Front Cover
 Title Page
 Table of Contents
 Editor's note
 Towards a better understanding...
 Up in smoke: Cigars hecho a mano,...
 Dressing down: Male transvestism...
 Desenterrando y mareando la memoria:...
 "I have to feel it first...": An...
 Who is eating whom?: Canibal es...
 Staging the history of a colonial...
 The freedom of the mask: An Interview...
 Anacaona: Notes toward Caribbean...
 Prometheus Bound
 Book reviews
 List of contributors
 Back Cover

Group Title: Sargasso (Río Piedras, San Juan, P.R.)
Title: Sargasso
Full Citation
Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00096005/00016
 Material Information
Title: Sargasso
Uniform Title: Sargasso (Río Piedras, San Juan, P.R.)
Alternate Title: Sargazo
Abbreviated Title: Sargasso (Río Piedras San Juan P. R.)
Physical Description: v. : ; 28 cm.
Language: English
Creator: University of Puerto Rico (Ri´o Piedras Campus) -- Dept. of English
University of Puerto Rico (Río Piedras Campus) -- Dept. of English
Publisher: s.n.
Place of Publication: Ri´o Piedras P.R
Río Piedras P.R
Publication Date: 1984-
Copyright Date: 1986
Frequency: twice a year[2002-]
two no. a year[ former 1984]
irregular[ former <1987>-2001]
Subject: Caribbean literature -- Periodicals   ( lcsh )
Caribbean literature -- History and criticism -- Periodicals   ( lcsh )
Puerto Rican literature -- Periodicals   ( lcsh )
Puerto Rican literature -- History and criticism -- Periodicals   ( lcsh )
Genre: review   ( marcgt )
periodical   ( marcgt )
Spatial Coverage: Puerto Rico
Additional Physical Form: Also issued online.
Language: Chiefly English, with some French and Spanish.
Dates or Sequential Designation: Vol. 1, no. 1-no. 10 (2000) ; 2001-
Numbering Peculiarities: Volume designation dropped with no. 3; issue for 2001 lacks numbering; issues for 2002- called 2002, 1-
Issuing Body: Edited by the faculty and graduate students of the English Dept., University of Puerto Rico.
General Note: Title from cover.
General Note: Some issues have also distinctive titles.
General Note: Latest issue consulted: 2004-05,2.
General Note: Has occasional special issues.
 Record Information
Bibliographic ID: UF00096005
Volume ID: VID00016
Source Institution: University of Puerto Rico
Holding Location: University of Puerto Rico
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier: oclc - 12797847
lccn - 85643628
issn - 1060-5533
alephbibnum - 002422411

Table of Contents
    Front Cover
        Page i
        Page ii
    Title Page
        Page iii
        Page iv
        Page v
        Page vi
        Page vii
        Page viii
    Table of Contents
        Page ix
        Page x
    Editor's note
        Page xi
        Page xii
    Towards a better understanding of Caribbean culture
        Page 1
        Page 2
        Page 3
        Page 4
    Up in smoke: Cigars hecho a mano, radical storytelling in the Tabaqueria, and the processed drama of Anna in the tropics
        Page 5
        Page 6
        Page 7
        Page 8
        Page 9
        Page 10
        Page 11
        Page 12
        Page 13
        Page 14
        Page 15
        Page 16
        Page 17
        Page 18
        Page 19
        Page 20
        Page 21
        Page 22
        Page 23
        Page 24
    Dressing down: Male transvestism in two Caribbean Carnivals
        Page 25
        Page 26
        Page 27
        Page 28
        Page 29
        Page 30
        Page 31
        Page 32
        Page 33
        Page 34
        Page 35
        Page 36
    Desenterrando y mareando la memoria: El arte del recuerdo de Agua, Sol y Sereno
        Page 37
        Page 38
        Page 39
        Page 40
        Page 41
        Page 42
        Page 43
        Page 44
        Page 45
        Page 46
        Page 47
        Page 48
        Page 49
        Page 50
        Page 51
        Page 52
        Page 53
        Page 54
        Page 55
        Page 56
    "I have to feel it first...": An interview with artist Awilda Sterling-Dupery on the creative process
        Page 57
        Page 58
        Page 59
        Page 60
        Page 61
        Page 62
        Page 63
        Page 64
        Page 65
        Page 66
        Page 67
        Page 68
        Page 69
        Page 70
        Page 71
        Page 72
        Page 73
        Page 74
        Page 75
        Page 76
    Who is eating whom?: Canibal es el mundo
        Page 77
        Page 78
        Page 79
        Page 80
        Page 81
        Page 82
        Page 83
        Page 84
    Staging the history of a colonial limbo: Choreographies of Merian Soto
        Page 85
        Page 86
        Page 87
        Page 88
        Page 89
        Page 90
        Page 91
        Page 92
        Page 93
        Page 94
        Page 95
        Page 96
    The freedom of the mask: An Interview with Deborah Hunt
        Page 97
        Page 98
        Page 99
        Page 100
        Page 101
        Page 102
        Page 103
        Page 104
        Page 105
        Page 106
        Page 107
        Page 108
        Page 109
        Page 110
    Anacaona: Notes toward Caribbean performance art
        Page 111
        Page 112
        Page 113
        Page 114
        Page 115
        Page 116
        Page 117
        Page 118
        Page 119
        Page 120
        Page 121
        Page 122
        Page 123
        Page 124
        Page 125
        Page 126
    Prometheus Bound
        Page 127
        Page 128
        Page 129
        Page 130
        Page 131
        Page 132
        Page 133
        Page 134
        Page 135
        Page 136
        Page 137
        Page 138
        Page 139
        Page 140
        Page 141
        Page 142
        Page 143
        Page 144
        Page 145
        Page 146
    Book reviews
        Page 147
        Page 148
        Page 149
        Page 150
        Page 151
        Page 152
        Page 153
        Page 154
        Page 155
        Page 156
        Page 157
        Page 158
        Page 159
        Page 160
        Page 161
        Page 162
        Page 163
        Page 164
        Page 165
        Page 166
        Page 167
        Page 168
        Page 169
        Page 170
        Page 171
        Page 172
    List of contributors
        Page 173
        Page 174
        Page 175
    Back Cover
        Page 176
Full Text


Anna in the Tropics (Rick Mitchell)
Male Transvestism in Two Caribbean Carnivals (Rosamond S. King)
Agua, Sol y Sereno (Roberto Irizarrn)
Awilda Sterling-Duprey: Interview (Julia Ritter)
Teatro Yerbabruja (MargaritaEspada Santos agnd John L Iterbie)
Choreographies Soto (Jesstca Ad
-]Deborah Hu tinte vian Mar Ta
Anacaona: Cmmemt a y and Text (Gai le--l
Prometheus Bound: Performance Text (Aravind Enrique Adyanthaya)
El teatro puertorriqueAdo reimaginado, reviewed b.
ivian Martinez Tabares / Lydia Plat6n
Carmen VAzquez Arce / Ricardo CobiAn Figeroux / Rayza Vidal

,' n LweI- n E. Weli
--: : 1 1 j i '; 1 1 1 u : "3 ..f. f ,,

Special Issue

Special Issue


SARGASSO SPECIAL ISSUE 2004-05 Caribbean Theater and Cultural Performance
Sargasso, a peer-reviewed journal of literature, language, and culture edited at
the University of Puerto Rico, publishes critical essays, interviews, book reviews,
and some creative works. Sargasso particularly welcomes material written by/
about the people of the Caribbean region and its diaspora. Unless otherwise
specified, essays and critical studies should conform to the style of the MLA
Handbook. Book reviews should be kept to no more than 1,200 words in length. All
correspondence must include a S.A.S.E. For electronic submission, write to:
Postal Address:
P.O. Box 22831, UPR Station
San Juan, Puerto Rico 00931-2831

Lowell Fiet, Founding Editor
lan A. Bethell Bennett, Managing Editor
Maria Cristina Rodriguez, Book Review Editor
Sally Everson, Editorial Staff
Don E. Walicek, Editorial Staff
Sally Everson, Lowell Fiet, and Don E. Walicek, Issue Editors
Lydia Plat6n, Editorial Assistant
Editorial Board
Jessica Adams, Tulane University
Mary Ann Gosser-Esquilin, Florida Atlantic University
Peter Roberts, University of the West Indies, Cave Hill
Ivette Romero, Marist College
Felipe Smith, Tulane University
Antonio Garcia Padilla, President of the University of Puerto Rico
Gladys Escalona de Motta, Chancellor, Rio Piedras Campus
Jose L. Ramos Escobar, Dean of Humanities
Cover: Photo images are, clockwise: an unknown locaa" in Loiza; Awilda Sterling
Duprey; Javier Cardona; Margarita Espada Santos; a masked Deborah Hunt, Aravind
Adyanthaya (center).
Layout: Marcos Pastrana
Opinions and views expressed in Sargasso are those of the individual authors and are not
necessarily shared by Sargasso 's Editorial Board. This journal is indexed by MLA. Copies of
Sargasso Special Issue 2004-05, as well as previous issues, are on deposit in the Library of
Congress. Filed October 2005. ISSN 1060-5533

Piri Fernandez de Lewis (1922 2003)

Para nombrar a Piri*

Acabo de recibir la noticia. Mi primera reacci6n es de incredulidad.
No es possible que alguien como ella pueda desvanecerse asi porque
si, un buen dia, sin avisar, sin darle tiempo al universe para producer
un double razonable. No, no es possible, ni tampoco just. La formula
mAgica, aquella que supo combinar el genio, la gracia, la fuerza y la
ternura en un menudo cuerpo de mujer, sera irrepetible.
Entonces, se me asienta la tristeza. Y Ilegan sin invitaci6n los
recuerdos para una imprevista celebraci6n de su existencia. Pizpireta,
burbujeante, intense, Carmen Pilar Fernandez Cerra -mejor conocida
como Piri Fernandez de Lewis- posa otra vez para las camaras de la
Sonrisas como la suya no vienen en pares. Los labios tensos, de un
rojo vivo, revelan la dentadura ofrecida al mundo en permanent regalo
de alegria. La mirada -alerta, atenta, fija- intimidaria tal vez, si no
fuera por las chispas traviesas que saltan de sus pupilas.

