“Me acerco y me retiro:” Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz Set to Music

I rarely write about myself in my blog, but I have a concert coming up on February 12, 2017 in New York City and that’s my focus for the next week. The theme and title is “Amor Latino/Latin Love.” I’m performing this with two other singers, Celia Castro and Anna Tonna, and pianist/composer, Max Lifchitz. Here’s a link to an article about it: http://www.cbs8.com/story/34362238/amor-latino-spice-up-your-valentines-day

This concert is exciting to me for a few reasons. First, the opportunity to work with such engaging and passionate artists, and to explore this theme in Spanish and Latin American music. Some of the works that will be performed come from Spain, but my music this time is all from Latin America. I’ll be singing Claudio Santoro’s Canções de amor (1ra serie) and two of Francisca “Chiquinha” Gonzaga’s songs. Both of these composers are Brazilian and I am looking forward to presenting Brazilian music for the first time in New York.

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But this article is supposed to be about Sor Juana set to music. For the third time I’ll be performing the duet “Me acerco y me retiro” which is roughly translated as “I approach and then I back away.” This duet was written for Anna and me by Max Lifchitz.  Max is a composer/ pianist originally from Mexico. He’s made his home in the USA for a while now. We first performed the duet in a concert of art songs that we did for Cinco de mayo in New York in 2015, and again in November of 2015 in a retrospective of Lifchitz’ music.

Sor Juana is an interesting historical figure from the 17th century. Born in Mexico, which at the time was still part of Spain, she is probably the most important poet in its history. She was a brilliant woman, born ahead of her time. Too smart when women were not really supposed to be independent or intelligent. Little choices were available to such women, and they usually ended up stifling their intellect or joining a convent. Sor Juana ended up a nun, but was that really her desire?

Recently, channel 11 in Mexico has created a series about Sor Juana Inés, called “Juana Inés.” This series is now being played on Netflix, so there is a much broader audience. Here’s a trailer (in Spanish):

Me acerco y me retiro is an intense piece. As mezzo, contralto, and piano, we intricately weave the verse, mostly about an unrequited love, in melismas, consonant and dissonant harmonies and fierce piano interludes. Her poem ends (translation by Max Lifchitz):

A vivir ignorado
to live unobserved
de tus luces, me ausento
by your eyes, I now go
donde ni aun mi mal sirva
Where never pain of mine
a tu desdén de obsequio.
Need flatter your disdain. 

 

In addition to the duet, Me acerco y me retiro, there will be a premiere of Lifchitz latest composition based on Sor Juana’s poetry, called Rosa divina. This is a solo piece for a soprano with piano, which will be sung by Celia Castro.  I am hoping that with time these pieces, and others that Lifchitz might create, will give the world another glance at Sor Juana’s poetry in a different medium, through music.

Join us at the National Opera Center in New York City, February 12, 2017 3:00 pm (FREE!) or LIVE STREAMING online at https://www.youtube.com/user/NatOperaCenterLIVE

Paint the Revolution: Exploring a New Mexican Identity at the Philadelphia Museum of Art

Paint the Revolution:Mexican Modernism, an exhibition of Mexican Art from 1910-1950 is an eclectic selection of paintings, works on paper, chapbooks, posters, magazines, photographs,  video and sculpture. It includes the most internationally reknown Mexican artists of the early twentieth century: Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siquieros, Frida Kahlo, José Clemente Orozco and Rufino Tamayo. In addition, there are less well known artists featured: Saturnino Herrán, Alfred Ramos Martinez, Francisco Goitta, Angel Zárraga, Manuel Rodríguez Lozano, Roberto Montenegro, Gerardo Murillo, Adolfo Best Mayard, Isabel Villaseñor, Leopoldo Méndez, María Izquierdo, Xavier Guerrero, Julio Castellanos, Luis Arenal Bastar, and others.

The painters of the Mexican Revolution and shortly afterwards, explored themes related to violence and war, rural life, industrialization, what it meant to be Mexican, as well as other themes. Most of the works are oil paintings and woodcuts, but there are some photographs, sculptures, pastels, watercolor and video of the gigantic murals. According to text in the exhibit, “Mural painting came to be seen as the quintessential art of the Revolution because of its accessibility.”

