"It is a striking, evocative theater experience..."
by Anita Gates, New York Times
"There may currently be no more savage sight on a New York stage...than the perversely playful dance of executive hedonism that kicks off Federico Restrepo's fantastic multimedia work Open Door."
by Adam R. Perlman, Backstage
While opinions range from "open door" advocates of free immigration to "closed door" advocates of zero immigration, there is a corresponding "paranoia versus hope" dialogue on whether our national policy can ever be resolved. That "paranoia versus hope" mindset descends heavily upon the community of recent immigrants and is inspiration for "Open Door," a grand puppet theater work with song, being prepared collaboratively by Colombia-born master puppet theater artist Federico Restrepo, his puppet theater troupe Loco 7 and award-winning composer Elizabeth Swados.
This production is the inaugural event of the brand-new Teatro Stage Fest. The production also marks the 20th anniversary of Mr. Restrepo's company, Loco 7 (www.loco7.com), and its 9th production at La MaMa, which is celebrating its 45th birthday this fall.
Photo: Jonathan Slaff
Restrepo is known for puppet theater productions which mix the soul of Colombia with his experiences living in NYC. "Open Door" centers on the main character, a displaced Colombian living in an apartment building which houses the many other recent immigrants. There will be ten other characters representing peoples from diverse cultural backgrounds: North American, South American, African, Middle Eastern, European and Asian.
Utilizing original rhythmic music, live musicians, dancers, body puppets and larger then life marionettes, the piece will explore the paranoid perceptions, longings to belong and feelings of alienation among the immigrants. The production is mostly an urban fantasy set in the buildings in which they live. Its central metaphors all derive from the paranoid perceptions that keep new immigrants and naturalized citizens “Americans” from seeing clearly, as well as the immigrants' search for the “American Dream” that can propel them into a more hopeful future. Puppet theater provides an articulate medium for contrasting the immigrants' inner and outer realities.
There are eighteen-foot apartment buildings where, in each window, a large marionette is attached to a dancer downstairs, as if to say, "I am myself, and the puppet attached to me is my background." There are life-sized body puppets, like doppelgangers, who are "the ghost on your shoulder," embodying the background and past you carry around with you like baggage. There is also a massive weltanschauung scene where governments and corporations suck through straws from a huge plastic globe, on which are projected images of war and catastrophe. Video segments deal with the literal metaphor of an "open door" -- people opening a door to leave a house, to cross a threshold, to run away, to confront the other side, to search for something new, etc, choosing closed-mindedness or open-mindedness. The main set will transform constantly, revealing where these characters came from, the struggles that lead them to their new home and the life they now experience as strangers in a strange place, which can often be overwhelming. The characters ask, "Will we ever fit in and be accepted as "real" Americans or will we be stuck facing the same issues that drove us from our homelands?"
"Open Door" will be conceived, designed, choreographed and directed by Federico Restrepo. The music will be composed by Elizabeth Swados. Lyrics will be by Federico Restrepo, Elizabeth Swados and Denise Greber based on interviews with the cast. They will be mostly sounds, mixed with languages of all the countries.
Music by Elizabeth Swados will be a raucous chorale, evoking the words and musics of the many separate cultures that are living, literally, next door to each other here but are actually very distant. She faced a similar challenge in "Jerusalem," where she used 14 languages from the Middle East and Old Jerusalem to evoke the forces of hate and reconociliation in the old city. Though there are similar ideologies at work in "Open Door," the score will be radically different because the piece calls for a modern urban sound. She intends to entwine sounds and music of a city apartment building to evoke the paranoia and tensions of everyday urban life. These will include the crossover of radio and TV sounds as song and everyday noise as music.
The performers will include three musicians, eight dancers and three puppeteers. There will be Restrepo's trademark life-sized puppets, made of cotton and cloth which are animated by black-clad dancers from behind. The theatre space will constantly change from apartment to apartment, street to street, and across ethnically diverse neighborhoods.
