Theatre Review – Panamerican Routes/Rutas Panamericanas

What a splendid day I had catching the first three shows of this exciting new festival all in one go. The brainchild is Beatriz Pizano – writer, director, actor and artistic director of Aluna Theatre. Her mandate is the presentation of Latin American artists with an emphasis on human rights.

What follows is just a brief summary of the performances from the first week of the festival.

Loco7’s amazing Urban Odyssey is one of the greatest works of imagination I have ever seen. Colombian-born Federico Restrepo, and his co-creator Denise Greber, are the masterminds of this New York based company at the famed La Mama Theatre. He directs, choreographs and designs the fantastic puppets. She is the costume designer.

Urban Odyssey is a journey of an immigrant from a land of troubles to the uncertainty of a new land, all told through dance theatre and puppetry. But these just aren’t any puppets. The boat that carries the immigrant is so realistic it takes one’s breath away. Corporate giants (and I do mean giants) who ravage the earth are brilliant metaphors. The happy houses made up of doors, with a delightful melange of adorable puppet children, put a big smile on one’s face.

The message is a sad one – the corporate giants and their grasping underlings win – but Loco7’s theatre experience blows the mind.

Mexican-born, San Francisco-based Violeta Luna is a performance artist whose Parting Memories is a poignant experience. While a voice-over in Spanish (with English surtitles) relates the chronology of a woman and her family crossing the border illegally, Luna engages in simple tasks before a video screen that is filled with non-stop images related to her life. In fact, Mickey Tachiban’s video is brilliant in its mix of realism and fantasy. Kudos also to David Molina for a searing sound design, and director Roberto G. Varga who understands economy of movement.

As for Luna, her performance art is full of symbolism and metaphor. She starts off with a hopscotch grid, but each square contains an item, such as shoes that become relevant for her life. She encases the audience in a cage of string. She takes her passport, a family photograph and money out of a loaf of bread that she then offers to the audience to pass around. She sews these personal items onto her skirt. At another point, she looks like a Madonna, encased in white.

Nothing is hurried, Nothing jars. She works quietly through her tasks while the horrific story unfolds. Her stillness and silence speak of quiet strength and courage. She is the consummate icon of a Latin American woman who has lived through much sorrow. The audience gave her a standing ovation.

Ixok’ is the name of a woman (and of the show), whose tragic life is portrayed through dance and text by Mexican-born, Toronto-based Mayahuel Tecozautla. The words are by Edgar Flores and Carmen Samayoa. Beatriz Pizano directed with choreographer Olga Barrios. On stage live is musician Brandon Valdivia with his formidable array of percussion instruments and recorders. Tecozautla speaks Spanish but there are English surtitles.

During the 1980s in Guatemala, the Mayan Genocide took the lives of over 250,000 victims. Ixox’ is an indigenous peasant who tries to find safety for herself and her child in the jungle. The painful story recounts her childhood, marriage, and her struggles during the civil war. Designers Andjelija Djuric and Trevor Schwellnus have created a gorgeous play of lights as well as indigenous costumes that eloquently capture time and place.Tecozautla is a charismatic performer. Her body is compact and tight, but she carries grace in her strength. The text is very moving.

While the other two shows were Mainstage Performances, Ixok’ is a Showcase, so presumably, a staging getting ready for a fuller performance later on. Nonetheless, it held up very well with the other two.

If this is the kind of quality Pizano is going to bring us in Panamercan Routes – that Latin American love of magic realism in all its many guises – than I wish her well. I want more. This festival was a perfectly satisfying theatrical experience on every level.

The second week of the Panamerican Routes features Carmen Aguirre’s Blue Box, and a remount of Aluna Theatre’s ambitious  Nohayquiensepa (No One Knows). The showcase is a reading of Rosa Laborde’s new play Marine Life. The festival runs until this weekend. It’s a keeper.

Panamerican Routes/Rutas Panamericanas, Aluna Theatre in association with Theatre Passe Muraille, May 15 to 27, 2012

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