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The Epic of American Civilization. (wall mural detail), 1932-34, José Clemente Orozco (Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College: Commissioned by the Trustees of Dartmouth  College), (c) José Clemente Orozco/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/SOMAAP, Mexico City

There are quite a few portraits in the exhibit, including self-portraits by Frida Kahlo, Dr. Atl (Gerardo Murillo), Siquieros, Isabel Villaseñor, and Adolf Best Mayard.

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Portrait of Martín Luis Guzmán1915. Diego Rivera, 28-9/16 x 15-3/8 inches (72.6 x 39.1 cm), (Fundación Televisa Collection) (c) Banco de México Diego Rivera Frida Kahlo Museums Trust, Mexico, D.F./Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Self Portrait on the Border between Mexico and the United States of America, 1932 (oil on tin)

IMAGE 1: Self-Portrait on the Border Line Between Mexico and the United States, 1932, Frida Kahlo, Oil on metal, 12-1/2 x 13-3/4 inches (31.8 x 34.9 cm), (Colección Maria y Manuel Reyero, New York) © Banco de México Diego Rivera Frida Kahlo Museums Trust, Mexico, D.F./Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Both portraits show the use of Mexican elements. In “Portrait of Luis Guzmán” he wears a traditional sarape. Kahlo inserts a Mexican flag into her self-portrait, as well as what looks like an indigenous pyramid/building.

Many of the portraits and other works depicting people, are of indigenous people and/or campesinos. (rural people). As one of the rare pastel paintings in the exhibit, Siquiero’s “Peasants” stands out.

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IMAGE 6: Peasants, c. 1913, David Alfaro Siqueiros, Pastel on paper, 40-1/2 x 6 feet 3-3/4 inches (102.8 x 192.4 cm),(Museo Nacional de Arte, INBA, © David Alfaro Siqueiros/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / SOMAAP, Mexico City

Rufino Tamayo paints indigenous figures often. For example, Man & Woman from 1926 and later Homage to the Indian Race. There are also a few Tamayo paintings in which he uses animals to represent violence and war.

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IMAGE 14: Homage to the Indian Race, 1952, Rufino Tamayo, Acrylic and oil on masonite (4 panel polyptic), 16 feet 4-7/8 inches x 13 feet 1-1/2 inches x 3-3/4 inches (500 x 400 x 9.5 cm), (Acervo CONACULTA–INBA, Museo de Arte Moderno), ©Rufino Tamayo/Visual Artists and Galleries Association, New York, New York

This was my second visit during the day on a Wednesday to see Paint the Revolution and I had more time to view it. It was also less crowded than it was on opening weekend when I first went. There are many political posters, small booklets, pamphlets and magazines displayed. Woodcut prints were utilized in many of these, and they dealt with the Mexican revolution, rebuilding and World War II and fascism. Wall text explained, “Illustrated books were tokens of friendship and aesthetic communality among modern poets and painters.” These books are in display cases in the exhibit, and showcase the drawing (printing, lithograph) and poetry of the era.

My favorite paintings of Paint the Revoluion, were Siquieros’ Collective Suicide, Luis Arenal Bastar’s Woman Carrying a Coffin,  and still lifes by various painters.

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Woman Carrying a Coffin. Luis Arenal Bastar.

Despite being an exhibition of Mexican works, all of the wall descriptions are in English only, no Spanish. There is no audio guide either. I think the visitor experience would have been enhanced by an audio guide or short video/film explaining in more detail the political situation in Mexico during the Porfirio Díaz reign and the subsequent Revolution. Definitely for Spanish speakers AND learners who attend, written wall explanations in Spanish would have been welcome.

Paint the Revolution continues through January 8, 2017 at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. It moves on to Mexico City, Mexico afterwards. At the Philadelphia Museum of Art, to view is free for members, and no reservations are required. For more information and tickets, please visit their website: http://www.philamuseum.org/exhibitions/840.html

Constructing Altars: An Interview with Mexican artist, César Viveros. (translation from Spanish)

This is an interview realized digitally about the altar course that César Viveros teaches at Fleisher Memorial and a little bit about his artistic inspiration.

