Valor, agravio y mujer, are universal: a woman wants to confront a man who has taken advantage of her/lied and everyone can relate to this. In the 17th century, when this comedy was written, in real life women rarely would be able to do this–confront him. Sometimes brothers or other family members would take matters into their own hands to avenge her honor and right this wrong with a duel. Ana Caro was definitely ahead of her time, thrusting the female protagonist into the role of avenger and empowering her to determine her own fate. The stellar acting and solid direction make the verse easy to understand and the subtitles, if needed, further facilitate audience engagement. Those who like classical theater, like Shakespeare, will find Valor, agravio y mujer particularly appealing. I hope that you will sample this play, written by a woman about 400 years ago, and staged by women today at the Repertorio Español. I know I will return to see it again!

Running time: 1 hour and 50 minutes, no intermission.

Valor, Agravio y Mujer is currently in repertory, and plays through August 24, 2018 at the Repertorio Español–138 East 27th Street, New York, NY 10016. For more information and tickets, contact the box office at 212.225.9999 or purchase online.

Bienvenidos Blancos: Confronting Myths and Stereotypes about Cuba

April 19, 2018 marks a historical event in Cuba, even if few are paying attention. After nearly 60 years of rule by either Fidel Castro, “El Comandante,” or his brother Raúl Castro, Cuba finally has a new President, Miguel Diaz-Canel. He was not elected by the people, and the international news professes that there will be little change in the country. However, only time will tell what might happen to governance and daily life in the tenacious and turbulent island nation.

The day after, I had the pleasure of attending Bienvenidos Blancos, by Alex Torra, at the FringeArts in Philadephia. Bienvenidos Blancos,  or “Welcome White People,” is a provocative title of this new work, by Alex Torra and the Team Sunshine Performance Corporation, with support by the Pew Center for Arts & Heritage. Alex Torra also directed the piece, assisted by Cheryl Zaldívar Jiménez, which was developed in collaboration with the acting ensemble at Teatro Ludi, Swarthmore Project in Theater, Swarthmore College, Taller Puertorriqueño and FringeArts.

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Bienvenidos Blancos is a bilingual production (Spanish/English) and the cast includes Americans and Cubans: Jorge Enrique Caballero Elizarde, Benjamin Camp, Lori Felipe Barkin, Idalmis Garcia Rodriguez, and Jenna Horton. Timbalona, a percussion duo comprised of Andrés Cisneros and Christian Noguera, provided pre-show music. The show is arranged in four chapters and at the end Torra comes out and addresses the audience directly. He speaks about his Cuban heritage and its inspiration for the play. His parents immigrated from Cuba and he is trying to hold on to the culture in his own life and identity.  Paloma Irizarry handled the supertitles, which worked perfectly on Friday, April 20. Since much of the audience is non-Spanish-speaking, the English titles projected on a small screen above the action are important, but not intrusive.

Bienvenidos Blancos is humorous and parodies stereotypes and misconceptions that predominate about Cuba and its people (and Americans too!) . The approach is experimental, lacking a linear narrative. It organically weaves dialogue, music, dance and Afro-Cuban folklore and religion to create a collage of vignettes.

The action on stage is entertaining and usually funny but it does take some time to digest the messages that the actors are attempting to convey. Torra´s Cuba is neither the Cuba of those born and raised on the island before the Revolution or after. Nor is it that imagined by the ´blancos´ or monolingual tourists who mostly visit to enjoy the beaches and experience what they imagine is the vibrant Cuban culture–like a tropical show with dancing girls with big headdresses and maracas. It is a mix of what is passed down through generations, filtered through the lens of Cubans who left the island due to the Revolution, as well as  the input of contemporary Cuban actors (who live in today´s post-1959 Cuba) involved in the show. It  is influenced by Torra´s perceptions as a Cuban-American living in the United States. Depending on where such immigrants live in the USA, the experience could be one that celebrates the culture of the ´old country,´ replete with nostalgia, or it might be quite xenophobic and discriminatory, or a blend of both.

Costumes by Fabian Fidel Aguilar, and set by Efren Delgadillo, Jr., are simple but they invoke Cuba. The arches over the doors to the wings, remind me of those that I have seen in Havana, and the military, historical and tropical show costumes also situate the interactions. The stark uncluttered set (except for a desk, chairs, Che Guevara poster, and a few other items) has a familiar ´empty´ and utilitarian feel, typical of interior design in Cuba and in some of the former nations of the USSR that I have visited.

