No stranger to traversing frontiers, Mexican-Chilean-Austrian choreographer Amanda Piña brings Frontera | Border – A Living Monument and its accompanying exhibition Danza y Frontera to Tanz im August, paying homage to the courage of those who dare to cross borders.
Your piece has roots in a dance that emerged at the border between Mexico and the United States. How has something originally devised by the Spanish as a conquest dance evolved to become a modern form of resistance to colonial forces?
The dance was used to invent colonial difference – we must remember the modern world exists because of the plundering of others – it’s a very interesting dance, and through the years many people couldn’t get its complexity, and the dance was recorded as something where people had to represent their own defeat. At the beginning there were those two sides, the Christians and the Moors, then the Spanish disappeared from the dance, and in later versions Montezuma [a.k.a. Moctezuma II, last ruler of the Aztec empire before it collapsed under the 1519-21 Spanish conquest] and La Malinche [a Nahua woman who interpreted, advised, and acted as intermediary for the Spanish] appeared, this was part of the genealogy of the dance. The dance of Rodrigo de la Torre, and the dance we do together, which is again something else, has this genealogy which was used as propaganda for implementing the realisation of superiority of the white settler colonialist powers.
But the physiology of what the dance does is more important than the narrative… it continued, continued, until it found Rodrigo: he was a young guy in a working-class neighbourhood in Matamoros [on the Mexican-USA border] at a time when there was a lot of violence related to narco trafficking. It’s better now but still one of the hottest places in the war against drugs. They were young and wanted to dance, they crossed the border and got sneakers – that’s the legend of how they did it – they mixed the maracas and the naguillas (traditional skirts), which are both very old, with t-shirts and caps. They started to dance this dance in a different context and it became very famous and expansive.
Could you tell us a little about your performers?
The source of the dance, Rodrigo de la Torre, comes from Matamoros, he’s the leader of the dance. This is a collaboration between him and Juan Carlos Palma, a dancer, dance teacher and dance thinker from Mexico. The drummer is also from Matamoros. It’s important to say the people from Matamoros in the piece are not performers in the western sense, they didn’t study it. The other dancers are from everywhere, and all have the experience of the border – a border between nations or in terms of queerness, gender or different types of border crossing – it’s a very heterogeneous group coming from different schools of dance.
When the dancers move with the drum it’s very physical, it takes a lot of energy but also gives a lot of energy. Does it become like a trance if they repeat it often enough?
I think those systems of dance are inducing a form of thought which creates synthesis, not separation. Dance produces a form of thinking which creates togetherness, collectivity. Not only human collectivity; togetherness in all senses of the word.
Who’s behind the exhibition?
It’s created from the accumulation of research material. There’s a documentary film about the performers and the piece, excerpts from the performance, works created about the performances, the research and the performers, and original costumes from Matamoros.
This whole project began in 2014. In Berlin you’re presenting the fourth volume of the larger project, Endangered Human Movements and you’re already going into volume five.
Yes, and now I’m working with three volumes at the same time! The research is very rich, it keeps on living, they’re like Pandora boxes that open and have a life of their own. It’s very beautiful.
Do they spill over into each other?
Yes, of course, because what I get to learn from a volume of research and performance and what the dancers also have experienced – I work with the same dancers for some years – somehow comes into the body and it’s transduced into a new project, even though each volume is very different.
Parts of this dance have been carried in people’s bodies over hundreds of years. Were there special times or occasions when they’d perform it?
Yes. Definitely. The Catholic church in Mexico is like the ideological hand of the extractionist colonial power, it actually sits on top of the destroyed temples, on top of the uses and costumes of the people – they literally over-imposed. It’s not that they extirpated, like the British did, it was a real mix, in a sense they fit perfectly with the local deities and celebration dates as a form of establishing a new order, their superiority and power structure.