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Celeste: I found out about you and your work through Fleisher Art Memorial. I saw an announcement about a course on altars for Day of the Dead. How did this course come to be? What will the students do in the course? Would you describe the materials that they will use?

 

César: The Day of the Dead altar course has started. It is a four-day intensive in which the students are introduced to the Day of the Dead tradition, which has become popular in the United States. This is the third year that Fleisher is working with the community around this holiday and this year I was invited as the artist who would direct the installation of the traditional Day of the Dead altar. So during four days we wanted to teach the workshop in which students could make their own mini-altars in the tradition of the larger ones for Day of the Dead. The students have designed the mini-altar based on their ideas and with simple drawings they begin to render the design. Normally they focus their design on a familiar member or friend who has left this world. Usually they construct a based made out of wood or cardboard that supports the composition, and then make the rest of the elements, which overall are made from wire, paper mache and paints.

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Celeste: When did you begin to make art?

César: I always tell the story of my early years during the rainy season in Veracruz, Mexico. We would make deep holes in the dirt in order to burn or bury the garbage (organic and inorganic), because there was no municipal service that would handle it. So there was always a moist clay, very characteristic of subsoil in Veracruz. (One needs to note that in this area many vestiges of an advanced civilization have been found, developing this type of art. These civilizations were very old, centuries before the Spanish arrived in the Americas). It is precisely here that at the age of five, I began to experiment with constructing these clay artifacts as a way to entertain myself in my free time. I wasn’t able to move around much at that age obviously, so I traveled in my imagination. This helped me to create alternative worlds while I was kneading clay—making multiple forms that allowed me to have fun while I discovered things that were not academic—because of the isolation of our community, in relation to other cities that perhaps might have offered some kind of artistic education.

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In high school, some teachers noticed that a friend of mine, my brother (Nicolás and José Nava), and I liked to draw and paint a lot. So they gave us the opportunity to do large paintings, portable murals that could be used as backdrops for festivals. Remember in Mexico that any occasion is a good one to have a party. Thus we were able to count on resources to develop these projects that I consider not so common in our limited area. With this background it might seem strange that I didn’t decide to study art or any related discipline, like architecture or graphic design. But as soon as I finished high school and a technical course at a national institution of public education, I decided to risk it and work in Petrolera de Campeche, looking for business opportunities, which in a way took me away from any inclination towards the visual arts.

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However, in a couple of years working in the petroleum platforms in the Golf of Mexico zone, I had the opportunity to begin to paint murals on the barges of a company called Corporación de Construcciones de Campeche, in an informal way. My official work was to develop underwater activities as an industrial diver. It was at that juncture that I decided to seriously return to my true vocation. While working there, I began to take commissions for portraits and pictures commissioned by North American staff what were working in the Campeche area. As a result, each time that I was able to, I would make multiple murals in high schools in Veracruz, which helped me to define my style and my individual technique.

For more information about César Viveros, visit his Facebook page:

http://www.facebook.com/cesar.viveros.904

For more information about FLEISHER ART MEMORIAL and their events see:

http://fleisher.org/community-programs

 

Taller de altares en Filadelfia: Una entrevista con el artista mexicano César Viveros

13533308_10154294756507350_6578431374972799687_nEs una entrevista realizada en el espacio digital sobre el curso de altares que César Viveros enseña en Fleisher y un poco sobre su inspiración artística. 
Celeste: Yo me enteré de Ud. y su trabajo a través de Fleisher Art Memorial. Vi un anuncio sobre un curso de altares para Día de los muertos. ¿Cómo surgió este curso? ¿Qué harán los estudiantes en el curso? ¿Puede describir los materiales que van a usar?

César: El curso de altares de día de muertos en Fleisher Art Memorial ha empezado, serán solamente  4 dias intensos en los cuales los participantes  han sido introducidos a esta tradición de Dia de muertos, la cual ha cobrado gran auge en Estados Unidos. Este es el tercer año que Fleisher trabaja conjuntamente con la comunidad  en estos festejos y este año fui invitado como el artista que dirija la instalación del altar tradicional  de día de Muertos. Así que durante 4 días  quisimos enseñar un taller donde la gente pueda construir sus propios ” altarcitos”  los cuales son miniaturas simplificadas de los altares tradicionales. Los estudiantes  han diseñado el altarcito basado en sus ideas y con dibujos simples  empiezan a materializar su diseño. Normalmente  centran  su figura principal en algún familiar o amistad que haya partido al mas allá. Usualmente se construye una base de madera o cartón que soporte la composición  y se procede a  fabricar los elementos que en su mayoría son hechos con alambre , papel-mache  (paper and corn base paste ) y pinturas.