* Revised by author. Originally appeared in El Nuevo Dia, "Perspectiva"
(6 de mayo 2004): 94.


Y la voz. ZC6mo describir ese registro de inflexiones y matices que
conforman un hablar tan singular? La entonaci6n puntuada de subidas
y bajadas vertiginosas, las pausas efectistas, las exclamaciones
inesperadas, las carcajadas espontineas, los susurros c6mplices, la
constant sorpresa de su expresi6n oral. Declamadora desde la nifiez,
actriz por vocaci6n, era cong6nitamente dramatica. A todos los campos
de su desempefio traslad6 esa pasi6n por el teatro. Por eso, maestra
inolvidable, se movia en el sal6n de classes como sobre un scenario.
En la Universidad de Puerto Rico, cuando esos studios a6n
guardaban un trasunto a exotismo, fue la primera en proponer cursos
sobre literature femenina, antillana y africana. Cre6 y organize los
famosos Encuentros Caribefios, que congregaban a especialistas
puertorriquefios y extranjeros en torno a temas de perspective
interdisciplinaria y alcance regional. Su biblioteca personal, frecuentada
por legiones de estudiantes, amas6 una de las colecciones mas
completes del pais en material de historic y cultural del Caribe.
Como una Madame de StaHl tropical, Piri auspici6 y anim6 lucidisimas
tertulias intelectuales. Versada en el arte de la conversaci6n, siempre
al dia en material de novedades literarias y political, reunia a su
alrededor -en el acogedor sal6n del tercer piso de su residencia- a lo
mas granado del mundo artistic y universitario. Su poder de
convocatoria era tan irresistible como su hospitalidad, pr6diga en
alimentos materials y espirituales.
Si su labor educativa result vanguardista y su activismo cultural
efervescente, no hay adjetivo suficiente para calificar su entrega a las
numerosas causes que sacudieron su conciencia. El inventario es
extenso. Baste evocar aqui sus aportaciones capitals al Comit6 Sixto
Alvelo contra la vieja ley del servicio military obligatorio, al Comit6
Puerto Rico en la ONU, al Comit6 Pro-Libertad de los Presos Politicos y
al movimiento Ciudadanos Unidos en Apoyo al Pueblo Haitiano, entire
tantas otras instancias de compromise cabal y audaz.
Con un altruismo genuine y una energia inagotable, no sabia hacerse
escasa cuando se requerian su esfuerzo o su fortune para respaldar
alguna empresa noble. iCuAntas veces bec6 studios, pag6 viajes, regal
libros, financi6 espectAculos, don6 fondos a grupos e individuos,
reparti6 a manos Ilenas los bienes asignados por su holgada posici6n
Esa dadivosidad cr6nica no se atenia al piano econ6mico. Espl6ndida
era tambien en el elogio, en el entusiasmo desbordante que le inspiraba
el talent. Presta al aplauso, a la frase alentadora, fue una agent
provocadora de la creatividad general. Segura de sus propias


capacidades, aquilataba sin mezquindad los logros ajenos. Dotada de
una mente brillante como pocas, supo ejercer con elegancia la
diplomacia de la solidaridad.
Piri Fernandez de Lewis era una embajadora nata. Un convencimiento
firme guiaba sus decisions. Un instinto certero dictaba sus lealtades.
Dispuesta a la negociaci6n -aunque nunca a la claudicaci6n- entablaba
coloquios cordiales con el mas agrio de los adversaries. Ante la critical,
el engafio o el ataque, desplegaba sin amargura sus armas de combat.
Con el gesto hecho fuego, repetia, sonriente: "Los rayos nunca caen en
los batatales; caen en las palmas reales".
A la hora de la muerte, cuando los difuntos menos encomiables
quedan canonizados por la nostalgia, el espiritu indomable de Piri se
resisted a las reducciones simplistas. Con su picardia y su gravedad,
con sus rigores y sus excentricidades, con sus virtudes y sus defects,
fue uno de esos cometas fugitivos que s6lo rozan el aura de la tierra
cada cien afios. Su trayectoria iluminada es un monument vivo a la
honestidad, la valentia y la generosidad del intellectual verdadero.
Las tumbas que no se visitan se convierten en paramo intransitable.
La maleza agrieta la piedra. El hollin empolva los epitafios. Con la
erosion forzosa del tiempo, hasta las lIpidas olvidan los nombres de
sus duefos.
A fin de cuentas, todo se juega en la palabra: el amor, la vida, el arte,
el recuerdo. Por eso hay que seguir nombrando a Piri. Para que nunca
desmerezca, ante el asedio del cinismo y el despego, su entrafable
figure de amazona libertaria.

Ana Lydia Vega

Table Contents

DEDICATION ................................................................... v
Ana Lydia Vega
Para nombrar a Piri

EDITOR'S NOTE ....... .................................................. .................... xi

Vivian Martinez Tabares
Towards a Better Understanding of Caribbean Culture...............

Rick Mitchell
Up in Smoke: Cigars Hecho a Mano, Radical Storytelling
in the Tabaqueria, and the Processed Drama
of Anna in the Tropics ................. .................. 5

Rosamond S. King
Dressing Down: Male Transvestism in
Two Caribbean Carnivals ..................................... ...................... 25

Roberto Irizarry
Desenterrando y mareando la memorial: El arte
del recuerdo de Agua, Sol y Sereno.......................... ................. 37

Julia Ritter
"I Have to Feel it First...": An Interview with Artist
Awilda Sterling-Duprey about the Creative Process .................. 57

Margarita Espada Santos and John Lutterbie
Who Is Eating Whom?: Canibal es el Mundo............................. 77


Jessica Adams
Staging the History of a Colonial Limbo:
Choreographies of Merian Soto ..... ...................... 85

Vivian Martinez Tabares
The Freedom of the Mask: An Interview with Deborah Hunt...... 97

Gabrielle Civil
Anacaona: Notes Toward Caribbean Performance Art ................ 111

Aravind Enrique Adyanthaya
Prom etheus Bound ............. ................................................ 127

Maria Cristina Rodriguez
El teatro puertorriqueio reimaginado: Un foro de resefas........ 147

Vivian Martinez Tabares
Para leer el teatro puertorriquefo desde hoy ........................... 148

Lydia Plat6n
The Real and the Imagined: A Documented Vision of
Theatre Made in Puerto Rico, from its
Inception to Current Representation/s ....................................... 151

Carmen VAzquez Arce
Desde la butaca al teatro reimaginado:
Entre el critic y el publico ......................................... 153

Ricardo Cobian Figeroux
,Existe un teatro puertorriquefio?: Breves reflexiones
sobre "lo puertorriquefo" en el teatro puertorriquefo,
el arte y la memorial, en la sociedad del especticulo ............... 159

Rayza Vidal
Entre Rosa Luisa Marquez y Roberto Ramos-Perea,
espectaculo y palabra: Reflexiones sobre
los novisimos y la dramaturgia literaria de hoy ......................... 166