Mr. Restrepo last collaborated with Elizabeth Swados on "Bokan The Bad Hearted" at La MaMa (2004). The piece was a puppet dance drama that staged a legend of the indigenous tribes of the Amazon Jungle using life-sized puppets, live original music, dance and video. The New York Times (Neil Genzlinger) wrote, "Whether you follow the story or simply absorb the sensory experience, you know you have been enchanted when you step outside into the December air. For 90 minutes or so, you may have thought you were actually in the jungle." The review commended the play's colorful imagery and dance, the emotive sound-language of the characters and puppeteers and the haunting score by Elizabeth Swados. “Bokan the Bad Hearted” was nominated for three awards in the New York Innovative Theatre Awards in 2005: Best Performance Art Piece, Best Choreography (Federico Restrepo) and Best Costume Design (Denise Greber and Federico Restrepo).
In other collaborations, Restrepo designed puppets for and choreographed "Everything Is Different" (2004), an educational video directed by Elizabeth Swados, and created puppets for her production, "Jabu," at The Flea Theatre in 2005.
Federico Restrepo was born in Bogota he began his training of mime and ballet as a young boy with Priscila Welton and Miroslav Kura. He began dancing with the Ballet National de Colombia in 1983. He first came to New York in 1985 and 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. Since 1985 he has developed a puppetry style which incorporates dance and design. His goal as a director has been to design the puppets as an extension of the dancer's body. His intense love and passion for the history of the Americas and his journeys in New York are a constant source for all his work. He has created eight original pieces at La MaMa, most of which have had subsequent tours through out the world. "Bokan The Bad Hearted" (2004), with score by Elizabeth Swados, was a puppet dance drama that staged Amazonian legends. "9 Windows" (2002) was an investigation into the immigrant's mind. "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. "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. "Cosecha" (1990) was a work on the lives of Colombian refugee farmers. "Loco 7" (1989) was a multi-media odyssey through the subways of NY with giant puppet subways and was the origin of his company's name, Loco 7. It followed two other Gotham fantasies: "Locombia" (1986) and "Carrera" (1988).
In addition to his work with Loco 7, Restrepo has appeared as a member of the Great Jones Repertory Company in Ellen Stewart's “Herakles Via Phaedra”, “Perseus”, “Antigone”, "Mythos Oedipus," "Dionysus Fillus Dei," "Monk and The Hangman's Daughter," "Seven Against Thebes" and "Draupadi." He is a resident choreographer and puppet designer of La MaMa E.T.C. Since 2003, Mr. Restrepo has also been a teaching artist for New York City Public Schools.
This summer, Mr. Restrepo appeared July 8-9, 2006 in Tirana, Albania in "Aesclepius" by Ellen Stewart, performed by The Great Jones Repertory. He will appear and design puppets July 22-24, 2006 in the world premiere of "Il corvo" by Carlo Gozzi, conceived, directed and composed by Ellen Stewart, at the Venice Biennale. His designs of "9 Windows" and “Bokan the Bad Hearted” will be featured June 14-24, 2007 in the Prague Quadrennnial (USITT - United States National Exposition Prague). The exhibition will travel to Houston then tour throughout the United States in 2008.
Elizabeth Swados began her professional career as a composer at La MaMa, where she worked with Peter Brook and Andrei Serban and won her first Obie at age 21 for setting "Medea" to ethnic music. Her memorable La MaMa productions include "Fragments of a Greek Trilogy" with Serban, "Crow" with Robbie Anton and the opera-oratorio "Jerusalem." In 1996, she directed a pair of her own musicals, "Doonesbury Flashbacks," based on Garry Trudeau's comic strip, and "The Emperor's New Clothes" based loosely on the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale, at La MaMa. During the last few seasons, she has scored two more epic plays for the Great Jones Repertory, "Seven Against Thebes" and "Antigone," both by Ellen Stewart, and directed two other original musicals for teenagers. Swados has been nominated for Tony, Drama Desk, Ace and Emmy Awards and has won several Obies, Outer Critics Circle Awards, a PEN Citation, and an Anne Frank National Foundation for Jewish Culture award. Her Broadway credits also include "Doonesbury." Her Off-Broadway credits also include, among others, "Alice in Wonderland" (with Meryl Streep), "Dispatches," "The Haggadah", "Jerusalem," "Rap Music Ronnie" (with Gary Trudeau), and "Missionaries."
This production was made in part with support from The Jim Henson Foundation; American Music Center Live Music for Dance Program, music commissioned by the American Music Center Live Music for Dance Program; Sponsorship from TeatroStageFest; Ellen Stewart and La MaMa ETC.