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Celeste: ¿Cuándo comenzó a hacer arte?

César: Siempre cuento la historia de mis primeros años cuando  en la temporada de lluvias en la zona de Veracruz, México. Después de que la gente solía hacer  hoyos profundos en la tierra para incinerar o enterrar la basura (orgánica o inorgánica ), porque no había un servicio  de parte del ayuntamiento de la ciudad que lo hiciera, así que continuamente había  barro húmedo , muy característico del subsuelo  Veracruzano. ( Hay  que notar que  en esa área se han hallado muchos vestigios de un estado avanzado en el desarrollo de este tipo de  arte, correspondientes a civilizaciones  que sobresalieron muchos siglos antes del arribo de los Españoles al nuevo continente ) y es precisamente aquí que a la edad de 5 años empiezo a incursionar en  la construcción  de  artefactos de barro como único medio para entretenerme  en el tiempo libre que  como infante se pueda tener.  Las limitaciones que pudiese tener en cuanto el espacio para desplazarme a esa edad , las suplía viajando en el espacio imaginario. Eso me ayudaba a crear mundos alternativos mientras amasaba el barro dando formas múltiples  que me permitieran  divertirme  mientras descubría  cosas que  no tenían ninguna influencia académica–debido al aislamiento de nuestra  comunidad  en relación con otras ciudades que tal vez pudieran tener acceso a algún tipo de educación artística.

En la escuela secundaria, algunos profesores se dieron cuenta que a un amigo, su hermano ( Nicolás y José Nava) y a mi nos gustaba dibujar  y pintar mucho así que  nos dio la oportunidad de pintar en  gran  formato para que pudiéramos hacer murales portables que se pudieran usar como  fondos para festivales. Recordemos que en México cualquier ocasión es buena para hacer pachanga ( fiesta). Entonces teníamos la oportunidad de contar con recursos para desarrollar estos proyectos que considero no eran tan comunes en nuestro medio un tanto cuanto  limitado. Con esos antecedentes podría aparecer extraño que no decidí estudiar arte o alguna disciplina relacionada con esa área como arquitectura o diseño gráfico. Pero en cuanto  terminé la preparatoria y un curso técnico en un colegio Nacional de Educación Pública, decidí aventurarme a trabajar en el área de la zona Petrolera de Campeche, buscando oportunidades económicas que en cierta forma me alejaban de  cualquier inclinación de la plástica visual.

Sin embargo  en un par de años  trabajando en la zona de las plataformas petroleras de la zona del Golfo de México, tuve la oportunidad de empezar a pintar murales en las barcazas de una Empresa llamada Corporación de Construcciones de Campeche , de una manera informal. Mi trabajo oficial era  desarrollar actividades subacuáticas como buzo industrial. Es ahí donde decido retornar en serio  mi verdadera vocación. Pues  mientras trabajaba ahí, empecé a tomar comisiones por retratos y pinturas comisionadas por el personal Norteamericano que trabajaba en la zona de Campeche.  En consecuencia cada vez que tenia oportunidad realice múltiple murales en escuelas secundarias en la ciudad de Veracruz que me permitieron definir mi estilo y mi propia técnica.

Para más información sobre César Viveros, vean su página de Facebook:

https://www.facebook.com/cesar.viveros.904

Para más información sobre FLEISHER ART MEMORIAL y sus eventos de Día de los muertos: http://fleisher.org/community-programs/dia-de-los-muertos/

 

Brazilian Lace in Ann Hamilton’s “habitus” Exhibition (translation)

Lace making is a very old art that was brought to Brazil by the Portuguese. Portugal is still known for its lace. In this tradition it is made with needles and with bobbins. Particularly in the Northeast of Brazil and in Santa Catarina, in the south, the lace-making tradition has been maintained.An example of bobbin lace making by Rosilândia Melo from Ilha Grande:

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You can imagine my surprise when I saw lace samples from Brazil in Ann Hamilton’s habitus, a current exhibition in Philadelphia. The lace samples were located on the 8th floor of the Fabric Workshop and Museum with some other common objects made of texiles, like dolls, blankets and samplers.

