On June 17th, Primera Generación Dance Collective (PGDC,) presented their world premiere of “Nepantla” in another remarkable night for Dance at the Odyssey. Nepantla is an Aztec word meaning “middle” or “a space between two worlds.” As first generation Latine American artists these performers know where of they speak. While addressing the heavy issues of politics, discrimination, identity and stereotypes of the Latinidad experience in the U.S., PGDC manages to infuse the stage with lightness, satire and laugh out loud humor along the way. But, first we must run the gauntlet with them.
Upon entering the black-box theater, four white domes glittering with light, dot the stage. Screens illuminate the backdrop with kaleidoscopic images while, chaotic city noise emanates through the house. Slowly the white domes begin to move. Arms, heads and eventually torsos emerge through the top and the domes morph into large “Quinceanera” hoop skirts, decorated in an ode to “Mexican Souvenirs.” Composed of crepe paper flowers, colorful embroidery, portraits of Frida Kahlo, Selena, the Pope and empty snack bags attached to the hem, these skirts are “rasquache” or “resourcefully tacky” and to my eye, whimsically beautiful.
A Quinceanera is a Mexican rite of passage for young girls maturing into womanhood. In this case the male dancers also take part. After a too long set up, it came as a relief when the dancers whirled into a circling waltz. Instantly we were swept along for the ride as the swaying skirts added a swooshing rhythm to the music. So captivating was this that when it ended I was left wanting more.
Once the skirts were removed and hung from the flies like used piñatas, the dancers became the “Lazy Mexicans” complete with red factory jumpsuits, serapes and sombreros. Lighting Designer Rosa Rodriquez-Frazier created jail like cells in which these “Mexicans” are trapped. Images of field hands, sweatshops, “workers so the next generation can benefit” fill the screen while political commentary over a driving pulse, becomes the soundtrack. Ex-President Trump bleats his “build the wall” pablum, Sarah Huckabee refuses to acknowledge a plea to keep families together and a baby cries for its Mama. The serape-clad dancers roll and tumble, struggle and finally collapse in exhaustion perhaps symbolizing the arduous border crossing. More explorative movement than choreographed dance this segment makes a powerful statement.
Now they remove the jumpsuits and hang them from pulleys like limp bodies wafting in the breeze. These hanging elements along with the video screens, expert lighting and the many layered audio track creates an all-encompassing ambience and draws us completely into their world.
So intense is that world that the only thing for it is humor and PGDC brings it in spades. Here we have excellent singing by Patti Huerta, Folklórico dance by Alonso Cervera, a hilarious tamale-making scene, a Swan Lake parody, clever dialogue, and suggestive poses with strategically placed sombreros. Impossible to explain, this mash-up of the Mexican American experience had the audience laughing hard. Then came the dreaded, “audience participation,” something that can easily fall flat but with these capable performers it was a Fiesta. Whether dancing, Cumbia, Banda or Salsa this audience could dance, especially the guy in the high-heeled boots!
Out of the merriment the lights dim, a small cake with one candle is brought out, a baby cries for its Mama. The room is silent; the effect is visceral as eyes fill with tears, the show ends. And, we remember that we cannot and must not forget the inhumanity at our border.
The four dancer/choreographers who make up PGDC are Alfonso Cervera, Rosa Rodriquez-Frazier, Irvin Manuel Gonzales and Patricia “Patty” Huerta. Each brings great enthusiasm, passion and their unique personalities to the stage. The simple, yet effective choreography is exactly right for the stories and ideas PGDC brings to the audience. The show from top to bottom is very well organized and each artist participates in the overall production from creative to technical direction.
The effective sound design is by Alfonso Cervera, Rosa Rodriquez-Frazier and Gabriel Gutierrez. Costume Design is by PGDC with collaborators, Isis Avalos, Silvia Echarres De Soto, Samuel Briseno Jimenez and custom e-fem reality.
Primera Generación is a dance collective with something to say. They dance and they dance well but the dance is primarily a platform to explore the culture of those who live “Nepantla.”
For the betterment of the dance community and the delight of the audience producer/curator Barbara Mueller-Wittmann and associate artistic director Beth Hogan of “Dance at the Odyssey” have delivered yet another noteworthy company to their stage. Thank you.
Additional Credits: Irvin Manuel Gonzalez: Poet and highlighted Cumbia dance; Rosa Rodriguez-Frazier: speaker and highlighted Banda dance; Alfonso Cervera: speaker and highlighted Ballet Folklórico dance; and Patricia “Patty” Huerta: Singer and highlighted Salsa dance.
To find out what is next for Dance at the Odyssey which continues through July 16, 2022, please visit their website.
Written by Tam Warner for LA Dance Chronicle.
Featured image: Primera Generación Dance Collective in “Nepantla” – Photo by Bobby Gordon @bobgsnapshots