LIST OF CONTRIBUTORS ................................................... ................... 173

Editor's Note

Caribbean Theater and Cultural Performance
he essays, interviews, reviews, and theater texts featured in this
special issue of Sargasso relate to "Caribbean Theater and
Cultural Performance," the National Endowment for the
Humanities Summer Seminar for College and University Teachers held
at the University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras Campus, from late June to
early August of 2003. The seminar consisted of intensive morning
academic sessions that explored the popular and formal dramatic
expression -its history, texts, techniques, and theories- of the
Anglophone, Francophone, and Hispanic Caribbean. However, an
equally important parallel structure involved the fifteen participants
in workshops with leading local artists and a series of performance
experiences. In the process of exploring the themes and forms of the
seminar, it became evident that various aspects of Caribbean-Puerto
Rican theater and performance art required further documentation.
Examples of these are included in the current volume: independent
collectives such as Agua, Sol y Sereno and Yerbabruja, the work of
experimental dancer-choreographers such as Awilda Sterling and
Merian Soto, the transcultural and cross-gender aspects of popular
festivals such as the Fiestas of Santiago Ap6stol in Loiza, Puerto Rico,
the contributions of uniquely talented theater artists such as mask-
maker Deborah Hunt, and the tensions recorded in Caribbean artistic
creation inside metropolitan contexts. Two experimental theater-
performance texts that were presented during the seminar also appear,
as does a series of essay-reviews that address issues explored in the
book El teatro puertorriquefio reimaginado: notas sobre la creaci6n
dramdtica y el performance (San Juan: Ediciones Callej6n, 2004).
Thus this volume represents a very unique approach to
contemporary Caribbean-Puerto Rican theater and performance. Only


rarely do researchers and more general readers receive information
about local productions that goes beyond the dramatic text, newspaper
reviews, and the playwright's opinions on both; only rarely do
movement-based dance-theater, experimental theater-performance,
and writer-choreographer-performers receive the critical attention
usually reserved for the more privileged dramatic theater. Nearly half
of the fifteen participants took up the call to further explore the
seminar's principal themes. The quality of their contributions
distinguishes the work. I must also commend my collaborators and
coeditors, Ph.D. candidates Sally Everson and Don Walicek, who worked
with me on the NEH Seminar throughout the summer of 2003. During
the past year, they have proven influential in all Sargasso editorial efforts
and, especially, have devoted hours to the production of this issue. It
is a source of great pride to see them assume these roles as colleagues
and coworkers with such a sense of commitment, skill, and knowledge.
At the same time that the volume celebrates the work of the 2003 NEH
Summer Seminar and its participants, it also reflects on the history of
Caribbean Studies and Theater in Puerto Rico and at the University of
Puerto Rico. Dr. Piri Fernandez de Lewis, master teacher, playwright,
actor, and literary critic, was a friend and supporter of Sargasso in its
difficult early years in the mid-1980s. We proudly dedicate this issue
on theater and performance to her memory.

Lowell Fiet, Director
2003 NEH Summer Seminar
"Caribbean Theater and Cultural Performance"

Towards a Better Understanding
of Caribbean Culture

Vivian Martinez Tabares
Director, Conjunto, Revista de Teatro Latinoamericano
Casa de las Americas; Havana, Cuba
Recently I had the opportunity to participate as a visiting speaker
in the National Endowment for the Humanities, 2003 Summer
Seminar on Caribbean Theater and Cultural Performance,
organized by professor and theater critic Lowell Fiet of the English
Department at the University of Puerto Rico. I think that for all the
participants it was an important experience for exchange and
confrontation with a universe that is mostly unknown and that hasn't
been studied enough, as well as a privileged occasion, one lasting
five weeks, to experience a large sample of stage practice on the
The seminar included the reading and discussion of themes related
to the nature of the Caribbean and its definition, not as a geographical
region, but as a unique yet diverse cultural space marked by a common
history. In these intellectual encounters, we also debated theoretical
approximations of the complex universe of performance, cultural
anthropology, and related sciences through the essays of important
scholars: Artaud, Herskovitz, Burton, Ortiz, Turner, Schechner, Blau,
Carlson, Roach, Barthes, Fernandez Retamar, Boal, Alegria, Lamming,
Jos6 Luis GonzAlez, Benitez-Rojo, and many others. There were also
readings and discussions concerning Caribbean theater texts, from
Alejandro Tapia y Rivera to Aimee C6saire, from Trevor Rhone to
Eugenio Hernandez Espinosa, from C.L.R. James to Edouard Glissant,
from Derek Walcott to Simone Schwarz Bart, from Earl Lovelace to
Abelardo Estorino, and it favored a broad scope of approaches from
the standpoint of the multidisciplinary backgrounds of the participants,
who many times discovered authors, tendencies, and realities not


always sufficiently well-known nor, apparently, addressed by the
traditional teaching programs in the United States.
In conjunction with the academic work, the Seminar incorporated
workshops by important Puerto Rican theater artists that involved
everyone in performative practices and artistic research. Mask-maker
and puppeteer Deborah Hunt coordinated a workshop about the uses
of the mask -this continued with extracurricular sessions to create
masks. Professor and theater director, Rosa Luisa Marquez led a
workshop on her personal appropriation of -and contribution to-
the creative methods of Augusto Boal such as Image Theater and Forum
Theater to convert the session into a ludic space that questioned
stereotypes. Pedro Adorno, director of Agua, SolySereno [Water, Sun,
and Evening Dew], with his extensive experience in street theater and
community work in diverse social sectors, gave a workshop on
comparsas (playing "mas" in parades, carnivals, and festivals) that made
our bodies shake and awakened our visual imaginations and memories.
A conference-demonstration directed by performers Teresa
Hernandez and Viveca Vazquez and critic Susan Homar, with the help
of videos and the invaluable assistance of Attorney Perd6name [Forgive
me], a character created by HernAndez that speaks with ironic
eloquence about her country, its culture and people, traced the
trajectory of dance theater and experimental dance in Puerto Rico.
Visual artist Pep6n Osorio took us on a journey through his installation
work, using words and images to give us the gift of a testimony on his
creative process. Contact with the icons of popular festivals and culture
was included via a didactic demonstration by master mask-maker Rail
Ayala in his workshop in Loiza Aldea, where he built a vejigante [devil-
trickster] mask in front of our eyes. While talking about his life we
could see his fervent vocation of defending and conserving our shared
Caribbean cultural traditions.
We also witnessed Francisco Arrivi's vejigante [from his play
Vejigantes] come to life in the carnival processions of Loiza, where we
took a closer look at the cult to Santiago Ap6stol and discovered the
new signs that mark the festival with "progress" and post(?)modernity,
in which traditional characters like the "viejos" [old men] and "locas"
[transvestites] are replaced by newer ones. One of the most noticeable
new characters were the impressively-armed forces of order, as a
consequence of the violence caused by drug-trafficking and other social
ills that go beyond the folkloric gaze.
And it is precisely in that integration of bookish and erudite culture,
of theater and history, with the live culture of the Caribbean island


where it was held, that I find the Seminar's principal merit: to
understand that "performativity" and/or theatricality-and much more
so in a Caribbean context- cannot be circumscribed to logocentric
criteria that conceive of theater as dramatic literature. Rather it has
always been about ever-changing and alive multidisciplinary
expressions, like the flesh of the bodies that allows for confrontation
with the other and provides collective enjoyment. That is why I think
that beyond the very real possibility of future collaboration, the Seminar
opened a longer and more lasting path to the understanding of cultural
I have intentionally left for last, the stimulating opening ceremony
of the Seminar, designed to immediately impress us with the exuberance
and diversity of the stage. I congratulate and thank Fiet for the putting
together so much in one theater program: Agua, Sol y Sereno, with
their staple but still very alive staging of Una de cal y una de arena
[One of Cement, Another of Sand], a production that recreates the
sound of a steel band, creating music with tools and with their bodies
while they denounce environmental devastation and out-of control
consumerism; the stylistic and ironic manner in which Deborah Hunt
sees, through her masks, the manipulations of biogenetic engineering;
the un-staging of Romeos and Julietas, a recent production that Rosa
Luisa Marquez and some of her students revived for us as a re-
representation or performance of itself; and the stylized reading of
tedium and loneliness through which Andanza created a dialogue
between the energy of their bodies and the music of Jos6 Luis Abreu
and his accompanists.
There was also the surprise performance of Awilda Sterling and her
decrepit vejigante, drunk with nostalgia and turned into plastic like
the infinite numbers of shopping bags of Plaza las Americas, a character
that I was able to better understand near the end of our sessions in the
midst of the sunny procession in Loiza. Finally, the talented conjunction
of tradition and experimentalism of Aravind Adyanthaya makes us re-
read Prometheus Bound by Aeschylus from cyberspace, tied to
technology and the spoken word, but permeated with ghosts of his
culture that shake him up, pervert his discourse, and displace the
asepsis of virtual reality with the many-colored tastes of collective

Translated by Lydia Plat6n

Up in Smoke: Cigars Hecho a Mano,
Radical Storytelling in the
Tabaqueria, and the Processed
Drama of Anna in the Tropics

Rick Mitchell
California State University, Northridge

Man, a routine mechanism, very skillful in the occupation of his
choice, but shutting out from himself all knowledge of commerce
with and sympathy for things human. Such is the direct result of
an elementary and exclusively practical education. In this
gigantic nation there doesn't seem to be enough soul, that
marvelous cohesive stuff without which everything in a nation
comes crashing down catastrophically.
-Jose Marti

The true picture of the past flits by. The past can be seized only
as an image which flashes up at the instant when it can be
recognized and is never seen again.... For every image of the
past that is not recognized by the present as one of its own
threatens to disappear irretrievably. (The good tidings which
the historian of the past brings with throbbing heart may be
lost in a void the very moment he opens his mouth.)
-Walter Benjamin

Poets who have been smokers have sung of the rapt ecstasy
that comes over them as they follow with eyes and imagination
the bluish smoke rising upward, as though from the ashes of the
cigar, dying in the fire like a victim of the Inquistion, its spirit,
purified and free, were ascending to heaven, leaving in the air
hieroglyphic signs like ineffable promises of redemption.
-Fernando Ortiz


