Dance’s origins are anchored in the social. Either as tribute, celebration or mourning, dance is a way of relating to one another. UCR Dance department graduate student Alfonso Cervera’s MFA thesis performance “Poc-Chuc” links the sociality of the audience with the isolated frigidity of the concert stage through an artistic blurring between the two, resulting in a world of untethered Mexican modernity.
As you enter the dance hall in the Arts Building, the assumed traditional dance stage transformed into a maze-like art installation. The first room, darkened with lit candles in the shape of a cross, guides the audience into a hallway filled with Mexican folklorico dance boots and shoes arriving to the stage or performance world Cervera constellated. The spacious stage — absent of any division between audience and performer like in a traditional concert space — supported the world-making of the social decorated by three colorful skirts hung up above below a raised wooden platform. On two opposite corners, wooden frames wrapped in colorful string like a spider web decorated the frames and smaller wooden crates, both anticipating movement.
The introductory scene placed Cervera dressed in a long black embroidered skirt with symbols reminiscent to sigils as he circled around an image projected onto the floor. Reminiscent to an opening prayer, the opening gesture unlocked a collective of dancers figuratively drawing series of assemblages through abstract movements: Pirouettes, arm movements, kicks in the air, crawling turned into leaps moved in the air progressing towards the figurative.
The arc from abstraction into the figural folding over onto personhood assembled by two dancers — one dancer on the shoulder of another dressed together in the black skirt with the dancer on the shoulders with a mariachi hat, and a red rose assembled into a campy mainstream rendition of the Latina figure. The campy Latina performance of lip syncing to a ranchera song on the rebozo — a fashion garment reminiscent to a scarf used as a shawl or to carry children within indigenous communities in Latin America — posed a question of the racial and ethnic collages of Latina identity Cevera is interested in.
For Cevera, the rebozo becomes not a symbol traditionally prescribed to female bodies but rather onto a feminine gender expression that is not meant for maternal needs like carrying children but could be transformed into a rifle as he does throughout the performance. It is reminiscent of performance artist Nao Bustamante’s speculative refashioning of the Mexican Revolution Soldadera dresses made from kevlar cloth — a bulletproof material used in military uniforms. Bustamante’s collection of Soldadera dresses includes a kevlar rebozo as a metaphor for maternity and femininity and a defensive weapon holding the possibilities to bounce bullets back onto the enemy. It is in this speculative world of Mexican identity where femininity is championed, rendered as a characteristic of strength and maternal vulnerability.
Cervera plays with the rebozo in this context too. Not only does he weaponize the rebozo, but he also uses it to seduce and flirt. A triumphant moment of the performance comes from playful banter between a male drummer and Cervera both teasing each other until one cannot keep up with the complexity of the beat pattern whether through footwork or drumline.
Reinforcing this momentum was the performance’s continual apex with an enthralling energy that let the viewers know, “we are not done yet!”
This apex reinforced the blurring between the audience and the dancers on stage, offering a comfortable space for audience members to cheer on, clap and participate by dancing with the dancers in inviting moments. The sociality of Mexican dance remains central for Cervera, suggesting a mode of being with one another within space of fine art like elite bourgeois art. For Cevera, in assumption, he would disagree and impose the possibility of elite bourgeois styles of dance (like the types Mexican folklorico impart roots from) to blur between the frigidity of audience and stage.
However, the emphasis of the collective does not lose momentum or effectiveness for Cevera but continues to apex as an acceleration offering no conclusive destination, proposing for an unhinging of the audience to the isolated stage. The dynamic similar to the rebozo as a flexible and soft yet resistant enough to defend and hold one another.