Dance at the Odyssey opened this week featuring the work of six dance artists, the majority of who are based in the Los Angeles area. Internationally acclaimed choreographer and movement artist Teresa “Toogie” Barcelo is based in LA and will be premiering her new work METANOIA at The Odyssey Theatre Ensemble Thursday – Sunday, June 23 – 25, 2022 at 8 PM and Sunday, June 26 at 2:00 PM. Tickets are on sale here now.

During our interview (which she did while walking on a treadmill), I found Barcelo not only generous with her time, but also a person with an amazing sense of humor, extremely open about her history, who she is now, and willing to share the very personal genesis of her work:  Metanoia. Barcelo is a Cuban/Spaniard woman born and raised by artistic parents in Miami, Florida. Her mother, Antonia Gonzales – stage name Toña Romero — was a professional dancer with  the National Spanish Ballet. In Barcelo’s words “a stunning ballet, flamenco and classical Spanish dancer, who also ventured into modern dance.” While demonstrating a very basic, preconditioning flamenco hands movement, Barcelo said, “My first memory of learning is my mom teaching me how to articulate my hands and fingers. I’m sitting in my stroller, not sure how old I am, and she is singing a song about a wolf who has five little baby wolves.” Her mother taught her ballet and flamenco classes, and Barcelo remembers her choreographing her kindergarten graduation solo.

Barcelo’s father, Roberto Barcelo, was a triple threat of the 1950s Cuban entertainment area. He was an actor, singer, dancer, and comedian extraordinaire. “I grew up with a dancing family in the Latin culture of Miami,” she said. “When we got together with the family for the holidays, we’d be up until 4 in the morning dancing Salsa, Merengue, and doing all the conga lines.”

Toogie's Father Robert Barcelo (center) performing - Photo courtesy of Toogie Barcelo

Toogie’s Father Robert Barcelo (center) performing – Photo courtesy of Toogie Barcelo

Barcelo continued:“As I started getting older, my mom would ask me every year if I still wanted to dance. I would always say yes, and she would say ok. By elementary school, I was training at Pepe Bronze, a local dance studio in Hialeah, and my Mom cleaned the studio and made costumes in exchange for classes.” Barcelo then attended a magnet arts school Norland Middle School, where she continued to study ballet, modern, African, and musical theater. It was here where Barcelo performed as a Munchkin in the The Wiz, a reimagining of L. Frank Baum’s classic 1900 children’s novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

At Norland Middle, Barcelo began exploring choreography and composition. Inspired by the music video “Beautiful People” directed by Floria Sigsimondi and performed by Marlyn Manson, she started tapping into her quirks and uniqueness. Norland Middle provided an excellent – and free! – dance education, but required Barcleo to get up at 4 am every morning, take a bus, transfer to a train, hop on another bus that stopped at her school. The effort paid off in more ways than one, including future collaborations with Floria Sigsimondi with Dua Lipa, Lawrence Rothman, and Perfume Genius.

Then at PAVAC (Performing and Visual Arts Center), which was housed at Miami Northwestern High School, Barcelo met one of her most influential mentors, Michelle Grant-Murray, who now heads the dance department at Miami Dade College, Kendall Campus. Barcelo describes her as an “incredible teacher, mentor, and amazing Black woman who is so strong, smart, compassionate, and nurturing.” Her high school offered a wide range of movement styles and techniques including ballet, modern (Martha Graham, Lester Horton, & Limon techniques), as well as Brazilian, Afro-Haitian, and West African. The school would collaborate with the Miami Light Project to bring in creators from all over the world including the South Indian Dance company Nrityagram, who taught the students Bharatanatyam. “They brought in teachers like Joanne Barrett, who taught us improvisation and composition. She empowered us to study our dance history, explore meaning in movement, and create compositions from a place of intention rather than only making up arbitrary dance moves. Everything had to be thorough, and he required that we articulate our ideas” Barcelo said. Barcelo then enrolled in the New World School of the Arts, but suffered an injury that prevented her from taking dance classes. She recovered fully, but before returning to New World she was offered a job touring with a Brazilian choreographer Giovanni Luquini and never returned to college.

