Large wire puppets, pillowy
cotton figures, sculpted faces and hands, and even a large puppet horse all
dance in "9 Windows," the newest dance/multimedia creation of Federico
Restrepo, a Colombian-born dancer and auteur of dance puppetry. The piece,
which offers nine windows into the immigrant's mind, will be presented by
La MaMa E.T.C. in its First Floor Theater for three weeks, October 3 to 20.
The show was enthusiastically hailed for its honesty and beauty in its world
premiere August 11 and 14 at the Spoletina 2002 Festival in Italy and was
lauded by the Italian press.
Being a stranger in a
strange land in an eternal theme of the avant-garde. Restrepo, who was born
in Bogota, Colombia, can speak of it as well as anybody else. As a maker
of puppet dance theater, he has always allowed himself to dream epic thoughts.
It's not surprising, then, that one of the strongest images at the beginning
of his immigrant dream,
"9 Windows," is one of being chased by a Conquistador. The overall
idea is autobiographical, but one that is probably shared by most immigrants
in America today: being a stranger in a strange land, and since 9/11, having
come from a place of violence to another place of violence. The piece goes inside
the emotions of the émigré: the feeling of expatriation, the
new perspective posed by distance, the clarity of those who look from far away,
as well as the loneliness that distance imposes upon them.
The entire piece is danced
to music which mixes
traditional Colombian styles with rock/pop and the driving beats of New York.
The gaita, a unique flute from Colombia, is used to evoke memories. Music is
by Richard Cordoba (soprano saxophone, flutes, keyboards), Martin Vejarano
(drums, gaita) and Motoki (bass), with compositions by Cordoba and Vejarano.
Cordoba describes the music as a blend of Colombian folklore and funk. Both
he and Vejarano are from Colobmia; Motoki is from Japan.
This living collage is
replete with wild rhythm and frenetic energy. Each new window opens a new revelation,
and this is the structure of the piece.
It opens with the arrival
of the immigrant (Restrepo) as a puppet carrying a big trunk into Times Square,
where he first confronts the people of the City and is forced to also confront
his past. Sand is used to represent the ashes of his grandparents, in which
he dances. He bites a fruit, plants it, and out grows a dream in which he is
chased by a Conquistador and counter-attacks. It's symbolic of the impulses
to move on into the world and the violence that propels you. When Restrepo doffs
the puppet, it indicates his being reborn in a new place--moving beyond memories
and going onward.
But conflict is never-ending:
next is the struggle of the artist to be able to create again in the new land.
Restrepo is overcome--literally knocked on the noggin by a flying globe--suggesting
the sensation that the world is drifting away and the anguish and detachment
that this brings about. This is the Colombian experience.
There are three videos
entwined in the production: a dance of his hands (symbolizing his grandparents),
a dance of his foot (denoting the ground he walks on) and a dance of being trapped
(denoting the violence which propels him). Videos are by Vica Cortes, Angela
Sierra and Vlamyr Vizcaya.
is a performer who embraces epic themes. He is a resident artist of La MaMa
and his tenure there has become a fountain of inspiration for those looking
for a fresh approach to the world of dance theater with rustic tropical overtones.
Through his early works, he became known for unexpected, acrobatic, seemingly
bursting yet precise performances including ethereal and playful stage machinery
and atmospheric lighting.
His last La MaMa production,
"Colores" (1998), created exciting conceptual images of the evolution
of the Mestizo people of Colombia, whom he lovingly refers to as the children
of the Spanish conquest. That production was part of Jim Henson Foundation's
International Festival of Puppet Theater. His "Aguirre, the Spiral of the
Warrior" (1996) was based on the legend of the Spanish conquistador who
rebelled against Spain to create his own empire. Thematically, it set out to
explore one of the most intriguing and least-explored New World phenomena: the
"Americanization" of the European man and his ways of thinking. Restrepo's
previous La MaMa productions were "Cosecha" (1990), a work on the
lives of Colombian refugee farmers, "Loco 7" (1989), a multi-media
odyssey through the subways of NY with giant puppet subways, and two other Gotham
fantasies: "Locombia" (1986) and "Carrera" (1988). His
company, Loco 7 Dance Theater, is named after the 1989 La MaMa production.
The New York Times (Jack
Anderson) likened "Aguirre" to a hypnotic nightmare. "Cosecha"
was deemed "a vital piece of puppet theater, popular in style" by
Burt Supree in the Village Voice. "Loco 7" was praised in the New
York Times by Jennifer Dunning, who called it "imaginative and ingenious,"
noting its "exuberant charm."
Restrepo was born in Bogota
and studied ballet with Priscilla Welton and Miroslav Kura before dancing
with the Ballet Nacional de Colombia. Coming to New York in 1985, he studied
at the Merce Cunningham School and danced with the Empty Hands Company headed
by Cho Koo-Hyun and Yoshiko Chuma's School of Hard Knocks. Beside his Puppets
and Drummers Company productions, he and his puppets have appeared at La
MaMa with the Great Jones Repertory in Ellen Stewart's "Dionysus Filius Dei." Restrepo's
Loco 7 troupe represented Colombia in the III Ibero-American Theater Festival
with his La MaMa-born piece of the same name.
Made possible by the generous
support of: Consulado General de Colombia, Ministerio de Relaciones Exeriores
- Direction de Asuntos Culturales, La MaMa, E.T.C., Ellen Stewart.
photo by Hendrick Smildigger
"Transformations of Space, Community, and the Body
by Deborah Jowitt
October 9 - 15, 2002
Puppetry messes not just with our perception but with our ideas about agency.
When the puppeteer is out of sight, as is the case with most marionettes, we
slip between viewing the dolls as self-motivating creatures and marveling over
what is conveyed to them by the human hands on their strings. The visible black-clad
manipulators of Japanese bunraku are conjoined with their puppets, both physically
and emotionally, while controlling their actions at a psychological distance.
Body puppets are
perhaps the most perplexing of all. In some provocative works they
seem to control their handler. The perplexed and homesick Colombian
immigrant-hero of Federico Restrepo's latest work, Nine Windows (at
La MaMa through October 27), is a soft body puppet. His large, sad,
jug-eared face is attached via black elastic straps to the puppet maker's
head; his hands are Restrepo's, and his feet are fastened to Restrepo's.
Because the puppeteer is a dancer, the hapless figure effectively vaults
onto his heavy steamer trunk and leaps and crouches as he is both beset
and embraced by bodiless heads with extra-long, skinny arms and big
hands (whose four clustered puppeteers perform their own intricate
dance behind a scrim). We see Restrepo pushing the puppet ahead of
him, but we also see the puppet leading, even straining to break free.
Utterly thrilling are the moments in which Restrepo unfastens the puppet
from his head and then, with the help of semi-visible hands, is peeled
from his other self. Sweaty and disheveled, he seems at first smaller
and weaker than his creation.
wild and apt music, played live by an ensemble of three, colors a nonlinear
series of scenes suggesting dreams, memories, and violent encounters
in New York (the dramaturgy is often cloudy). These include a video
of the flesh-and-blood Restrepo opening and eating a mamey, a man dementedly
and silently screaming into a cell phone, and a sword-wielding body-puppet
conquistador on horseback. Galloping.