How does it feel to belong, and at the same time not belong? What is the line between reality and myth? Is living in between those lines, the blurring of those lines, essential for survival, for us to be seen? What do we believe, what do we deny as truth, and how we do we tell the difference? Who is in control of shaping our narratives? Who gets to tell the story?
Silvita Diaz Brown’s work “Leyendas and Realidades”—developed during her six-month, Co-Missions Fellowship and showing through June 29 at Links Hall—explores issues surrounding gender equality, women’s empowerment and postcolonial questions of belonging through histories and legends culled from the Spanish conquest of the Aztec empire. In a series of vignettes, “Leyendas and Realidades” tells the story of La Malinche, a mythological Nahua woman who played a key role in the conquest of the Aztec empire by acting as an interpreter to Hernan Cortes, a Spanish conquistador. The six dancers—Silvita Diaz Brown, Tess Collins, Juan Enrique Irizarry, Christopher Knowlton, Ileana Nadine Mauricio and Dylan Roth—use acrobatics and drama to play different characters in this dance theater work.
As the dancers enter, they are overshadowed by a black and white pixelated, silhouette of a mother and daughter projected on the back wall. “You are both Mexican and American, my dear,” responds the mother to her daughter’s coming of age question. “You hold the best of both worlds.” The silhouettes morph into the large and vast landscape of the universe as the dancers whisper, “Truth or tale.” The projections, that often mimic what the dancers are doing on stage, at times blur their bodies together into what becomes a beautiful mural of shapes and colors. This, paired with the how the dancers play with illusion—bending their bodies into shapes and pushing their bodies past what we believe is humanly possible—helps to further blur this line between reality and myth. At one moment, Brown seems to be levitating and circling in the air as Knowlton rotates her around on his feet. It’s not clear where her body begins or ends as she continues to pull herself through and dangle from his legs, the projections morphing with their bodies to create other shapes and images.
The female characters—Mother Earth Tonantzin/Virgen Guadalupe (Collins), Princess Papatzin (Mauricio), and La Malinche (Brown)—stand at the center of this acted out tale. Upon the Spanish converting many indigenous people to Catholicism, including Princess Papatzin, Mother Earth Tonantzin becomes the Virgin Guadalupe or “Blessed Virgin.” La Malinche/Mother of Mexico and the guide and translator for Hernan Cortes (Knowlton) has an affair with Cortes, producing the first mestizo (a person of European and Indigenous American descent). She is then caught in the middle between the care she has for Cortes and her duty to Moctezuma II (Irizarry) and her people. La Malinche breaks up the fight between the two, restoring order back to the country. Although this lengthy, acrobatic-filled unison makes the work a bit slow at times, it celebrates these women’s strength, resilience and place in Mexican history with underlying commentary on the way women—their bodies and voices—have been used to propel the agenda of colonialism. Like the controversial myths of Pocahontas and Sacagawea, the narratives of women who are praised for having sacrificed their lives working for peace between the colonizer and the colonized, connect to the modern discussion of who owns women’s bodies and labor.
Brown’s work also raises the question of who gets to tell a story, and what stories get to be told. One could view La Malinche as a traitor to her people, while this interpretation seeks to uplift her as a hero. In this way, “Leyendas and Realidades” asks audiences to consider how we sit at edge of reality and myth—how our delineations of what is real and fake can be both harmful and a way we seek to keep traditions alive.
Silvita Diaz Brown's “Legendas y Realidades," part of the Co-Missions Fellowship Showcase, continues June 27 and 29 at Links Hall, 3111 N. Western Ave. Tickets are $12-$40, available by clicking the event page below.