Tuesday, May 22, 2012

"Parting Memories" by Violeta Luna. A Conceptual Theatre. Panamerican Routes Festival in Toronto. (2012)

Violeta Luna during Parting Memories (Photo from Internet)

Last Saturday (May 21th) I went to see "Parting Memories", a piece of conceptual theater by and with Violeta Luna at the Theatre Passe Muraille in Toronto, as part of the Latin American theater festival "Panamerican Routes", organized by the Latin American-Canadian collective Aluna Theatre.

Violeta is a Mexican visual & stage performance artist who has worked as an asociated artist in La Pocha Nostra (the collective of Guillermo Gómez-Peña) and in Secos & Mojados, in the city of San Francisco. "Parting memories" is part of a project that Violeta is currently creating with Secos & Mojados about Latin American immigration to the United States and the personal burden that emmigration itself means.

I have called it "conceptual theatre" because the elements of the piece (not a dramatic one because of her performance) are linked at different levels of narrative language according to an unique concept, immigration to the United States, and it is the viewer who joins the threads of these levels.

There is a first level (which I consider is the strongest one) which consists of a recording of the narration of more than 30 years of the life of a Salvadorean illegal immigrant; a second level that presents us, at the same time as the audio narration, a video with different images, first of a woman who is unearthed in a criminal investigation process (perhaps a murder scene) and who is the artist herself (or the one that speaks, or just another immigrant in any case... ) and the different steps of preparation for crossing illegally into the United States (list of requirements, souvenirs, maps, etc.) with the ubiquity of the Mexican passport; and finally a third level, staged, alive, with Violeta Luna exposing (at the same time as the other discourses), and mainly through visual images, the body (hers) in relation to different objects of an immigrant (emigrant) memory, objects that one take on a journey of such magnitude, plus the physical experience that the body has at the moments it is classified as "illegal" and therefore as a criminal in another country.

Violeta Luna during Parting Memories (Photograph from Internet)

It is a very rich stage proposal where the dramatic power lies mainly in the story told by the Salvadorean woman, while the body of Luna offers more of a background or frame, a display material that enriches the first discourse.

Although there is a use of interaction with the public, I don't feel this acquires a cathartic power in the body of the viewer, but rather a contemplative one. In any case, there is only one point where I consider that this interaction was so strong that it went from the basic concept to the real body of the viewer, and that was when, after Violeta asked the public to stamp her half-naked body (with seals reading "illegal", "criminal" and "terrorist"), the artist stamped the leg of one of the female spectators, thus becoming the person who decided now who which stranger was to be labelled as legal or illegal.

Obviously for every traveller like me who lives continuously as an immigrant, even as a legal one, this is a very powerful work, but I have my doubts whether it is as powerful for those viewers who are part of the world that one immigrates to. Non-immigrant Canadian spectators (and I can believe that this applies to Americans of the same kind) react in a manner that I would think of melodramatic, with some sympathy. If that is part of the goal of the performance, it works, without a doubt; if not, then it is a "but" to the goal itself because, why join a series of "sentient" samples of the plight of an immigrant, like the continuous news notes and exposés that flood daily the American or Canadian press?

In any case I wonder, as in any work that offers an account of a social problem, how far does the single exposure of these problems in the world of art work beyond being part of the current affairs?

Violeta Luna will give a 3 day workshop that would be worth taking.

Violeta Luna's performance "Parting memories" at Theatre Passe Muraille (Toronto. May 19, 2012)
Violeta Luna after Parting Memories performance at Theatre Passe Muraille. (Photo by Gustavo Thomas. 2012)

Violeta Luna's performance "Parting memories" at Theatre Passe Muraille (Toronto. May 19, 2012)
Parting Memories stage after the performance at Theatre Passe Muraille. (Photo by Gustavo Thomas. 2012)

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