Nilo Cruz, recent winner of U.S. playwriting's most prestigious award,
is being hailed these days as the first Cuban-American dramatist to
win the Pulitzer Prize. According to the description on the back cover
of his award-winning play, Anna in the Tropics, Cruz is also "one of this
country's most produced Cuban-American writers." Like the dramatist
himself, the play's cover, inspired by the artistry of Cuban cigar boxes
and labels, seems eager to proclaim a multicultural identity, as does
the play, with its cigar factory, or tabaquerfa, setting and Cuban-
American characters. Even the site of the play's premiere, Greater Miami
-where Cruz grew up after arriving there from Cuba at the age of nine-
remains inextricably intertwined with Cruz's homeland through Miami's
large Cuban population best known in the media for its post-
McCarthyism politics. Since Anna in the Tropics had only been produced
in the Miami suburb of Coral Gables prior to winning the 2003 Pulitzer
Prize (it has since been seen in Chicago, New Jersey, Southern California,
and on Broadway), its Pulitzer victory surprised many critics. But
perhaps Anna in the Tropics' initial success in Florida was not unrelated
to the play's ability to win a national election. President Bush, himself
always on the lookout for votes, recently increased his involvement in
the U.S. embargo against Cuba by tightening travel restrictions to and
from the nearby island, thereby garnering extra support from South
Florida's reactionary exile community. As America's pundits have been
chanting over and over since 2000, the year in which the circus-like
Elian Gonzalez custody battle played itself out in Miami and the
archconservative U.S. Supreme Court handed Bush the presidency by
abruptly halting the Florida recount, "It all boils down to Florida." Anna
in the Tropics, set in 1929 in a steamy tabaqueria in Ybor City, a Cuban
enclave of Tampa, also boils down, so to speak, to Florida, although
the play's central concern, desire, as well as the sort of intense, historic
labor struggles of the Tampa tabaqueria that Cruz chooses to omit,
may be more difficult to suppress than the state's final vote count.
Dominating the stage is the workroom of a small cigar factory which
features, for most of the play, a lector who reads to the workers as
they craft cigars by hand. The tradition of the cigar workroom lector,
or reader, which began in Cuba around 1864, soon spread to other
factories and places in the Cuban diaspora -such as Tampa, Key West,
New York, and Puerto Rico- and continued, to varying degrees,
through the first third of the twentieth century in tabaquerias that
resisted machine processing. Early on, the lector -paid for by the
workers- read only literature, but soon the readings, which the
workers selected, also included political essays, the daily news,


proletarian periodicals, and -a bit later- anarchist literature.
Although some of the tabaqueros were illiterate the lector's constant
readings helped to radicalize Cuban workers both at home and abroad,
including in Florida. As Louis A. Perez, Jr. observes, Tampa tabaqueros,
who were actively involved in labor struggles and the Cuban
independence movements, once helped to forge a radical proletarian
identity for Florida's Cuban population:

The labor milieu from which cigar workers emerged defined the essential
quality of the Cuban community in Florida. A highly developed proletarian
consciousness and a long tradition of trade union militancy accompanied
the Cuban tobacco workers to the United States. In Florida that tradition
flourished. In the 1890s, cigar makers provided the crucial margin of
support for Cuba's independence struggle. During the early decades of
the twentieth century, Tampa workers embraced a variety of radical
ideologies, including communism, anarchism and syndicalism. The
Cuban proletarian community existed precariously in an adversary
relationship with its host society. Strikes, walk-outs, lock-outs, and,
inevitably, violence characterized labor-management relations in the
Tampa cigar industry. (443)

The tabaqueria was a hotbed of worker activism not only in Florida
but throughout the Cuban diaspora. Indeed, most historical accounts
of tabaquerias and tabaqueros from the 1860s through 1930 or so
emphasize the radical nature of the pre-machine tabaqueria. Anna in
the Tropics, however, omits references to the tabaqueros' and lectores'
radical past, although in an interview Cruz does acknowledge these
workers' diasporic importance in Cuba's decisive, late nineteenth-
century struggle against Spain. He points out, for example, that Jos6
Marti, the cultural hero and martyred icon of Cuba's battle for
independence, "lived in New York and read at factories in Tampa. He
organized a whole brigade of cigar-rollers who went back to Cuba to
fight for its independence. At first I was going to write more about
that," Cruz tells the interviewer, "but it would've become more of a
historical play" (Cruz qtd. in Gener 25).

In every era the attempt must be made anew to wrest tradition away
from a conformism that is about to overpower it. (Benjamin 255)

Regardless of whether or not a dramatist desires a play to be
"historical," drama, like all cultural products, cannot exist outside of


history. Setting his play in Tampa in 1929 in the pre-machine Cuban
tabaqueria of the lector, Cruz clearly evokes the past and he chooses to
represent it in a particular way in order not only to show an earlier
time but, more importantly, the present. Set on the eve of the Great
Depression, Anna in the Tropics unfolds, like all theatrical performance,
in the "here and now," and theatre's always present inner-tension -
between the "here and now" of performance and the anterior existence
of the play (as script, rehearsal, etc.)- has much in common with
historical materialism where, in viewing the past, one is also viewing
the present, and vice versa; there exists no empty, value-neutral space
in between that enables us to keep history -inherently dialectical-
at arm's length. As Walter Benjamin observes, "History is the subject
of a structure whose site is not homogeneous, empty time, but time
filled by the presence of the now" (261). Some historians and dramatists,
conscious of the inherent dialectical tension within their respective
crafts, exploit such tension, while others, unwittingly or not, attempt
to smooth it over, although the tension will always be there, whether
or not it is rendered visible by the writer.
In his epic theatre Bertolt Brecht, a friend of Benjamin's, attempts
to foreground such tension in order to emphasize rather than conceal
theatrical process and historical conflict. Not unlike the sort of ideal
theatre of active spectators that Brecht sought (but never quite found),
the cigar workroom of the lector featured diverse readings and often
heated, related discussions which sometimes led to efficacious, real-
world battles. Lector performance and its active spectators actually
have much in common with epic theatre, as well as with Benjamin's
notion of storytelling (which I discuss below). But Cruz rewrites lector
performance so that it melds with a more palatable (and passive) form
of modern drama, psychological realism, and with a Florida Cuban
community that is now represented in the media as favoring an
ultraconservative agenda.'
The protagonist of Anna in the Tropics, Juan Julian, arrives in Florida
by ship from Cuba early in the play to begin a job as a lector. While
adhering to conventions of realism, the play incorporates another
literary trope of the late nineteenth century, "local color," which we
can see in cockfight betting, cigar rituals, occasional words in Spanish,

I As Mike Davis observes of today's Cuban-exile community in Dade County, Florida,
"the counter-revolutionary agenda of aging exile leaders still exercises authoritarian
censorship over Miami's major Latino cultural and media institutions" (21).


and references to Caribbean fruits, such as guavas and mangos.
Conchita, a married tabaquera and the daughter of the tabaqueria's
owners, refers to folk magic when telling Juan Julian a story about the
attempted ritual offering of her hair to the earth and trees "for the
feast of St. Candelaria" (43). Like the one story that the play's lector
intermittently reads to the workers, Cruz's (sometimes turgid)
adaptation of Tolstoy's Anna Karenina, Conchita's story is also a story
of seduction, and her tale enables her to follow the lead of Tolstoy's
adulterous and empathetic Anna and realize an affair -in Conchita's
case with the play's primary object of desire, Juan Julian. Marela, like
her older sister, also believes in the power of magic. As she stands at
the pier with Conchita and their mother awaiting the lector's arrival by
ship, we learn that Marela has been practicing magic; she had written
Juan Julian's name on a piece of paper and placed it in a glass of water
flavored with sugar and cinammon. "With a little sugar," Marela tells
her mother, "I sweetened his fate" (15).
Marela's sugary, sympathetic magic employed to attract a lector from
Cuba brings to mind an earlier work that focuses on tabaquerias,
tabaqueros, and Cuban identity: Cuban sociologist Fernando Ortiz's
tour-de-force Contrapunteo Cubano del Tabaco y el Azucar, or Cuban
Counterpoint: Tobacco and Sugar (1940; trans. 1947), a difficult-to-
categorize, dialogical text of metaphoric excess which, according to
Cuban novelist and cultural critic Antonio Benitez-Rojo, is "one of the
most revealing books ever written about the dynamics of the Caribbean"
(156). Poetically contrasting Cuban tobacco and sugar, both of which
he personifies, Ortiz stresses that tobacco -once "the magic plant of
the Taino medicine-men" (Ortiz 74)- has avoided the machine milling
and processing of sugar and has thus been better able to resist the
global commodification to which sugar long ago submitted itself:

Tobacco does not change its color; it is born dark and dies the color of
its race. Sugar changes its coloring; it is born brown and whitens itself; at
first it is a syrupy mulatto and in this state pleases the common taste;
then it is bleached and refined until it can pass for white, travel all over
the world, reach all mouths, and bring a better price, climbing to the top
of the social ladder. (Ortiz 9)

It is always preferable, Ortiz suggests, for a cultural object to maintain
the coarseness and individuality of the dried tobacco leaf rather than
succumbing, like sugar, to a machine process which transforms raw,
diverse material into a refined, white, homogeneous substance seeming
to lack any trace of origin.


