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The Myth Project II, Sensitive Habitats
Centro de la Raza
Thursday, May 3, 2007
Presented by Sushi Performance & Visual Art

*THIS REVIEW FIRST PUBLISHED ON SANDIEGO.COM

The first Myth Project, which took place on a dirt courtyard in an empty corner of the old Naval Training Center in Point Loma last October, took a critical look at war, referencing its location with images of boot camp, yelling drill sergeants, and World War II-era USO girls. If that could be seen as Patricia Rincon and Sushi’s attack of American foreign policy, then Myth Project II, which opened Thursday, May 3, 2007 at the Centro Cultural de la Raza in Balboa Park, would be their response to the United States’ domestic agenda.

The program, which focused on issues of immigration, identity, and the celebration of indigenous communities (namely Aztec and Chicano), was appropriately produced close to May Day, historically a celebration of labor movements that last year turned into record-breaking protests against U.S. immigration policy. The turnout for similar demonstrations was significantly smaller across the nation; nevertheless, the topic remains at the forefront of political debates and discussions. In the Myth Project II, Rincon and co-director Robert Castro provide strong visuals and a vibrant environment to address the issue though they ultimately fail to contribute anything new to the dialogue.

The approximately 75 audience members in attendance (which constituted a very full house) were first led on a tour of Centro de la Raza, a converted water tower that was established as a cultural center in 1970. The exterior walls feature some stunning murals depicting scenes and symbols of the indigenous history and influence in San Diego, as explained by tour leader Stephanie de la Torre.

Despite some theatrical additions – a man cleaning the walls and fondling the nude bust of a painting with his broom, and a colorful dragon sweeping behind the audience – the mini-tour was a lecture, not part of the performance, and it was a missed opportunity to integrate the story of the space into the narrative of the evening. Though the history lesson was interesting (and necessary since this was likely the first visit to the Centro for many of the audience members), the straightforward delivery didn’t properly set the mood for the theater that was about to be witnessed.

Following the tour, the audience entered the space through an impressive tunnel made of construction paper and were deposited onto an enclosed stage where two women were suspended in cocoons of silk. They undulated gracefully above the audience, many of who were snapping away with disposable cameras provided at the door. The constant clicking and presence of the camera created a tourist feel to the event, as if reminding the audience that we are merely visitors on this land.

Luke Lopez, wielding a wheelbarrow, deposited a pile of soil on the stage then positioned the barrow to collect the women as they lowered themselves from the silks. In an environment that is so conscious of race and nationality, and in a program that is dealing so explicitly with politics and identity, it’s impossible not to read meaning into the whiteness of the two women and the image of their nearly-nude bodies (in flesh-toned unitards) being carted away.

At this point, one of the paper walls surrounding the stage was torn away to reveal an ensemble standing in a clump, wearing variations of white and black, the men in wide mesh skirts, some performers wearing sombreros, others in Chinese peasant hats. A pile of soil sat downstage of the group, which was soon occupied by two women who dispersed it with their arms, working it through their hands, allowing it to mix with their bodies.

Simultaneously, a violent duet took place by a couple in white that embraced, pushed each other away and repeated, each time more desperately. And the remaining ensemble members became entwined in red string by a beautiful colorful bird that rose from the shadows and soon overpowered both the ensemble and the duet. With a background of stunning murals and an accusatory poster asking, “Who’s the illegal alien?” this first section proved the most visually engaging and haunting of the evening.

Suddenly, another section of the wall was removed to reveal a trail of filled water bottles that snaked to the center of the space where a hanging bag of water dripped slowly and deliberately, teasing the man (Lopez) who crawled carefully and painfully over the bottles in order to reach it. De la Torre stood behind the path of water, reading a speech that was far less interesting than the visual and was in fact a mere distraction from the simple yet powerful journey over the water. The insistence of using text in this show and in several of Rincon’s others unfortunately doesn’t contribute much meaning. Of course the words have meaning and are often provocative and powerful words. Yet they don’t enhance the experience and more often than not detract from what otherwise is effective movement that can stand on its own.

Following the water scene, another wall was brought down and a screen showed a video featuring clever shadow puppets (designed by Iain Gunn, one of the performers and collaborators of the show) – humans and animals alike – as they negotiated the translation of English and indigenous languages. The constantly shifting focus of the performance, the intimate and interactive nature, and the method of continuously opening and broadening the space, as if uncovering layers and revealing different and new aspects of the issue, was indeed probably the most successful elements of the performance.

The final wall that was torn down revealed a blank canvas on which the performers, dressed in funky “street” clothes, markers in hand, ran back and forth, marking it up with graffiti and images, tracing each others bodies, all while being yelled at from a bull horn as if the police were right on their tail. De la Torre, the voice behind the bullhorn, proudly announced at the end of the section that the now-colorful canvas was in fact the Sensitive Habitats mural. Too bad it was just a bunch of scribbles and not a powerfully distinguishable image. It felt like another opportunity lost to make a concrete statement or produce something clear and identifiable.

Drawing attention away from the “mural”, Anna DeVuyst was deposited from a wheel barrow in the center of the stage in a brown bag, like an earthworm, as she slowly and seductively squirmed her way out of it to grab hold of the hanging silk and lifting herself off the ground, away from the dirt. At this point, the final wall was removed that allowed the audience to take its seat in a more traditional theater arrangement, facing the stage as the performers entered, now covered in brilliant costumes filled with color and frills, feathers and streamers. And it is at this point that the circus themes that were prevalent in the first Myth Project returned.

What had thus far been a dark, somber, serious look at identity and immigration issues dissolved into a bright display of fun and celebration, perhaps a way to honor the beauty and life of the Aztec and Chicano cultures rather than merely focus on the seriousness of the current issues. A man and a woman who were dressed as more traditional clowns performed impressive circus tricks. Again, the ethnically conscious environment and content of the show made it impossible not to notice the whiteness of the two clowns and brought up unresolved questions about what point was being made by their infiltration into the colorful world of the indigenous characters, if a point was being made at all.

Gunn and Bridget Rountree, another collaborator of the evening, arrived on stilts (another tool carried over from Myth Project I) to engage in El Baile de Los Gigantes (Dance of the Giants) a sort of battle that resulted in Rountree’s death, though what the giants or her death symbolized was unclear. Regardless, her death was the impetus that led the ensemble, now standing upstage behind a newly sown line of dark soil, to each comment on what El Centro meant to them. Responses ranged from “a dirty neighborhood” to “a new menu item at the café”.

Rincon seems to favor this tool of announcing various definitions on a subject from the perspective of her dancers. Though it highlights the variety of ways to view a subject, and often times uncovers unspoken biases and stereotypes, it nevertheless tends to feel contrived and overly dramatic. The words ring true but the delivery – a line of performers staring at the audience and shouting their lines one by one – doesn’t enhance their meaning. It just puts them out there to hang and doesn’t engage them.

In general, that seems to sum up the problems with the evening. As much as there was to see and hear, there was surprisingly little to feel. One wishes that for all that the audience was told, there could also have been something to grasp onto emotionally, that instead of just listening to words and processing images, though each at times were effective, there would have been something more powerful and poignant to stir us.

The very last scene got close to this than many of the others. After fervent floundering among the line of soil, the performers came forward to drink from the water, allowing it to spill over their bodies and mix with the soil to create a thick mud as they let the water drool out of their mouths and onto their hands. Lying on their backs, the performers alternately arched up, gasping for air, creating a wave of desperation as they suffocated from lack of hope. And from this sea of floundering humans, now brown from the mud, the two white women from the beginning climbed back onto the silks and gracefully swayed back and forth, oblivious to the turmoil below.

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