The ensemble of actors is tight and works well together. The comedic timing, especially by Cuban actors, Caballero Elizarde and Garcia Rodriguez, is spot on. I was impressed by their acting–both smoothly transitioned through multiple characters. Particularly strong and engaging is the entire cast´s interpretation of Cuban history and the tropical show scene.

Bienvenidos Blancos is overall a thought-provoking and engaging evening. It is a must-see for those interested in or familiar with Cuba, and also those who enjoy experimental theater. Please note, that there is no intermission and the play runs for 90 minutes.

Running time: 90 minutes, no intermission.

Bienvenidos Blancos plays through April 28, 2018 at Fringearts: 140 N. Columbus Boulevard, Philadelphia, PA. For tickets please contact the box office at 215-413-9006 or purchase online.

 

 

 

Alfredo Rodríguez: A Little Piece of Cuba in Philadelphia

Alfredo Rodríguez, jazz pianist, was born in Havana, Cuba and his music explodes with Cuban passion, and is infused with its influences. In a video for “Havana Culture,” he says: “El cubano lleva la música adentro y la música está en todos lados.” (Cubans have music within them and music is all over).  He began his studies at the Manuel Saumell music school for students between 7-10 years. Eventually, he caught the “ear” of Quincy Jones and left Cuba in 2009 to make a career in the United States.

The Annenberg Center Live presents a Cuba Festival this Spring in Philadelphia. On April 5, 2018, The Alfredo Rodríguez Trio, composed of piano, drums and bass guitar, improvised on familiar Cuban melodies, such as Guantanamera, and original pieces, such as Bloom. Other songs included: Thriller, Bésame mucho, Yemayá, and Ay Mama Inés. 

The origins of jazz include improvisation and the making of music in the moment. The musicians do not use scores and each performance will be different. They work together to invent new ways of playing and making variations on a melody, and not on preparing a written score to present as “the composer” intended.  In addition to rousing variations and solos by all three instrumentalists, they encouraged audience participation in singing a repeating 10 pitch melody on a syllable, and the chorus of Guantanamera. It was fun to sing and it reinforced the act of music making as a collaborative improvisational event. As an audience member I wasn’t just sitting and listening passively, but creating with them.

Alfredo Rodriguez. Annenberg

I was most impressed by Rodriguez’ solo piano composition, Bloom. Most of the other pieces were loud in dynamics, very percussive and rhythmic. In contrast, this lovely soothing melody ethereally emanated from Rodríguez. Here is a version on an electric piano:

Without any sort of backdrop or screen with images on it, I was transported by the music of The Alberto Rodriguez Trio. In Yemayá, I imagined the goddess in her blue, floating on the sea, to the trills in the piano, and suddenly louder more marked chords, perhaps signal the entrance of Changó. Thriller invoked Michael Jackson and his monsters in a playful way, while Bésame mucho and Ay, Mama Inés, were an opportunity to combine latin sounds and rhythm with jazz for a cool performance.

It was easy to imagine the couples dancing to Ay Mama Inés. Fittingly, the trio ended the 100 minute concert with Guantanamera. Guantanamera,  no matter how it is played, is a hymn to Cuba and all things Cuban. It always reminds me of José Martí as well as the island, strength and simplicity, and the Cuban people. The enthusiastic audience applauded with a standing ovation.  

For more information about Alberto Rodríguez, see his website or Facebook page.  Visit AnnenbergCenter.org for a list of upcoming events this season.

Tarsila! Discovering the “Mother of Brazilian Art” at the MOMA in New York City.

A few children, from 7 to 9 years old, obviously part of a class, sat on the floor in front of the painting, “Composition (Lonely Figure),” by the great Brazilian artist, Tarsila do Amaral. Their teacher gave them instructions about what to draw and write in their notebooks. What a lovely sight to see these children having an art class at MOMA! (Museum of Modern Art, NYC).

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Students of all ages, senior citizens, young adults, Brazilians, Americans, and tourists from many different countries packed the galleries. The work of the “Tarsila” had finally arrived at MOMA in New York.