Also in the exhibition are “commonplace books,” photos of textiles, and other cloth objects.  These books also originated in Europe. People would collect sentences from books they had read, recipes, newspapers and magazine articles and put them in the commonplace books. Quite unique to the habitus exhibition, was the public participation. The public was invited to contribute their “common sentences” by internet. Anybody could submit a text about clothing or textiles (figurative or literal) . They selected some of the submissions and these were reprinted and made available on sheets of paper on the 2nd and 8th floors. The public is able to read them in the museum and take them home.

The exhibition links text and textile in the Fabric Workshop and Museum, but there is another part of it on the Delaware waterfront at Municipal Pier 9. There is a huge installation that is so creative and fun. Ann hung several large cloths in the warehouse. The public can make the cloths move by pulling on ropes. The ropes go through pulleys which are also connected to some apararatus that produce sound. In addition, there is other performance art in the space that includes spinning thread and unraveling a sweater. Lastly, the text is again joined with cloth by way of a large poem that is projected in the space. The poem is also exhibited in the Fabric Workshop and Museum in another format.

The artist, Ann Hamilton, always has been interested in spinning, weaving and textiles. With enthusiasm she speaks about these arts, that some have referred to as “crafts” throughout her career. Nevertheless, the artist has exhibited many important works: she represented the United States in the São Paulo Bienal in 1991 and in Venice in 1999. She has won various national art prizes and she teaches art at Ohio State University.

The exhibit, habitus, is a the Fabric Workshop and Museum in Philadelphia from September 17, 2016 to January 8, 2017. The Municipal Pier 9 installation is from September 6, 2016 to October 10, 2016. For more information, www.fabricworkshopandmuseum.org

 

The Duende Cycle’s BODAS DE SANGRE: ¡Un orgullo hispano!

The Duende Cycle’s BODAS DE SANGRE: ¡Un orgullo hispano!

With great admiration I write about the  Duende Cycle’s performance of Bodas de sangre in the 2016 Philadelphia Fringe Festival. I attended on Sunday, September 18, 2016. This scrappy company  recreated and updated Federico García Lorca’s masterpiece and it worked! The concept was created by Eliana Fabiyi and Tanaquil Márquez. Tanaquil Márquez also directed. The nimble cast really brought the play to life and they received a standing ovation at the end.   Lorca’s language is not as poetic and strictly in verse as that of Calderón de la Barca, from the Golden Age, but its structure and Spanish language are still much more formal than what most Spanish speakers in the United States normally speak.  Lorca called it “Poema trágico en tres actos y siete cuadros.” To juggle two languages (English and Spanish) in one production, is another feat. The cast, director and acting coach, Eliana Tabiyi, (also the sound designer) should be commended for the successful rendering of this very important and challenging script.

When I arrived at the Asian Arts Initiative, we were directed to stand and wait for the elevator. It took some time to get up to the third floor because the elevator only held 6 people. At the ticket table they ran out of programs, and we were informed the subtitles were broken. Since I am a fluent Spanish speaker I was not concerned about the subtitles. Before the show started they did manage to give out more programs. The program is quite special–it is made like a wedding invitation, which is very appropriate for Blood Wedding.  This was one of many details that added authenticity and at the same time uniqueness to this production.

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The original play is set in Spain, in a region with vineyards. This current production takes place in Miami. Although we tend to think of California as our wine country, there are quite a few vineyards in Florida. The set included a table and chairs with dominoes, which is very Cuban and Cuban-American. There were group dances–in the beginning to latin music–including hits by Gente de Zona, “La gozadera” (an extremely popular Cuban group)  and Marc Anthony’s “Vivir mi vida.” During the wedding, there is another dance to “Despierte la novia”, which is sung acapella except for bongo drums. It was tinged with a flamenco rhythm. Lorca is so associated with the gypsy culture, that this scene seemed like an homage, a showing of deep respect for the original play and its author.