Toogie Barcelo - Photo by Owen Scarlett @owenscarlettphoto

Toogie Barcelo – Photo by Owen Scarlett @owenscarlettphoto

When I inquired if she danced in New York, Barcelo said that her New York experience occurred right after high school when, at age 18, she was accepted into the Alvin Ailey Summer Intensive Program. Her experience at the school was wonderful and fun, but she had what she called “character building” experience. Barcelo was staying with the sister of a friend’s mother, who eventually unfairly evicted her, and Barcelo quickly found herself homeless in Manhattan. With the few hours she was able to work at Starbucks between dance classes, she slept on subway trains, or on her suitcase in hidden stairways of apartment buildings. “I knew that my family in Miami didn’t have the funds to fly me home early, so I decided that I would find a way to survive in order and continue to absorb everything I could from this amazing program,” Barcelo said. She tried hiding in the Ailey studio restrooms overnight, but when she was caught, the woman who worked the front desk offered Barcelo her apartment hallway for $250 a week! Barcelo slept there with a couch cushion as a pillow, paying the woman her entire earnings from Starbucks for two full weeks.

Barcelo returned briefly to Miami, performing many versions of the “sexy Latina” in tiny clothing and excessive makeup for Univision and Telemundo, which caused her to question why she was doing this after receiving an incredible arts education. A gig with Tanisha Scott in 2009 brought her to LA for the first time, and Barcelo fell in love with the city’s topography, expansiveness, and culture. She worked on a Carnival Cruise ship for six months to make enough money to move to LA in 2010. Upon arrival in the city, she jumped into the popping/locking community, continued to train, and worked multiple jobs to stay afloat.

In 2016 in collaboration with her friend Machete Bang Bang, Barcelo choreographed and co-directed a video titled “It Shall Come to Us“, which “explored the spectrum of what it means to be a woman.” This video received a Vimeo staff pick and was seen by the Director Henry Schofield in the UK, who then asked Barcelo to work on a music video in Miami with British singer Dua Lipa. At the time, Barcelo was not familiar with Dua, but jumped at the chance to work on a music video, get paid, and visit her family. This video – “New Rules” – launched Barcelo’s career in the music industry, and eventually landed her on Billboard’s Top 12 Most Iconic Choreographers of the decade list. Barcelo’s process is gentle and extremely collaborative: “My approach completely changes based on the artist I’m working with; I pay attention to how they speak, what their eyes do when they speak, when they sing. I observe how their body moves, explore their goals, unlock their natural potential, and amplify their overarching stage persona.” By incorporating somatic practices into her work with these individuals, she creates an environment where pop stars and celebrities are able to come into their own. Barcelo’s ability to support artistic transformation spread quickly through the music industry, and she became sought after by other performers.

From 2015-2019, Barcelo worked with Heidi Duckler Dance, as a dancer and the Associate Artistic Director, an experience for which she is extremely grateful for. When this came up, I told her that I still remembered her performance in Duckler’s When I Am King production in the abandoned King Hing Theater on Spring Street in LA’s Chinatown in 2016. Several dancers in the cast of Metanoia were in that same performance. Barcelo said, “We were just talking about how amazing and bizarre that process was! Getting to inhabit that weird, empty, very broken down – and dirty space was wildly exciting. I loved having the opportunity to create the solo I performed with projection design. Collaborating with Dan Evans [a multidisciplinary designer, visual artist, and long-time collaborator of Duckler’s] was wonderful, and many of the spaces I was able to dance in were so unique and special.”

As part of the Dance at the Odyssey series, Barcelo is presenting METANOIA, which means transformation. I ask Barcelo to speak to the genesis of the work, “Metanoia explores the lessons and universe downloads that I’ve received since my Father passed away in 2009 and my Mother in 2012. Losing my Mom caused me to look inward and notice what I had inherited or adopted from her. Over time, I discovered how to let go of limiting beliefs and employ modalities that make my life more intentional.” Over time, Barcelo uncovered things she had inherited from her mother’s coping patterns within the generational restrictions on Latin women such as suppressing emotions, holding onto regret, not speaking up or acknowledging how talented she really was.