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I saw some of her paintings in São Paulo in 2014. I really liked the museums in São Paulo, MASP and the Pinotecas. (You can read about some other impressions on Brazilian art that I saw in São Paulo on deslumbrar). MOMA and the Chicago Art Institute collaborated on this initiative.

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What I liked most about this exhibition was seeing Tarsila’s originals close up, and also reliving memories of Brazil. Each of her paintings invokes Brazilian culture and triggers saudade. And that’s really what she wanted. When she was living abroad, she began to identify more as a Brazilian and she wrote:

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One thing that I just don’t understand, and I don’t agree with, is the “English Only” of some museums. This is not only an issue I have with MOMA, since I have also experienced this at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. For this Tarsila exhibition, all of the labels and the audio guide were written in English. Of course, the audience for the exhibit is comprised of Americans from the United States, but in my opinion, it should have been bilingual, in Portuguese and English. There are some things that are difficult to translate, and would be helpful to have an explanation in Portuguese (or the language of the artist). In addition, in the audio guide there was an error in the pronunciation of “Sono”. Instead of saying “sono” the voice said “sonho,” which means “dream” in English. This completely confuses the meaning of Tarsila’s “O sono” (Sleep). Another advantage of a bilingual show is that it is accessible to more people. A bilingual exhibition of Tarsila’s work, which is important for Brazil and the rest of the Portuguese speaking countries, would have reached out as a “welcome” to Portuguese speaking people.

That, however, is a minor criticism. The exhibition is worth seeing, even in English. I adored looking at all of her pieces displayed, from the unknown sketches in graphite and ink on paper, to the huge canvasses in oil, for which Tarsila is most famous.

This is not an “objective” analysis or a pseudo-academic text. MOMA has already published the coffee table book and everyone can purchase that in the museum bookstore. You can also check out the interview with Caetano Veloso on youtube.com that MOMA presented, or do a Google search of all the criticism of the show by the famous art history experts. I prefer to offer a few observations and reactions to my favorite works.

First, as an artist, I really admire that Tarsila signed her pieces with only her first name. There’s this idea among artists in the United States, that if you are a “serious” artist, you need to sign with your last name. Tarsila proves this WRONG.

Tarsila painted Brazilian subjects, and she started, along with her husband, Oswald de Andrade, and other artists of different types (Mário de Andrade, Anita Malfatti, etc.) the Cannibalism Movement, Movimento Antropófago, and Modernism in São Paulo. Tarsila traveled to Paris in order to continue her art studies, and also around Brazil. In Brazil, Tarsila was inspired by various native subjects. She painted animals, landscapes, cityscapes, human figures, almost human figures, and nature. Overall, she used a non-realistic approach that encompassed surrealism, cubism, futurism and everything else that was going on at the time.

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Born in 1886, on a plantation in São Paulo, she captures nature in a raw fashion. Cartão postal, (PostCard) has the same elements that you find in typical postcards of Brazil: palm trees, other tropical trees, animals, houses, fruit, water and hills. It is interesting that she mixes semi-tropical, desert plants with the water (river/sea). It’s as if this post card isn’t just to represent the popular tropical panorama, but also that of Brazil’s rugged and barren interior, o sertão.

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“O sono” (Sleep) sticks in my head because of its surrealism mixed with the Brazilian landscape—the simple and essential palm tree.

The last work that one sees before leaving the gallery, is Operários from 1933. This is a representation of different phenotypes of Brazilians and urban factories.

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The exhibition of Tarsila do Amaral’s work is at the MOMA in New York City, through June 3, 2018. For more information: https://www.moma.org/calendar/exhibitions/3871

Tarsila! Descobrindo a mãe da arte brasileira em MOMA

Umas crianças dos 7 a 9 anos, obviamente parte de uma turma escolar, se sentaram no chão em frente do quadro “Composição (Figura Só)” da grande artista brasileira, Tarsila do Amaral. Sua professora lhes dava instruções sobre o que fazer com seus cadernos de desenho. Que lindo ver aqueles meninos tendo uma aula de arte no MOMA! (Museum of Modern Art, NYC)

 

 

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Dentro das salas lotadas, não somente circulavam alunos de todas as idades, mas também, idosos, adultos, brasileiros, americanos dos Estados Unidos, e turistas de vários países. A obra da artista brasileira, Tarsila, finalmente chegou ao MOMA de Nova Iorque!