The set is simple, but extremely effective. The mound of dirt heightened the earthiness, the very visceral feeling of Lorca’s tragedies. It was also a way to create space in a very small area and bring nature indoors. It made sense when La madre comes down from the dirt hill after visiting the graves of her husband and son. It made the swamp believable in the third act as well. Lighting and costumes by Angela Coleman and David Reece Hutchison, were also appropriate and helped flesh out the different locations and characters.

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Every actor in the ensemble was strong. Some of the actors convincingly interpreted more than one character.  I especially liked the contrast between La Madre, Yajaira Paredes and La Novia, Aneesa Neibauer. Ms. Parades is obviously a veteran actor, and she has an electric stage presence. She played the mother as a sturdy matriarch. A suffering widow, yet one who maintains her dignity and commands respect. At the other extreme, La Novia, was a fragile young woman. Ms. Neibauer’s portrayal was very natural. This simple and naive bride made you feel sorry for her and believe it wasn’t her fault–when it fact she decided to leave her husband and run away with Leonardo. She could have not married him or she could have resisted Leonardo. I also must mention the fight between Leonardo, (Sidney Gantt) and El novio (Josh Tewell). It was SO realistic. I was expecting that one would really be stabbed and blood would spill. (Of course I breathed a sigh of relief when both actors stood up and took their bows at the end!)

Duende in Spanish has several meanings, but one of them is to have a superior talent, to represent the authentic soul of art.   Duende Cycle showed that in Bodas de sangre. I look forward to their next offering!

Check out their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/TheDuendeCycle/

 

 

Rendas do Brasil na exibição de Ann Hamilton, “habitus”

Rendas do Brasil na exibição de Ann Hamilton, “habitus”

Fabricar rendas é uma arte muito velha que foi levada ao Brasil pelos portugueses. Ainda hoje em Portugal fazem rendas e são muito cobiçadas. Fazem com agulhas e bilros. No nordeste do Brasil e em Santa Catarina mantêm essa tradição de fabricar rendas. Um exemplo de umas rendas de bilros de Rosilândia Melo de Ilha Grande: (wikipedia commons)

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Imagine a minha surpresa quando vi rendas do Brasil na exibição “habitus” de Ann Hamilton. As rendas estavam colocadas no oitavo andar do Fabric Workshop and Museum com outros objetos comuns e de tela, como bonecas, cobertores, e mostras de tela.

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(Photo by Celeste Dolores)

Também nesta exibição acham-se “commonplace books” , fotos de telas e outros objetos de tela. Estes livros têm origem também na Europa. As pessoas colecionavam sentenças de livros que leram, receitas, artigos do jornal e das revistas nestes livros. O que fizeram de especial para esta mostra, foi convidar o público para entregar suas sentenças comuns por internet para contribuir. Quer dizer, qualquer pessoa podia mandar algum texto sobre uma tela por internet. Eles selecionavam alguns e esses textos foram impressos e disponibilizados na segundo e oitavo andares para o publico ler e levar para casa.

A exibição junta texto e tela no Fabric Workshop Museum, mas tem outra parte na beira do Rio Delaware. No Municipel Pier 9 há uma instalação grande que é muito criativa e divertida. Ann pendurou varias telas enormes num armazém. O público pode fazer que as telas movam e emitem sons. Além disso, tem “performance art” de fiar e de desfazer um agasalho. Finalmente junta o texto com a tela com um grande poema projetado—este poema também aparece no Fabric Workshop and Museum.

A artista, Ann Hamilton, sempre estava interessada no fiar e na tela. Com entusiasmo ela fala sobre estas artes, que alguns têm considerado “artesanato” durante sua carreira. Mesmo assim a artista mostrou muitas obras importantes, e até representou os Estados Unidos no Bienal de São Paulo de 1991, e o de Venezia em 1999. Ganhou vários prêmios de arte nacionais e ensina arte na Universidade de Ohio. A mostra, habitus, fica no Fabric Workhop and Museum na Filadélfia desde o 17 de setembro de 2016 ate o 8 de janeiro de 2017. A instalação no Municipal Pier 9 fica entre o 6 de setembro de 2016 ate o 10 de outubro. Para mais informação: http://fabricworkshopandmuseum.org/

 