Metanoia explores both parental relationships, as well as the intersection between the two. The cast includes Lenin Fernández, Reshma Gajjar, Jobel Medina, Jillian Meyers, Genna Moroni — and Barcelo herself! While talking about the performers, Barcelo said she asked herself, “Who has supported me in friendship? Who are the artists in LA that I feel a deep connection with? Who has been an ear or a shoulder for me during this ten year, transformational period?” These dancers are more like family to Barcelo than colleagues; they are performers who have been an inspiration for her and given her encouragement to continue working in LA.

Toogie Barcelo and Migel in rehearsal - Photo courtesy of the artist

Toogie Barcelo and Migel in rehearsal – Photo courtesy of the artist

Barcelo is collaborating with LA based musician, composer, and educator Joe Berry, and the costume designs are a combination of the work by Mimi Haddon and Lukas van der Fecht. As a reference to what Barcelo learned and inherited from her father, part of the costume design incorporated large Rumba sleeves that transform into strange puppet-like creatures. The music for this section was from the 1950s as sung by Barcelo’s father. “Mimi has a beautiful way of creating undefinable, friendly monsters. She incorporates beautiful colors, textures and patterns with a bit of surrealism, and she is such a generous collaborator,” Barcelo said. Barcelo went into great detail while describing some of the costume/sculptures and how they function, but without giving away any of the surprise for audiences, I will simply state that her choreography combined with Haddon’s sculptures, Lukas’ costumes, and Berry’s music, what you first see on the dancers’ bodies, may be transformed into something completely different and surreal.

When speaking about the composer Joe Berry, Barcelo referred to him as a genius who began teaching himself to play the piano at age 5, then ventured into many genres of music. Barcelo’s press release states that Berry’s original score blends orchestral choral music, woodwinds, synthesizers, vocals composed of gibberish, chants, and meditative soundscapes. The original score will be released on all streaming platforms as Joe Berry’s first solo album, titled – “Motions Volume 1 & 2”.

Barcelo said that Berry, who comes from a family of singers, had never used his voice while composing or performing. While hanging out, she asked Berry if he would create a song in the style of or referencing the Zap Mama song mentioned earlier in this article. “He created this crazy, amazing song using his voice just because I asked him to.” With her encouragement, Berry made an entire album utilizing his voice, synthesizer, and saxophone that Barcelo describes as “this crazy colorful world.” Berry’s album includes approximately 20 songs which Barcelo was able to choose from.

“The subject of the show is so deeply personal,” Barcelo explained as we ended the interview. “it’s the memorial that my mom and dad didn’t get. It’s all tied up into the way that I have dealt and affected by their passing. How I’ve come to know the world in these past ten years.” Barcelo related how important it was to her that everyone involved with the show have a deep understanding of how she sees the world.

Barcelo shared how important it was to her that everyone involved with the show have a deep understanding of how she sees the world, which she describes as: “Everything is made of energy, the life force that is released when someone leaves their physical body is still accessible to us, as it is dispersed into the ether. All part of the cyclical movement of nature. From micro to macro, our bodies are composed of orbiting atoms on a spinning earth orbiting the sun.”



WHAT: METANOIA, choreographed by Teresa “Toogie” Barcelo

WHEN: June 23 – 26, 2022  – (Thursday – Saturday at 8 PM and Sunday at 2:00 PM)

WHERE: Odyssey Theatre – 2055 S Sepulveda Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90025



To learn more about Dance at the Odyssey and to purchase tickets, please click HERE

To read more about Teresa “Toogie” Barcelo, please visit her website.

Written by Jeff Slayton for LA Dance Chronicle.

Featured image: METANOIA by Teresa “Toogie” Barcelo – Photo by Owen Scarlett @owenscarlettphoto