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Eu vi algumas das peças dela em São Paulo em 2014. Gostei muito dos museus de São Paulo, MASP e as Pinotecas. Eu fui em uma quarta-feira, no 28 de março de 2018, para vivienciá-la em Nova Iorque. O MOMA e o Chicago Art Institute colaboraram para fazer esta iniciativa. Especificamente, Luis Pérez-Oramas e Stephanie D’Alessandro prepararam e organizaram a exposição, com ajuda de Karen Grimson.

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O que mais gostei desta exposicão foi a oportunidade de ver a sua obra original na minha frente e ao mesmo tempo reviver meus momentos no Brasil. Cada quadro de Tarsila invoca um aspeto da cultura brasileira, e inspira a saudade. E isso o que ela queria, porque quando estava fora do Brasil, começou a sentir-se ainda mais brasileira e disse:

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Uma coisa que não entendo (e não gosto) de alguns museus, é o monolinguismo. E não é só MOMA que faz isso. Para esta mostra de arte, todas as inscrições (menos os títulos das obras) e a áudio-guia foram apresentadas em inglês. Claro, este evento se destina ao público estadunidense, mas na minha opinião, deve ser bilingue–em português e inglês. Existem certas coisas que resistem a tradução e é ilucinante ter o original no lugar para referência, e uma explicação em português (ou a língua do artista). Na áudia-guia que eu segui em inglês, tinha um erro com a pronúncia de “Sono” (disse “sonho” que significa “dream” em inglês) que realmente confundaria todo o significado da obra “O Sono” de Tarsila. Outra vantagem do bilinguismo é que acolhe a mais pessoas. Uma apresentação bilingue daria o “bem-vindo” aos lusofalantes a uma exposição de muita importância para o Brasil e o mundo lusófono.

Porém, é uma crítica menor. Adorei reparar sua obra desde os desenhos de lápiz e tinta em papel até os grandes quadros à óleo, pelos quais ganhou sua fama no Brasil e no exterior.

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Não vou fazer uma crítica “objetiva” ou escrever um texto pseudo-acadêmico sobre Tarsila no MOMA. Já publicaram a guia que todos podem comprar na livraria. Também podem assistir à entrevista com Caetano Veloso que fizeram no museu, sobre a arte de Tarsila e o tropicalismo em youtube.com, ou até podem fazer uma busca de Google para os artigos escritos por expertos famosos de arte. Prefiro oferecer algumas das minha reações e observações sobre meus quadros favoritos da exposição.

Primeiro, como artista, admirei muito que Tarsila assinasse seus quadros com apenas seu primeiro nome. Existe a ideia entre alguns artistas estadunidenses que um artista plástico “sério” tem que assinar sua obra com o sobrenome. Tarsila mostra que isso não é verdade.

Tarsila pintou temas brasileiros e iniciou, com seu esposo Oswald de Andrade, e outros artistas de todo tipo, o movimento antropófago e modernismo em São Paulo. Tarsila viajou para París para estudar arte, e também pelo Brasil para explorar temática autóctone. Ela desenhou e pintou animais, figuras humanas, “quase” humanas, a natureza, o campo e a cidade. Sobretudo em uma maneira não realista. Tinha influência de cubismo, surrealismo, futurismo e tudo que estava se fazendo naquela época–nas primeiras três décadas do século XX.

Nascida em 1886, em uma fazenda de São Paulo, capta a natureza de forma bruta na sua obra. “Cartão postal” de Tarsila tem os elementos de muitos postais típicos do Brasil–palmeiras, outras árvores, animais, casas, fruta, água e morros. É interesante sua mistura de plantas da caatinga com o rio/mar–como se este cartão postal representasse não só a familiar paisagem tropical, mas também a do interior, do sertão brasileiro.

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“O sono” fica na minha cabeça, por seu surrealismo misturado com o elemento brasileiro–essa palmeira primitiva e essencial.

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A última obra que se encontra antes de terminar e sair da sala é “Operários” de 1933. Aquí tem uma representação de tipos de brasileiros diferentes e as usinas urbanas.

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Tarsila do Amaral: Inventing Modern Art in Brazil continua no MOMA até 3 de junho 2018.