“Where is home?”  Children of the Cuban Revolution in the play, “ONE DAY OLD”

“Where is home?” Children of the Cuban Revolution in the play, “ONE DAY OLD”

Imagine you are a child or a teenager put on an airplane to another country. Your parents and relatives are not going with you. You do not know the language of the country you are going to. Probably you’ve never even been out of your country, perhaps not even to the other side of the island. Most likely you’ve never been on an airplane before either. You don’t really understand what’s going on in your country (neither do your parents–just that they don’t think the current leadership is going to do what they thought) and expect it to be over soon and you will be back home. But it isn’t. In fact, it still isn’t over for many, as the Cuban Revolution lives on and Fidel Castro, the original “revolutionary leader” ceded power to his brother Raúl.  But you are only 8 or 9, or 12 or 15, at the time when you leave the island. You just want to know: When am I going  home? Where is Mom? Dad? Where are my other brothers and sisters?  Why can’t I stay here anymore? Where is here? Where is home?

Now that the  United States’ policy towards Cuba is opening up, the play “One Day Old” by Iraisa Ann Reilly, comes at an opportune time. This play is part of the Philadelphia Fringe Festival 2016, and was directed by José M. Avilés. The political aspect floats in the background as we watch Wendy, Pedro, Gancho, Tío Juan and others try to make sense of the time shortly after 1959, the “triunfo de la revolución” ( the triumph of the revolution as it is called in Cuba). I attended the preview on September 8, 2016 and was very impressed with the play and the acting.

First off, the play is about the Operación Pedro Pan, which helped over 14,000 children leave Cuba on commercial flights from Cuba to the U.S.A.  from  1960-62, and then later through third countries, such as Spain and Mexico. According to the Operación Pedro Pan website,  many of these children were from middle class and poor families. The children of the wealthy were able to leave with their families and were already installed in the United States. Father Bryan Walsh, a Catholic priest from Miami and Catholic Charities, arranged visas for the children and put them up in camps, orphanages, with relatives or in other private homes.

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One Day Old is not explicitly about the Cuban Revolution though, nor is it about the parents and why they did what they did. It is about the children who came to the United States, and what they went through. One Day Old is a very interesting and creative way of depicting the feelings and the experiences of these young people, as well as descendents of these children, when they look back on what they have been told by their parents and grandparents. Ms. Reilly has written a script that is at times humorous, and at other times, sad. We feel for these children and we want to know will they find what they are looking for, what is missing in their lives. Most importantly, will they ever get home?

You might have noticed that the title of the organization that lifted the children out of Cuba has been named “Operation Peter Pan.” One Day Old exploits this name and draws on the fantasy Peter Pan story. The main characters in One Day Old are Wendy, Pedro (Peter) and Gancho (Hook.). There are references and parallels to the Peter Pan fantasy throughout the play. Also, Ms. Reilly weaves reality with fantasy, showing the audience the dream world of Wendy, and explaining aspects of the realities of the Peter Pan children who left Cuba. This fits in the tradition of Latin American  realismo mágico (magic realism).  The play also employs the Cuban musical tradition. There are two lullabies that feature prominently in the play, “Afro-Cuban Lullaby”, which opens the play, and has been arranged and played by famous guitarists, such as Christopher Parkening:

Most of the audience will be familiar with the piece, even if they don’t know the name of it, or where it comes from. There is a version of another lullaby, “Duérmete niño”, which is also sung a capella by various characters and becomes a leitmotif:

The set, props and costumes are basic and abstract, but they are effective. The drama in this piece is so strong and well done that a realistic set is not necessary. One does not miss it at all. The ensemble cast is excellent. I particularly adored the characterizations of “Sara” played by Diana M. Rodriguez and “Hermano/Tío Juan” played by veteran actor/singer Victor Rodriguez. Playing a child AND an adult in the same play and making them both believable is a challenge for any actor, and Victor does it with aplomb. As Sara, Diana contrasted with the children in the orphanage/camp scene by her stance and authoritarian, yet caring speech–even though all the actors were adults. Lastly, the bilingual script is so well crafted with respect to the two languages, that I think even those who do not speak Spanish, would be able to follow the plot and the interactions.