The class struggle... is a fight for the crude and material things without
which no refined spiritual thing could ever exist. (Benjamin 254)

The tabaquero, according to Ortiz, was Cuba's most dignified and
intelligent worker within the artisan class, a group that has suffered
more than benefitted from modern mechanization and globalization.
Benjamin suggests in his essay "The Storyteller" that the artisan class
was the heart and soul of storytelling, a craft which begins to fade
away rapidly with the introduction of the popular press and devastating
modern warfare. By the end of World War I storytelling is already a lost
art. Benjamin tells us that the great storytellers were embodied within
two types of artisans -"the resident tiller of the soil" (84-85) and "the
trading seaman" (85)- and that "The actual extension of the realm of
storytelling in its full historical breadth is inconceivable without the
most intimate interpenetration of these two archaic types" (84-85). This
interpenetration, according to Benjamin, was most apparent in the
Middle Ages,

when every master had been a traveling journeyman before he settled
down in his hometown or somewhere else. If peasants and seamen were
past masters of storytelling, the artisan class was its university. In it was
combined the lore of faraway places, such as a much-traveled man brings
home, with the lore of the past, as it best reveals itself to natives of a
place. (85)

As much a teacher as an entertainer, the storyteller merges the distant
and local, the past and present, while avoiding "the psychological
connection of the events"(89) of the story. "It is left up to [the reader
or listener] to interpret things the way he understands them, and thus
the narrative achieves an amplitude information lacks" (89).
Like Brecht's epic theatre, artisan-based storytelling requires active
involvement from the spectator, who must participate critically in the
storytelling process in order to find meaning within a story that resists
simple explanation. According to Benjamin such storytelling becomes
increasingly difficult in the twentieth century as "information" -which
"lays claim to prompt verifiability" (89)- begins to dominate everyday

Every morning brings us news of the globe, and yet we are poor in
noteworthy stories. This is because no event any longer comes to us
without already being shot through with explanation. In other words, by


now almost nothing that happens benefits storytelling; almost everything
benefits information. Actually, it is half the art of storytelling to keep a
story free from explanation as one reproduces it. (Benjamin 89)

Penned in 1936, "The Storyteller" may be more relevant today than
it was back then. In spite of having hundreds of channels to choose
from, for example, contemporary spectators of cable and satellite
TV seem to have relatively few choices because the form of most
commercial television, including detective shows, movies, and the
nightly news, is averse to storytelling since -as "information"-
such programming, often featuring the cause and effect structure
of realism, is careful to explain everything that it shows. While the
readings in a cigar workroom might include stories with simple, cause-
and-effect plots that are also inimical to storytelling, such tales would
usually be presented alongside a heterogeneous selection of other
readings, such as radical philosophy, Shakespearean drama, and
writings on international workers' struggles. And unlike the workers
in Anna in the Tropics, who leave the choice of reading up to the
recently arrived lector, the tabaqueros of history, fierce proponents
of democracy, would cast votes in order to decide what exactly
the lector would read.
Echoing Ortiz, Bernardo Vega, a Puerto Rican tabaquero who joined
New York's growing Caribbean disapora in the second decade of the
twentieth century, claims that cigar workplace readings and
subsequent discussions "made the tabaqueros into the most
enlightened sector of the working class" (22). Politically active in New
York City during the period in which Anna in the Tropics is set, Vega
rolled cigars alongside Cuban immigrants and others at "El Morito,"
a Manhattan tabaqueria which to Vega "seemed like a university" (21).
Vega's first-hand account of the active, worker-centered learning and
discussion that took place in the cigar factory during this time -in
which "there were no factories of Hispanic workers without a reader"
(Vega 22)- is worth quoting at length:

At the end of each session there would be a discussion of what had been
read. Conversation went from one table to another without our
interrupting our work. Though nobody was formally leading the
discussion, everyone took turns speaking. When some controversy
remained unresolved and each side would stick to a point of view, one of
the more educated workers would act as arbiter. And should dates or
questions of fact provoke discussion, there was always someone who


insisted on going to the mataburros, or "donkey-slayers" -that's what
we called the reference books....I remember times when a tabaquero would
get so worked up defending his position that he didn't mind losing an
hour's work -it was piecework- trying to prove his point. He would
quote from the books at hand, and if there weren't any in the shop he'd
come back the next day with books from home, or from the public library.
The main issues in these discussions centered around different trends in
the socialist and anarchist movements. In those years of World War I, a
central topic was imperialism and its relation to pacificism. (22-23)

As the cigar workers -listening attentively to the lector- showed
"appreciation" for a particular passage by "tapping...tobacco cutters
on the work tables" (Vega 22), or demanded to have a section read
over again when "someone on the other side of the room had trouble
hearing" (Vega 22), they smoked cigars which they themselves had
rolled while continuing to work with their hands in a way that resisted
the sort of detachment between worker and manufactured object that
Marx observed of the labor process in the mechanized factory of mid-
nineteenth-century London.
Recently taking advantage of the tradition of the lector and its
inherent theatricality, Teatro Escambray, based in the country that first
introduced the lector to the tabaqueria, performed a dramatized reading
-Voz en Marti, based on Jorge Mafiach's definitive biography Marti,
the Apostle- at seven Cuban tabaquerias. Utilizing several actors and
a pre-written script, Teatro Escambray's tabaqueria readings were a bit
different than the lector readings of old, yet a description of a recent
performance offers another example-similar to Vega's-of the
tabaqueros' unique spectatorship. Cuban theatre critic Vivian Martinez
Tabares discusses one of the performances in "Mds alid del scenario:
teatralidad y golpes de chavetas":

In the middle of the cigar-rolling galleys, the voices of the five actors
were superimposed over the striking of molds or wooden presses on
the tables, in front of an audience that is not one of quiet, comfortable
spectators in the darkness of a large room, but rather one that is
constantly working, and in which one discovers absorbed expressions,
concentrated on the actions of Marti in preparation for battle, while the
hands never stop separating, twisting, shaping, altering, or cutting. Or
the wink of the tabaquero towards a neighboring worker as they learn of
the galantry of Marti towards the actress Rosario Pefia.... And when the
unfailing voice of Jorge Luis Leyva closes a speech "With all and for the
best of all," the tobacco cutters explode against the tables in applause
[my translation].


Emphasizing the stark contrast between the Cuban tabaquero's hand-
craftsmanship and the alienated labor of the noisy, machine-centered
factory, Ortiz stresses the importance of the connection between the
"delicate hands" of the tabaquero, male or female, and the natural
tobacco leaf which was never touched by a machine:

All the operations in the preparation of tobacco are carried out without
machinery, using only the complex apparatus of the human body,
which is tobacco central. In leaves cut by hand and one by one, the
vega yields its harvest to the grower, and from his hands the leaf passes
into other hands, and from hand to hand it reaches the warehouse
and the factory, where still other hands work it up into cigars...that
will be consumed in another hand, that of the smoker. Everything
having to do with tobacco is hand work-its cultivation, harvesting,
manufacture, sale, even its consumption. (Ortiz 39)

Similar to the traditional art of cigar making, stories were passed along
from person to person, unmediated by machines (electronic or
otherwise) or other potentially alienating refining processes. And this
direct human contact, enhanced by artisan settings which featured
distracted yet engaged spectator-participants who worked with their
hands, enabled storytelling, always connected to memory and the body,
to become an important form of history-telling. For Benjamin the active
hand -so central to the everyday of the artisan class- remains a crucial
aspect of story performance, which is as much about the performer
telling tales as the spectator-participant retelling them:

For storytelling is always the art of repeating stories, and this art is
lost when the stories are no longer retained. It is lost because there is
no more weaving and spinning to go on while they are being listened
to. The more self-forgetful the listener is, the more deeply is what he
listens to impressed upon his memory. When the rhythm of work has
seized him, he listens to the tales in such a way that the gift of retelling
them comes to him all by itself. (Benjamin 91)

The rhythmic repetition of the tabaquero's rapid rolling, cutting, and
twisting of the tobacco-interrupted at times by the applause of
banging work tools-might sometimes cause the tabaquero-listener to
forget him- or herself, and this tactile, distracted sort of listening is
most conducive, Benjamin believes, to remembering and subsequently
retelling stories.


Being able to repeat stories, to argue over various points of view
presented in a cigar workroom, has much in common, of course, with
Brechtian theatre. Himself a constant cigar smoker -not of the great,
hand-crafted Cuban puro, mind you, but of nasty-smelling, five-cent
stogies fashioned by the sort of noisy machine which had replaced
artisans and banished the lector- Brecht believed that an ideal theatre
would feature spectators who, puffing away on cigars "as if watching a
boxing match...would develop a more detached, critical outlook" (Willet
qtd. in Brecht 8). "I even think," Brecht writes of his "smoker's theatre,"
"that in a Shakespearean production one man in the stalls with a cigar
could bring about the downfall of Western art. He might as well light a
bomb as light his cigar" (Brecht 8-9).
Brecht's suggestion that the combination of a performed tale with
a cigar smoking audience could prove incendiary may not be as far-
fetched as it may at first seem. In defiance of factory owners and
Spain, "the tobacco workers in Cuba [in 1865] were the first Cuban
workmen to form associations to protect class interests" (Ortiz 91).
Emphasizing the crucial importance of the tabaqueros' roles in
proletarian struggles, Jos6 Marti, in a speech in a Tampa tabaqueria
in 1891, claimed that tabaqueros comprised the "brain trust" of
Cuba's working class because they toiled in "academies where
reading and thinking [were] continuous" (Marti qtd. in Ortiz 92). Not
surprisingly, "It was the Cuban cigar workers who most courageously
and unflaggingly supported Marti's revolutionary efforts on behalf of
Cuban independence" (91). Indeed, a major incendiary act in the
struggle against Spain featured a hybrid object from a Florida
tabaqueria that conjoined ideas from the lector's radical readings,
Cuban cigar craftsmanship, and the workers' passion for independence.
Fernando Figueredo, an exiled military leader of Cuba's independence
movement who was employed, prior to the decisive battles, as a
tabaquero in a Key West tabaqueria, rolled within one of his cigars "the
order for the revolution for national independence [which] reached
Havana in 1895" (Ortiz 91), thus setting off the sort of revolutionary
explosion with a cigar that Brecht would have liked to ignite through
his "smokers' theatre."


