On November 6 and 7, Living Arts of Tulsa hosts the U.S. premiere of “TaxDermia,” a dance theater piece by the arts collective Sur Oeste Arte Escénico AC from Mexico City. This is a not-for-children work that delves into issues of global violence and tragedy, inviting viewers to taste up close the realities of what we do and have done to each other.
I wasn’t able to preview this performance in my performing arts column in the Tulsa Voice, so I thought I’d share about it here. It’s rare in Tulsa that we have the chance to see something so raw from an international performance group, and I commend Living Arts for once again pushing us all a little past our edge. What follows is a lightly edited version of my interview with “TaxDermia” choreographer and project director Stephanie Garcia.
AC: Could you say a little about the structure of the piece — how it is organized narratively and also spatially? How will the audience be participating in the work?
SG: “TaxDermia” comes from the word “taxidermy.” I tried to establish an analogy and a metaphor between what taxidermy is and the act of conserving intact the memory of the horrors that human beings are able to do. Sometimes, for me, it is really difficult to understand the terrible things that we do.
The performance is inspired by “Fear and Miseries of the Third Reich” by Bertold Brecht. We did research about the structure of this text and I took the theater structure (Brecht’s Epic Theater) to organize the performance. There are 10 different scenes that happen in 10 different sets. The performance is a “route” — people will walk around Living Arts to watch every scene on its own “stage.” So, is a recommendation to wear comfortable shoes ’cause they will be walking or standing up for 50 minutes.
“TaxDermia” was created ’cause I had a terrible emotional crisis two years ago about this human issues and this performance helped me to get out of that depression period.
AC: Who are your creative inspirations? Is your primary training in contemporary dance, or another kind of theater? Is Sur Oeste primarily a dance company?
SG: My most important inspiration is life. Every human exists now and I love to watch people on the street, to observe their behaviors, to be witness of the magical moments that happens every day at every moment. After that, arts and culture are my passions. As Picasso used to say, “Bad artists copy. Good artists steal.” So, art by itself is my fundamental inspiration that moves me so deeply and gives me something intelligible that feeds my soul.
About Sur Oeste, I would like to emphasize that we work as a collectively more than a company. I’m not the Artistic Director, maybe I am a kind of general arts manager strategist about the way that the group must “walk.” When one of us decide to create a new performance or a play, that person becomes in the director of the project. In that way, every artist of the group is able to propose a project and become “the head” of the artistic project.
Sur Oeste was founded in 2010 and began its first works in dance. We are conceived as a multidisciplinary group but our strength is definitively in dance. I train the people who works with me. When we need other artistic resources, other “tools,” we try to find the perfect training for that target.
AC: I understand that lighting is an important part of the show. Can you say something about that — how you use it, and what it suggests in different situations?
SG: In “TaxDermia,” the light “reveals” the different things that happen in each scene. We use industrial lamps — small ones — to have some independence with the special theatre illumination, and our technician designed 8 wireless LED lamps specially for the performance. These lamps are so important for the concept of the performance. I think that light has to support the idea of each scene, even when we use it in the same way in some scenes. The detail is that, when you illuminate one scene or set, you will find something different in each case.
AC: The piece deals with some of the most terrible things human beings can do to each other. But dance is an art form that so often focuses on beauty and elegance. How do you think dance (as opposed to other kinds of theater, or photography, or film, etc.) is uniquely able to communicate about these darker matters?
SG: I think that the atmosphere, the music, costumes and other elements of the scene help us to get to the target that we are looking for. I mean, in a general way, art could be a synonym for beauty, and I think that “TaxDermia” is a beautiful work, but it communicates a special message. Maybe the message is intelligible but it generates a special mood, or the reflection that I talked about in the first question. I think that dance is an abstract language that is able to communicate abstract things: a feeling, an atmosphere, emotions. To talk about more specific things, it is necessary to use elements of other disciplines, to try to make your message more legible. So, in this way, if the things that I need to express are only superficial or aesthetic, maybe it is enough with the body, the music, and choreography that is built for that objective. But if I need to express something more complex, I will need other resources. In “TaxDermia” I use the playlet of “The Jewish Wife.” The performer is talking while she’s dancing. Even when art could be — in one of its multiple senses — a synonym for beauty, it must still be tied — at least, for me — to a human expression.
Who: Sur Oeste Arte Escénico AC
What: Contemporary Dance Perfrormance From Mexico City
When: Nov. 6 @ 9pm, Nov. 7 @ 8pm
Where: Living ArtSpace (307 East MB Brady Steet)
Why: To Celebrate Contemporary Hispanic Performance
Tickets: $7 (Free to Living Arts Members) For tickets: http://livingarts.org/tax-dermia-mexico-city-performance-artists-0
Inspired by fear and misery of the Third Reich of Bertolt Brecht, taxDermia is a reflection on the horrors of human nature: violence, racism, repression, war, abuse, dehumanization. The audience will experience diverse definitive facts about the history of humanity in each scene. TaxDermia is a multidisciplinary performance created as an offering, a tribute to humanity… in hope that one day will be different.
Watch this Promo Video: https://vimeo.com/108310296
Company: Sur Oeste Arte Escénico AC (http://www.suroestearteescenico.com/)
Created by: Stephanie García
Assistant Director: Juan Manuel Cano
Choreography and Training: Stephanie García
Length: 60 minutes. No intermission.
Additional Info: Aimed to adolescent and adult audience. Inform the audience to wear comfortable shoes.