The water pours slowly from the Villavicencio (bottled in Mendoza, Argentina) bottle into the posh wine glass and I suddenly notice the great force and energy of the movement of the simple transfer of material. I notice the beauty and poetics in the change, in the movement of material, the time, the space, the sounds. And I begin to think about that the short time I have spent in Buenos Aires so far has, after all, given me something—something I really needed.
I’m terrible with change. Ever since I was a small child I stayed away from it as much as I could. I kept shoes that were 2 sizes too small for me because I couldn’t stand the thought of them moving somewhere else, out of my sight and life; after finding out that a tree needed to be cut down in the place where a barn would be built in the woods by my house, cried and then contacted every single tree transplant service in the phonebook until I found a way to save the tree. But, I have come to learn that change is inevitable and that a lot of the time it is actually a really good, important, creativity-engaging happening. Change is movement. So far on this co-op in Buenos Aires, I have witnessed and experienced movement, particularly of the body in space, both viscerally and critically.
I have been thinking so much about bodies; my body, other bodies, the relation of my body to other bodies, the power of bodies, the vulnerability of bodies, the reproduction of bodies, the value of bodies to the state apparatus. The medium of performance is the body in space. It is movement. Performance is all of these things. To be researching bodies and performance and politics in Buenos Aires, Argentina is particularly interesting. The political history and public memory resonates with and penetrates the very active performance scene here. The body and the performative body has a whole different meaning and connotation when juxtaposed with the violence of the military dictatorship of 1973-1986, during which between 10,000 and 30,000 civilians in Argentina were ‘disappeared.’ Though the history of the ‘Dirty War’ and its violence is important to understand, I am neither an expert nor have the experience of living through it to fully articulate its meaning. What I am able to do is to observe what is left today of such state-sanctioned violence in this place that I am living. I’m reading a book called “Theatre, Performance, and Memory Politics in Argentina” by Brenda Werth that goes into an historical analysis of recent Argentine history and the responses of performance and theater arts/artists. She writes: “After the systematic torture and disappearance of an estimated 30,000 individuals during Argentina’s last dictatorship (1976-1983), the prominence of the body in theatre and performance of the eighties and nineties acquired unique significance” (12). She goes on to quote theatre scholar Beatriz Trastoy:
Si el terrorismo de Estado que implantó la última dictadura militar se basó en la desaparición forzada de personas y en el obstinado silencio oficial referido al destino último de las víctimes, silencio que contrastaba con el estremecedor relato de testigos y sobrevivientes, no ha de sorprender, entonces, que cuerpo y narración hayan sido los ejes estructuradores de estas nuevas tendencias escénicas. [If the state terrorism instituted by the last military dictatorship was based on the forced disappearance of individuals and the obstinate official silence surrounding the fates of the victims—silence that contrasted with the chilling accounts of witnesses and survivors—then it should not be surprising that body and narration are the two structuring axes of these new state tendencies.] (12)
Although Werth and Trastoy were writing about the theater scene in the 80s and 90s, I argue that the importance and focus on the body continues to permeate performance in Argentina in the new millennium.
Not only is performance politically relevant and driven, it also is abundant and independant. There exist three tiers of performance/theater here: state-sponsored, commercial, and independent, and the independent realm seems to be to be flourishing. There are multiple shows and performances every single night, and from what I’ve attended, there seems to be strong and supportive audiences. Of course, when I talk to theater people here, there continue to be similar issues with funding and assistance for the arts. But, when compared to my experiences in theater regionally in the US and in New York City, the independent scene here is extraordinary. The experience of watching independently-created performances here in Buenos Aires is different than my experience in the US, mostly because of the language and cultural barriers. Here, I notice movement much more—the way the space changes when the performers move, the way they wave their hands or slump or walk, the choreography (or lack thereof), the breathing. Am I just noticing it more because I don’t understand everything in Castellano or is there more detail and care given to movement and space in the independent Argentine performances that I’ve seen? I will continue to investigate this…
Oh yes, and I’m also working! My work on co-op is very-much tied in with all of these thoughts about the body and performance and politics. I’m working with and for Mujeres de Artes Tomar, a collective of women artivistas from mostly Buenos Aires (but also including some from around south and central America) that create performance and events aimed at gender justice, equity, and empowerment of women. One of my first assignments with them was to help renew their mission. This is what we came up with: “ColectivA de mujeres artivistas para el empoderamiento y la transformación. Sentir, pensar, decir, hacer disidentes, en rebelde alegría, libertad, autonomía y plenitud por el ejercicio de nuestros derechos.” [Collective of women artivistas for empowerment and transformation. To feel, to think, to say, to do dissident, in rebellious happiness, liberty, autonomy, fullness to exercise of our rights]. I am helping them to make a new website (sneak preview of the site under-construction here, see their currently functioning website here) and helping to prepare for projects that will happen in September and October. I’m also taking a class called “the body in the scene” with Claudia, one of the directors of the organization at a local theater school and performance venue. Mujeres de Artes Tomar is very active online in order to organize the group of more than 4000 members. You can join their facebook page to see what they’re up to!
Overall, I am transitioning, changing, moving, learning, and each day is different. I am reminding myself to step back and appreciate sights and sounds and smells and memory. I am still thinking about the water pouring from the bottle to the glass and wondering where my senses will take me next.
Werth, Brenda G. Theatre, Performance, and Memory Politics in Argentina. New York, NY: Palgrave
Macmillan, 2010. Print.