In the fabrication, the fire and spiraling smoke of a cigar, there
was always something revolutionary, a kind of protest against
oppression, the consuming flame and a liberating flight into the
blue of dreams. (Ortiz 14)

During productions of Anna in the Tropics one sees workers rolling
cigars and smoking as the lector reads, yet Cruz -by maintaining a
rigid fourth wall throughout the play- has crafted an empathetic
viewing experience antithetical to the tactile, distracted listening so
prominent within the historical tabaqueria. And the play's employment
of realism -with its emphasis on seamless, "transparent" construction
and empathy with the character- also helps to conceal, intentionally
or not, the inherent contradictory graininess of both history and theatre
while perpetuating (at least on some level) the dominant ideology,
which "smoothes over, harmonizes, so that all appears seamless,
unanalyzable, inalterable" (Scully 16). As performance theorist Elin
Diamond suggests, realism, more than any other form,

mystifies the process of theatrical signification. Because it naturalizes
the relation between character and actor, setting and world, realism
operates in concert with ideology. And because it depends on, insists on
a stability of reference, an objective world that is the source and guarantor
of knowledge, realism surreptitiously reinforces (even if it argues with)
the arrangements of the world. Realism's fetishistic attachment to the
true referent and the spectator's invitation to rapturous identification
with a fictional imago serve the ideological function of mystifying the
means of material production, thereby concealing historical
contradictions, while reaffirming or mirroring the "truth" of the status
quo. (366)

Although realism's processing of the world can abet the
disappearance of the heterogeneous grain of history, everyday life, and
representation, realism, like sugar (and, today, tobacco), is not always
subject to the same extreme forms of processing. Tennessee Williams,
for example, attempted to rewrite and renew realism through his poetic
"plastic theatre," which he proclaimed "must take the place of the
exhausted theatre of realistic conventions if the theatre is to resume
vitality as a part of our culture" (395). Cruz, in focusing his brand of
realism on desire -particularly desire for a male (Juan Julian)- echoes
a central theme of Williams' work. Conchita, we know, realizes her desire
for Juan Julian. Yet her husband, Palomo, may desire Juan Julian at


least as much, although, as with some of Williams' early characters,
Palomo's prohibited desire is never openly declared. But Cruz provides
enough clues. Knowingly cuckolded throughout most of the play,
Palomo remains eager to hear the specifics of Conchita's acts of
lovemaking with Juan Julian. Conchita responds with extensive detail
and says that Juan Julian "told me to show him how I love you. To
show him on his body" (64). Palomo wants to hear more and Conchita

I thought it would be impossible. That nobody could occupy this space
in me. But he did. He did. And everything seemed so recognizable, as if
he had known me all along. His room became a theatre and his bed a
stage, and we became like actors in a play. Then I asked him to play my
role, to pretend to be me and I dressed him in my clothes. And he was
compliant. (64)

Shortly thereafter Conchita suggests that she'll play Juan Julian and
that Palomo will have to play her. She touches Palomo as if she's Juan
and they exit to a back room in the tabaqueria where Palomo, pretending
to be a woman, will pretend that Juan Julian is making love to him.
This sliding in and out of gender roles suggests -as Judith Butler has
argued- that gender is performed and not innate or reducible to one's
biological sex, which further suggests that sexuality, like gender, is not
(heterosexually) fixed and predetermined.2
Such implied truths, performed privately, cannot be publicly
displayed or admitted, however. Later in the play, at a party in the
factory celebrating the launching of a new cigar line, Anna Karenina
(named after the character from the story within the story), Palomo
confronts Conchita, again, about Juan Julian:

PALOMO: You've been looking at him the whole night. You're falling in
love with this man.
CONCHITA: Maybe just as much as you are.
PALOMO: I don't like men....
CONCHITA: Then why do you always want me to tell you what I do with
PALOMO: Because it's part of the old habit we have of listening. We are

2 See, for example, Butler's "Performative Acts and Gender Constitution: An Essay
in Phenomenology and Feminist Theory."


CONCHITA: No, there's something else.
PALOMO: You're right there's something else. And it's terrible
sometimes. (74)

Although his wife has an inkling of why her husband remains so
interested in Juan Julian, Palomo is unable to proclaim his "something
else" which, the play suggests, is more "terrible" and transgressive
than adultery.
Cross-gender role-playing can also be transgressive, although Cruz
limits the moments of such role-playing to the imagination, since he
keeps it offstage where, perhaps, it remains more palatable to
mainstream audiences. Yet the crossdressing -in which genders and
sexual roles are freely tried on and cast-off- can call into question the
naturalizing relation between character and actor, as well as ideology's
naturalizing of the relation between gender and biological sex.
Performing different genders, the characters implicitly question
conventional, heterosexual roles while shaking up the stability of
reference so important to both realism and ideology. Throughout
history, and particularly since the Enlightenment, such mimicry has
been strongly discouraged and efforts have been made to control it.
According to Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno, "civilization"
has replaced "mimetic behavior" with the "organized control of
mimesis, in the magical phase; and, finally, by rational practice, by work,
in the historical phase" (180).
Chech6, the character most interested in expanding his financial
stature throughout the play, remains resolutely against bringing a new
lector into the cigar workroom from the start. In addition to hindering
progress, the lector and his stories represent to Chech6 a sexual threat.
His wife runs away (before the play opens) with the tabaqueria's
previous lector because, according to Marela, "love stories got under
her skin. That's why she left him" (21). Chech6 -whose unease with
literature and performers brings to mind Plato's call to banish the poets
and actors- feels that reading has no place in the factory. Eager to
quash the dangerous mimetic aspects of literature and desire while
increasing profits, Chech6 tries to introduce into the workroom a large
machine that will automate cigar manufacturing while making it
impossible for Juan Julian to continue reading. By helping to regulate
the work and the imaginations (and thus, ideally, the desires) of the
tabaqueros, the machine would increase the sort of instrumentality that
Horkheimer and Adorno believed was so crucial to modernity. Like
the ideal cigar workroom as envisioned by Chech6, modern civilization


is a place where "Uncontrolled mimesis is outlawed. The angel with
the fiery sword who drove the man out of paradise and onto the fiery
path of technical progress is the very symbol of that progress"
(Horkheimer and Adorno 180). Although one threatening form of
technology in the play, the cigar-making machine, is ultimately rejected
by the other workers and the tabaqueria's owners, another, somewhat
older form of technology-Chech6's pistol-becomes the fiery sword
that puts an end to the lector during the play's melodramatic climax,
and thus to the sort of mimetic play which both the lector's presence
and Tolstoy's story seem to encourage.
Mimesis, however -which can be both role playing and bodily
desire- is not easily suppressed, as one can see in Western drama
from Oedipus Rex onward. A more modern version of mimetic
suppression from which Cruz seems to borrow can be traced back to
Williams. In an essay on "the sacrificial stud" in Williams' plays, John
M. Clum observes that the male object of desire was unusual in
American drama until Williams' work of the 1950s. Clum argues that
plays such as A Streetcar Named Desire reverse the (once) dominant
(heterosexual) convention of a woman at the apex of a triangle which
features two men at the other poles, and that Williams' Orpheus
Descending (1957), Suddenly Last Summer (1958), and Sweet Bird of Youth
(1959) also utilize a triangle which features a man at its apex who
becomes a martyr (130).
Similarly, Anna in the Tropics features a male sexual object desired
by two females (Conchita and Marela) who is ultimately martyred.
Unlike in Williams' work of the 50s, however, the triangle of love has
morphed into a diamond with the addition of a third character, a man,
who also desires the male at the apex. In Anna in the Tropics the male
lector stands at the apex of all that threatens the hegemonic sex/gender
system, which begins to break down when the earlier lector runs away
with Cheche's wife. The system's faultline continues to expand as
Conchita plays Anna Karenina the adulterer when first making love to
Juan Julian, who himself dresses up Conchita, as does Palomo when
he is making love to Conchita's Juan Julian. In gunning down the lector,
Chech6 attempts to restore the patriarchal equilibrium of sanctioned
sex and gender which may, ironically, never have been any more real
than Tolstoy's fiction which, nonetheless, helps to open up through
the ancient mimetic tradition of storytelling new paths of desire which
Chech6 hopes to block in the name of technical progress.
What Clum observes of William's martyred characters -"the
martyred men represent some violation of the socially acceptable


principle of masculinity -that is, they are threats to marriage and
patriarchy" (130)- is applicable to the free-loving Juan Julian, although
by the end of Anna in the Tropics it is not, as in Williams' previously
cited plays, "the women who define the meaning of the martyrdom
and who really offer the potential for change in the sex/gender system"
(Clum 130). Rather, the potential revolutionary figure is a man, Palomo,
who decides at the very end of the play to finish the story which Juan
Julian began. Palomo picks up the book in the now-quiet tabaqueria and
reads a passage about the cuckolded husband of Anna Karenina who

was not only completely determined to carry out his decision, but...had
composed in his head a letter he would write to his wife.
(He looks up from the book and stares at Conchita.)
In his letter he was going to write everything he'd been meaning to tell
(The lights begin to fade.)