Western ontology is caught up in binary constitutions, for example transcendent OR imminent OR body OR spirit, but in Mesoamerica things can be this, that and that also. And that’s the great advantage of the native populations upon the colonising powers because they could integrate from inside, from under and continue their forms of communal reciprocity. Which today are super impacted by the neoliberal market economy, and which has great capacity to create subjects of consumption by dissembling the possibilities of communal reciprocal relations.
When we talk about Matamoros and narco, the drug cartels and the horrors of that… there the choice is cheap labour in industry or narco culture for young men. In one interview we did [the sociologist] Rolando Vásquez Melken said, “It is not that narco culture and narco reality are a deviation from norm. It is the neoliberal market economy at its best, it’s a market without any regulation.”
We dedicate the piece to all those who cross – and to those who don’t make it to the other side.
In an interview you mentioned Melilla and Fortress Europe…
There was a moment (in May) when people from Sub-Saharan Africa and other places were swimming to Cueta and scaling the fence at Melilla and coming like a flood into these Spanish enclaves in northern Africa, and this piece is a homage to those people who dare to cross. People who live in European cities see these people as victims. This victim narrative erases the enormous power, courage, determination you need to do that, to leave everything behind and search for better life conditions for you and your family.
This is a homage to the beauty of their determination – because it’s so difficult to enter – we dedicate the piece to all those who cross and to those who don’t make it to the other side. As we all know, the richness of Europe has to do with extraction, it has produced the conditions from where people are escaping. The same for the States, the global north, colonialism has created situations of dependency that have impoverished people’s quality of life.
From the trailer for this volume, I was looking at the meaning of Los atravesados (the crossed ones) and broke the word down to atraves (across) and atravesad (to go through)…
Do you know Gloria Anzaldúa? This was deeply inspired by her book Borderlands/La Fronteres: The New Mestiza (1987). One of the figures is the new mestiza (mixed race) as the one who is not here or there, but here, there, and in a third realm. It’s very important to quote her in the context of this piece because Rodrigo has crossed – he crossed the border, he established this dance at Matamoros – it’s a very big dance… he has 25-30 dancers, and that’s not paid work. What we’re doing here in the realm of the economy is like this (gestures a ‘small thing’ with her hands), you know. In a way the piece does not operate in the western sense, it’s not in that lineage of dance, but it is mestiza, it’s in-between and it’s shaped by indigenous border influences and also by western influences like performance and contemporary dance, but it’s not either-or, it’s something else.
After so much devaluation of non-white traditions of art, because of racialism and exclusion, for me it’s very important that the piece follows other logics. In a way the logic of the piece is the logic of allowing and hosting the reappearance of these forms of movement and the entities that appear in the dance – there are 46 figures that appear which I didn’t choreograph or create, but which emerged. It’s more like hosting, more ‘com-possession’ than composition. It doesn’t take time as a line, it’s a practice of listening to what the artwork wants.
How have you managed to condense so much?
We did research with Rodrigo and other dancers, with Juan Carlos and our dramaturg, Nicole Haitzinger, and we looked at the Matamoros material, played with it. Along with the musicians we really slowed it down a lot, and we saw that the piece was a walk claiming the earth, stamping the ground in a very particular way and with that we created the ten main dance sequences. Through the practice of that very slow dance the figures started to emerge.
Now is the decolonisation moment: the people working on this are not alone, just as artists are never alone, they’re somehow a movement, by which what some achieve is taken somewhere else by others, to go further. When you work with indigenous ontologies, one of the first things you learn is how when you don’t consider yourself separate from the earth and nature, and you feel it is the reality that makes you alive and sustains your life, then a relaxing humility happens which allows certain forms of collectivity to arise.
Amanda Piña, Frontera | Border – A Living Monument, Haus der Statistik, August 20-22, 20h see Tanz im August website for tickets
Amanda Piña, Endangered Human Movements Vol. 4, Danza y Frontera exhibition, Haus der Statistik, August 20-22, 15-23h, Admission free