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What also distinguishes Ms. Reilly’s One Day Old, is the fundraising. Not only did Ms. Reilly need to fundraise to have the set built, but she is also donating part of the contributions she receives towards the play, to charity. She has set up the “Indiegogo 1960 Campaign” which paid for the set, but which also benefits St. Francis and St. Vincent’s Orphanage. In addition, 10% of every ticket sold to the play during the Fringe Festival is donated to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. This is very commendable. The cast of One Day Old gives the gift of their talent in realizing this play on stage, and funds received/tickets sold also help two charities for children.

One Day Old officially opens tonight, September 9, 2016 at 7:00 pm at the Hamilton Family Arts Center in Philadelphia (Arch and 2nd St.). The play continues at 7:00 pm on September 10, 15, and 17, with matinees at 4:00 pm on September 11 and 18th. If you aren’t in Philadelphia during those days, consider donating to the Indiegogo campaign. For more information about the play and to contribute (click “Support the Play”) , please visit onedayoldtheplay.com

For tickets to One Day Old during the Fringe Festival, please visit http://fringearts.com/event/one-day-old-7/

 

 

 

New Latino Art at PAFA!

At first glance this looks like a friendly happy painting. It is large and depicts a picnic in the park. A family sits at a table conversing, waiting for the food to be ready. Closer to the viewer, in the bottom right corner, we see workers cutting up produce. Behind them three men slaughter an animal. The title of the painting is “Slaughter.”

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The violence in Mexico is a topic that comes up regularly in discussions with Mexican nationals. This is a concern for those who live in the U.S.A. with family in Mexico as well as those actually living in Mexico, and visitors to Mexico. I spoke to the artist who created “Slaughter”, Juan Pablo Ruiz, at PAFA (Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts) on May 13, 2016. He said that violence was a major theme in his artwork. This painting combines three locales that are important to Ruiz, Mexico, Chicago and Philadelphia. We can see the Chicago skyline in the distance, Fairmount Park in Philadelphia and the Mexican landscape on the right of the painting. Ruiz was born in Mexico, grew up in Chicago and attended PAFA in Philadelphia. “Slaughter” won a Fellowship Juried Prize.

On the 2nd floor of the exhibition, Mr. Ruiz has three paintings that he said were meant to be shown together. They are called “ Prometeo, Falla and First Eighth.” The theme of violence is present again, he said. It begins in the Classical age and is traced to present day Guadalajara. Mr. Ruiz’ painting technique is astounding, in my opinion. Some of the work in the exhibition is more contemporary and abstract, but Ruiz excels in and owns his realism. His paintings are thought provoking as well as aesthetically beautiful. For more information about him and his artwork, please see his website: http://www.jpabloruiz.com/

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The 115th Annual Student Exhibition is currently open at PAFA (Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts) in Philadelphia. PAFA was founded in 1805 by artist/scientist Charles Wilson Peale, who painted portraits of the founding fathers. The 115th Student exhibition is from May 13-June 5, 2016. The entire modern museum building (Samuel M.V. Hamilton Building) is full of student artwork, including prize winners from the concluding academic year, and graduating undergraduates and masters students.

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Another young artist who I spoke to on Friday evening, was Diego Rodriguez Carrion. He is still in school at PAFA, but had won prizes for three artworks in the exhibition. I was attracted to his woodcuts/wood engravings, because this is a rare art form practiced in the United States. Woodcuts have a long tradition in Latin America, especially in Brazil, but also Spanish speaking cultures. Mr. Rodriguez-Carrion is from Puerto Rico and his woodcuts depict scenes, people and places that he recalls from his upbringing and native island.  He also draws and paints. Check out his website to see: http://www.diegohiromi.com/

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Overall, there is something for everyone at PAFA’s Student exhibition, and many of the works are for sale! It is particularly encouraging and exciting to see the pieces by emerging artists Diego Rodriguez Carrion and Juan Pablo Ruiz. “Slaughter” follows in the footsteps of Mexican muralists Diego Rivera, Orozco and Siquieros, depicting Mexican realities. Meanwhile, Rodriguez Carrion’s woodcuts remind us of a beloved medium that is familiar and popular, grounded in folk art and culture, but at the same time worthy of fine art distinction.

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VISIT PAFA’s website: www.pafa.org