Palomo, now playing the role of the lector, finally seems determined
to disclose to his wife the truth about his desires. Thus, in Anna in the
Tropics it is the male (and not the women, who seem to take a backseat
to male desire by the play's end) whose decision to out himself has the
potential to alter radically a sex/gender system which has been
constructed to exclude (publicly) relationships that veer from
sanctioned patriarchal heterosexuality.
Although it omits the working class/nationalistic politics prominently
featured in historical accounts of the tabaqueria while avoiding the
type of engaged spectator participation central to lector performance,
Anna in the Tropics does emphasize another type of politics -bodily
desire- albeit in the sort of carefully veiled fashion often employed
by Williams in the mid-twentieth century. Indeed, desire -which, like
class struggle, has powerful political implications- sits at the crux of
the play. Yet Cruz's depoliticization of the lector still remains striking,
particularly when one views the play within the context of the history
of the Tampa tabaqueria, where fierce labor struggles -and not the
bullet of a lone-acting, anti-labor cigar worker- led to the abolishment
of the lector. History, which shows that lector-encouraged "labor
agitation" fueled the lector's demise in Tampa, offers a counterpoint to
the demise of the lector in Anna in the Tropics:

By the early 1900s labor militancy began to find expression in the lectores'
reading materials. As the radical press and social protest novels increased


in popularity among the workers, management in Tampa singled out the
lectura as the major source of labor agitation. Between the early 1900s
and the 1920s, the fate of the lectura remained contingent on the outcome
of periodic confrontations between labor and management. Finally, in
November 1931, after several weeks of strife, the cigar manufacturers,
supported by city and county authorities and vigilante groups, announced
the decision to abolish the lectura: "Heretofore, the manufacturers have,
through agreement with the workers, permitted the reading of matters of
general news value, educational or instructive, but the abuse of this
privilege through the reading of anarchistic propaganda has caused the
manufacturers to immediately withdraw the privilege of reading any
matter whatsoever." A strike of cigar workers as a result of the
manufacturers' edict received the support of virtually every city in Ybor
City and West Tampa. The general strike of 1931, however, did not weaken
the resolve of management. They realized the dangers of unchecked
lectores and they stood resolute. When the factories reopened in early
December 1931 the lectura had been abolished. (P&rez 444-445)

As I have shown throughout this paper, Cruz's representation of the
tabaqueria and lector performance has little in common with the history
of the tabaqueria in the Cuban diaspora. Sexual desire, though, is never
mentioned in accounts of the old tabaquerfas, so perhaps, as this paper
attempts to restore voices that are missing from Cruz's dramatic
representation of a late 1920s tabaqueria in Florida, Anna in the Tropics
tries to restore the types of workplace desires that were surely present
in the past, yet remain absent from tabaqueria histories. The play's
most interesting move, however, the cross-gender role-playing, remains
banished from the stage, and Palomo, although ready to open up by
play's end, never quite speaks his mind. These issues of gender and
sexuality still seem to offer a form of social critique, although Cruz's
relegation of them to the discursive realm and the future seems to
weaken their effect. And even if these acts were to be performed onstage
they would lack political efficaciousness, since the wholesale
substitution of the subjective for the collective is itself politically
problematic, an example of what Slavoj Zizek calls

the postmodern disdain for great ideological Causes -[where]...in our
post-ideological era, instead of trying to change the world, we...reinvent
ourselves, our whole universe, by engaging in new forms of (sexual,
spiritual, aesthetic...) subjective practices.... As Hanif Kureishi put
it..."twenty years ago it was political to try to make a revolution and
change society, while now politics comes down to two bodies in a
basement making love who can recreate the whole world." (38)


Paraphrasing "the lesson" of the novels of Marguerite Duras (38),
herself no stranger to (post)colonial situations and growing up in
foreign lands, Zizek suggests that desire could have a place in cultural
resistance (and meaningful personal relationships) in the twenty-first
century, but only if connected to the social:

the only way...to have an intense and fulfilling personal (sexual)
relationship is not for the couple to look into each other's eyes, forgetting
about the world around them, but, while holding hands, to look together
outside, at a third point (the Cause for which both are fighting, to which
both are committed). The ultimate result of globalized subjectivization
is not that "objective reality" disappears, but that our subjectivity itself
diappears, turns into a trifling whim, while social reality continues its
course. (38-39)

Since Cruz, while focusing on the individual, tries to make the
historical "objective reality" of the past (and thus the present)
disappear, the unsanctioned desires in Anna in the Tropics may be more
whimsical than revolutionary.

The whole process of sugar-refining is one continual preparation
and embellishment to clean the sugar and give it whiteness[....]
There is no rebellion or challenge in sugar, nor resentment, nor
brooding suspicion, but humble pleasure, quiet, calm, and
soothing. Tobacco is boldly imaginative and individualistic to the
point of anarchy. Sugar is on the side of sensible pragmatism and
social integration. (Ortiz 16)

Ultimately, Anna in the Tropics, like other dramas that feature
homogenized multiculturalism, sits on the side of pragmatism and
social integration. Cruz's sensible processing of theatrical form and
history have enabled a play set in a tabaqueria in Tampa in 1929, where,
historically, tabaquero labor militancy remained strong, to thrive in
conservative cultural milieus -in Miami, U.S. regional theatres, and
on Broadway- as well as in the national election for the Pulitzer Prize
for Drama. And Cruz's embellished, postmodern refining of the Cuban
diaspora's radical proletarian past may be as soothing to "Middle
American" consumers and today's conservative Miami Cubans as it is
to proponents of a monolingual U.S. and tax-free, multinational
maquiladoras in the new free trade zones. Indeed, contemporary
proponents of globalization seek to homogenize difference and render


dissent invisible in order to create a more pliable and exploitable
workforce while abetting consumption around the world. There are,
however, glimmers of resistance today to this globally organized control
of mimesis: in renewed labor militancy, massive anti-globalization
protests, some forms of transgressive desire. Anna in the Tropics,
focusing on the latter, does offer some hope of resistance, although
the play sweetens the bitter past until that bitterness (and thus that of
the present) virtually disappears. While the audience may find the
sexual freedom practiced by characters such as Conchita and Juan
Julian somewhat enticing, at least while it lasts, the play remains, for
the most part, quiet, calm, reassuringly palatable, like the highly
processed white sugar that lacks complexity and more or less looks
and tastes the same, no matter where in the world one finds it.

In the history of Cuba sugar represents Spanish absolutism;
tobacco, the native liberators. Tobacco was more strongly on the
side of national independence. Sugar has always stood for foreign
intervention. But today, unfortunately, this capitalism, which is
not Cuban by birth or inclination, is reducing everything to the
same common denominator. (Ortiz 71)


Works Cited

Benitez-Rojo, Antonio. "Fernando Ortiz: The Caribbean and
Postmodernity." The Repeating Island: The Caribbean and the
Postmodern Perspective. Trans. James E. Maraniss. 2nd ed. Durham:
Duke UP, 1996. 150-176.
Benjamin, Walter. Illuminations. Trans. Harry Zohn. Ed. Hannah Arendt.
New York: Schocken, 1968.
Brecht, Bertolt. Trans. and ed. John Willet. Brecht on Theatre: The
Development of an Aesthetic. New York: Hill, 1964.
Butler, Judith. "Performative Acts and Gender Constitution: An Essay
in Phenomenology and Feminist Theory." Performing Feminism:
Feminist Critical Theory and Theatre. Ed. Sue-Ellen Case. Baltimore:
The Johns Hopkins UP, 1990. 270-282.
Clum, John M. "The Sacrificial Stud and the Fugitive Female in Suddenly
Last Summer, and Sweet Bird of Youth." The Cambridge Companion
to Tennessee Williams. Ed. Matthew C. Roudane. Cambridge:
Cambridge UP, 1997. 128-146.
Cruz, Nilo. Anna in the Tropics. New York: Theatre Communications
Group, 2003.
Davis, Mike. Magical Urbanism: Latinos Reinvent the U.S. City. Revised
and Expanded ed. London: Verso, 2000.
Diamond, Elin. "Mimesis, Mimicry, and the 'True-Real.'" Acting Out:
Feminist Performances. Ed. Lynda Hart and Peggy Phelan. Ann
Arbor: U of Michigan P, 1993. 363-382.
Gener, Randy. "Dreamer from Cuba." American Theatre. 20.7 (September
2003): 22-25; 89-93.
Horkheimer, Max, and Theodor W. Adorno. Dialectic of Enlightenment.
New York: Continuum, 1990.
Marti, Jos6. "A Glance at the North American's Soul Today." 1886. Marti
on the U.S.A. Selected and Trans. Luis A. Baralt. Carbondale:
Southern Illinois UP, 1966. 197-198.
Martinez-Tabares, Vivian. "Mis alli del scenario: teatralidad y golpes
de chavetas." Conjunto. http://www.cubaescena.cult.cu/global.
Accessed May 15, 2005.
Ortiz, Fernando. Cuban Counterpoint: Tobacco and Sugar. Trans. Harriet
de Onis. Intro. Bronislaw Malinowski. New York: Alfred A. Knopf,
P6rez, Jr., Louis A. "Reminiscences of a Lector Cuban Cigar Workers in


Tampa." The Florida Historical Quarterly. LIII.4 (April 1975): 443-
Scully, James. Line Break: Poetry as Social Practice. Seattle: Bay P, 1988.
Vega, Bernardo. Memoirs of Bernardo Vega: A Contribution to the History
of the Puerto Rican Community in New York. Ed. CUsar Andreu
Iglesias. Trans. Juan Flores. New York: Monthly Review P, 1984.
Williams, Tennessee. Production Notes. The Glass Menagerie. Tennessee
Williams: Plays 1937-1935. Eds. Mel Gussow and Kenneth Holditch.
New York: The Library of America, 2000. 395-397.
Zizek, Slavoj. The Puppet and the Dwarf. The Perverse Core of Christianity.
Cambridge: MIT P, 2003.

