On Thursday, the 15th of October, as the sun changed its character, to rest to its dawn, I attended the dance concert held at the Performance Lab, ARTS 166 at the University of California, Riverside. The time of day was 6pm, and though I was excited to see what the MFA candidate Patricia Huerta had created for us this night, I was concerned, if not scared of what I would see.
Is the work experimental as this dance department pushes? Will it be good? What should I expect? With these questions rushing though my head, the ushers handed me a yellow program, and I thought, everything would be okay. I would come into the space with an open heart, and an active body—for this work requested of its audience to be bold and play with the performers, install themselves in the space, the décor, and essentially the performance itself. And, I like being silly.
As dancers often do, the title of this work “In-stall” is a pun, used to suggest a thought for our paradigms to marinate, as we watch the work. The piece was site-specific, meaning all aspects of the stage, audience seats/bleachers, side wings, hallways, back doors, and lawn was used to create the dance work. The dance was installed in the performance lab, but too, were the audience members.
Upon entering the space, I stood close to a hall where a dancer, Charlene Chang, kept repeating dance phrase work, and then moved one chair on the blonde stage floor, before returning to her phrase in said hall. To me, she was a clock. There were a certain number of chairs built in a tower, at the base of the bleachers, and her completion of the moving of those chairs would cause a shift, a change to the next part of the work. But, to her dancing in the hall, it was quite virtuosic. Jumping and sliding on the walls and door with precision and desperate intention; I felt the deep physicality of yearning for something that may not be there. More, I began to question, how does one dance in an impossible space, such as a hallway.
As I left Chang to her phrase repetitions, I entered the stage space to find other dancers. But more I was stuck by the many crumpled up pieces of paper that lay across the whole floor. Yellow and white notebook scraps and magazine covers everywhere, and more, there were black ripped trash bags across the seats of where the audience would normally sit. Here I was in a trashed studio performance lab—trying to understand what it could all mean.
Around a corner was a dancer putting on clothes as I would in Savers, if I was looking to be a Halloween character of pile of clothes. Trying to fit into anything, she elicited to me images of Merce Cunningham’s “Antic Meet”—bringing forth ideas of never fitting in, yet still trying; what great poetic thoughts and ideas began to surface for me here because of this scene! To stage right was a woman/dancer throwing trashcans, and in the backstage, hidden by the backdrop, was a woman/dancer exploring living/moving in a trashcan. From my seat high in the bleachers, I could see all the dancers moving, with ambient music produced by Jeff Zahos of the UCR Dance Department. But then, in my limited eyesight, something amazing happened. The majority of the audience chose to stay on the ground, on the stage. And so, between the dancers there the audience was: wondering about, sitting against walls, manipulating lights, and throwing trash paper. The audience, in all their pedestrian dancing, or non-dancing, became the show I came to see—it was spectacular!
But, with the completion of Chang’s chair arrangement, the dancers dove into a trash bag each, and began to come as black blobs, to me in my seat in the bleachers. With all the audience’s eyes on the dancers ripping through the black garbage bags all around me, I could feel the audience looking at me as I had them. I was now a part of a show I came to see, and there was no escape. Luckily, as these almost Alwin Nikolais blobs began to run and thrash through the rows of seats they descended over these seats to the blonde floor to begin dance sequences in t-shirts and tights. My visibility was hidden and protected again in the darkness of the house lights.
The dancers danced a few sequences of weaving, carrying, bumping lifting, rolling, and leaning on each other; ever moving away and then towards each other. Ever gazing with blankness, but also with a yearning for touch that was never quite fulfilled. Still the extreme physicality of their dance was present with these dancers sweated and breathed heavily. Without missing a beat of the changing music, they took out messages on papers from their bras, and requested the audience to follow them through more halls and wings.
Expanding upon the choreography that was previous danced on the blonde stage, they worked the hallways as best they could. But more importantly, the audience tried to see them as best as they could—leading me to ask how to do you see dance in an impossible space?
With a moving of a mattress from the wings to the outside lawn, I knew a conclusion was eminent. From a glass window sliding door in the back-backstage, we the audience saw the dancers repeat the clawing and jumping and reaching dance work previously seen, with a mattress standing so alone in the background. Beautiful was the backdrop though: the UCR campus, the hills and Riverside streets. What a great place to end a work!
With one final run to a mattress, perhaps to sleep under the stars. NO! Jumping on this mattress, on mother earth, and rolling to the glass, and opening the sliding doors, we are greeting with a bow and a thanks for attendance.
A work here is more than a work about trash and dancing, but begs us to ask: what is trash, how do women interact with it, are they it, or not it, and what is play? What is the yearning we have for each other comprised of, and how to we reach for each other beyond impossible spaces and come together in a creative capacity? I do not know, but perhaps the next MFA concert by Huerta will lead me to the answer I seek…
Cuauhtémoc Peranda is a PhD student in the Dance Department of the University of California, Riverside. He holds an MFA in Performance and Choreography from Mills College, and a BA in Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity from Stanford University. He is Artistic Director of Mitote Choreographics; please visit his dancing/writing athttp://cuauhtemocmitote.
UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, RIVERSIDE
DEPARTMENT OF DANCE
Patricia Huerta, MFA candidate in Experimental Choreography
A performance about you, me, us, and all the spaces we inhabit and that surround us. About visibility, obstruction and choice. About possibility, agency, and newness. A shared space where each individual experiences this performance however they please. About (in-stall-ing) yourself.
Performed by Hayley Barnes, Charlene Chang, Elizabeth Villalobos, and Amariah Wosczyk
Original composition by Jeff Zahos, Music Director, UCR Department of Dance
Taisha Paggett, faculty advisor
October 15, 2015
Thursday, 6:00 pm
Performance Lab, ARTS 166
Patricia Huerta, from Los Angeles, California, is a dancer, choreographer and educator. She has been dancing for more than fourteen years in ballet, jazz, contemporary, modern, hip hop, ballroom, and improvisation. Her dance training stems from various institutions such as Mount San Antonio College, California State University Fullerton, Escena 3 in Guadalajara Mexico, and the University of California, Riverside. Patricia has performed for various dance companies projects, and artists, such as Mount San Antonio Repertory Dance Company, Pasadena City College Tournament of Roses Parade, Liz Lira LA Salsa Dance Company, Salsa Intocable Dance Company, Bachata singer Abo Solano (as a dancer and choreographer), Critical Mass Dance Company, the UC Riverside Gluck Dance Ensemble, Julie Freeman’s The Pleasure of Sometimes, Wendy Rogers’ Circa, Rosa Rodriguez-Frazier’s Border Ocurrencias, and Brianna Skellie’s Container. She has taught and choreographed over the last thirteen years for various institutions such as Pasadena City College, Mount San Antonio College, the American College Dance Festival (at Cal State Long Beach), Rubidoux High School, Los Altos High School, Ayala High School and Nogales High School. Patricia received her BA in Dance from UC Riverside where she earned several scholarships such as the Chancellor’s Award, the Dorella Anderson Award, and the Gluck Dance Ensemble Fellowship, recognizing her artistic triumphs. She is currently an MFA candidate at UC Riverside focusing on Experimental Choreography and critical dance studies. In2015-2016, she received a Gluck Fellows Program of the Arts Fellowship, an MFA Graduate Fellowship, and a UC MEXUS Grant.
In-stall is presented by the University of California, Riverside, Department of Dance. Patricia Huerta created this work in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the Master of Fine Arts degree in Experimental Choreography.
Photographer: Jonathan Godoy