Dressing Down: Male Transvestism
in Two Caribbean Carnivals

Rosamond S. King
Long Island University; Brooklyn, New York

Among the earliest characters impersonated at these
[early] festivities and still associated with Carnival are
the demon...the clown or buffoon, and the transvestite.*
he idea of transvestism as a Caribbean cultural tradition will
seem preposterous to many, though cross-dressing has been
a part of Caribbean carnivals for centuries even if Caribbean
scholarship does not reflect this. Characters such as "Dame Lorraines,"
"pis en lits," and "locas" either are only briefly mentioned or are
completely ignored by those who chronicle these festivals, probably
because carnivals and large street festivals are, along with beaches, a
primary lure for important tourist income, and scantily-clad women,
not cross-dressed men, are used to advertise the Caribbean. This essay
provides an introduction to two male transvestite characters of
Trinidad's carnival and one found in the Festival Santiago Ap6stol in
Loiza Aldea, Puerto Rico. It begins a discussion of the meanings and
implications of these performances, proposing the concept of dressing
down to refer to these complex and contentious traditions.

Dame Lorraine: Staged play becomes street play
Since its beginnings as a festival for the French elite, Trinidadian
carnival has enveloped both a time and a space in which rules were
allowed to be bent and broken. Although during slavery black

Errol Hill, The Trinidad Carnival: Mandate for a National Theatre (Austin: U of
Texas P, 1972), 5 (emphasis added).


Trinidadians were not permitted more than token participation in
carnival, shortly after emancipation in 1834 the urban Creole working
class began to dominate the festival. Upon review of archival materials,
historian Andrew Pearse concludes that Europeans in Trinidad in the
middle of the nineteenth century felt that "there was no attempt at
ridicule [in blacks' carnival costumes], but that the whole thing was a
piece of fun."' Notwithstanding the probability that some Europeans
may have missed any irony that was present, after emancipation a
different tone arose in carnival and its nuances could not be ignored.
In his important article printed in the classic 1956 Caribbean Quarterly
issue devoted to carnival, Pearse wrote, "The use of Carnival as a means
of ridicule and derision of the pretentious emerges" in the mid- to late
1800s (27). Carnival existed then and still exists in a public space in
which performance and display are privileged over restraint or
modesty.2 The importance of playing mas, of taking over public space
and choosing the manner of displaying one's body should not be
underestimated, especially for recent ex-slaves.
The social and economic transition of emancipation, combined with
mass black migration to cities, encouraged the possibility for and the
expectation of the creation of new social identities and new social
practices that were exemplified injamettes. The term itself derives from
the French diametre (diameter) and originally referred to those
considered below the diameter of respectable society.3 This group was
comprised of poor blacks who worked in marginal or illegal sectors
such as prostitution and gambling. Jamettes became notorious for
behaviour that scandalized whites; they offended upper classes by their
very existence as well as with the social protests in which they engaged
and the way they celebrated carnival.4 As Pearse writes, other blacks
enjoyed the spectacle: "The labouring classes generally, to which they

Here he is referring specifically to former slaves' costumes that make reference
to colonial institutions. Andrew Pearse, "Carnival in Nineteenth Century Trinidad,"
in Trinidad Carnival: A republication of the Caribbean Quarterly Trinidad Carnival
Issue Volume 4, Numbers 3 & 4 of 1956 (Port of Spain: Paria Publishing Co. Ltd), 21.
2 Though this public was often differentiated by class, race, neighborhood, and
band, a practice that continues to some degree today.
3In current usage jamette is a synonym for "slut."
4 See King and Trotman. Rosamond S. King, "Jamette Women's Double Cross:
Creating an Archive," Women and Performance: A Journal of Feminist Theory 11.1,
no. 21 (1999): 203-210. David V. Trotman, "Women and Crime in Late Nineteenth
Century Trinidad," in Caribbean Quarterly 30.3-4 (1984): 60-72.


[jamettes] belonged, aspired to respectability, but they felt excluded
from enjoyment of the fruits of their aspirations by their colour,
traditional mores, lack of education and poverty, and took vicarious
delight, both covert and overt, in seeing it overturned and ridiculed
by the jamettes" (Pearse 40). During carnival jamettes criticized the
ruling class in song, parodied Europeans in dress and mannerisms,
and shocked them with "obscene" gestures, speech, and behavior,
including transvestism.
Although individuals from a number of social and economic
backgrounds originally participated in it, the Dame Lorraine mas
exemplified the explicit sexuality that Victorian colonials abhorred,
desired, and overwhelmingly associated with blacks as a whole, but
especially with jamettes. The Dame Lorraine performance has
undergone significant, but not complete transformation since it first
appeared in Trinidad in the 1880s. It was originally a "bawdy folk play"
with two parts.5 Errol Hill, in a detailed description, writes that the
Dame Lorraine was extremely scripted and included dialogue and
particular music, with participants wearing "eighteenth-century
costumes of the French aristocracy" (40). The first act was played
"straight," with well-dressed aristocratic characters entering and
dancing and the slave or servant characters looking in. The second
act was complete parody, as physically and comically disfigured
characters with names such as "M'sieur Gros Coco," "M'sieur Gros
Boudin," and "Mile Jolle Rouge" emphasized their namesake body parts
during their attempts at dancing. Throughout, a "Maitre L'Ecole"
instructed the raggedly-dressed performers to dance "properly." Also,
in the second act all participants were masked and among the
characters "inversion of the sexes was a common practice" (Hill 40).
The second act of these early performances can be interpreted in
two ways as a parody of blacks' attempts to imitate white aristocracy,
or as black's parodying that very aristocracy. The latter is more likely
for several reasons. First, scholars agree that Dame Lorraine became
popular after the canboulay procession was banned in 1884. With a
name from cannes bruldes, or burning canes, originally slaves used this
procession to celebrate the end of sugar cane season, and after
emancipation blacks used it to celebrate the end of slavery.6 But the
sight of hundreds of ex-slaves with burning torches and their miming

5 John Cowley, Carnival, Canboulay & Calypso: Traditions in the making (NY:
Cambridge UP, 1996), 137.
6 See Cowley and Pearse for detailed histories of canboulay.


of the violence of slavery with chains and whips was too graphic for
the European establishment to bear. When the large street pantomime
canboulay was outlawed, smaller Dame Lorraine masquerade plays
began to appear in private yards. The former slaves and free blacks
rightly figured that Europeans would take less objection to parodies of
fancy dress balls than to reenactments of slavery.7
There are other reasons to conclude that Dame Lorraine players
meant to ridicule Europeans. As Hill writes, "Mockery of their masters'
dancing eccentricities had been...a common form of private
entertainment among estate slaves" for a long time (40). This mockery,
formalized into the Dame Lorraine play, was held in the yards where
most blacks lived to avoid widespread white spectatorship. And the
use of a whip and the word maitre allude to slavery and slave owners.
During the second act, the Maitre "kept up the appearance that
everything was quite proper and aboveboard; any obvious looseness,
improper or incorrect dancing on the part of his pupils, was promptly
punished by the application of his whip" (Hill 41, emphasis added). The
"carefully hidden" faces of the often "respectable" blacks who played
Dame Lorraine were probably also meant to avoid revealing their
participation in a vulgar display.8 Finally, it is probable that Dame
Lorraine was meant to ridicule European culture because the first act,
which mimicked more than it mocked, was the first part of the
masquerade to disappear.
As canboulay had before it, the end of Dame Lorraine marked the
beginning of jouvay,9 with audience and still-masked performers going
out into the streets (Hill 40). Thus the name "Dame Lorraine" became
associated not only with the folk play, but also with its characters
cavorting, unchoreographed, with other jouvay and carnival revelers.
As English was fast replacing French Creole and fewer people could
understand the dialogue, that aspect of the play largely disappeared.

7 It also probably helped that they were imitating the French, whom the British
colonizers despised.
8 Daniel J. Crowley, "The Traditional Masques of Carnival," Trinidad Carnival: A
republication of the Caribbean Quarterly Trinidad Carnival Issue Volume 4, Numbers
3 & 4 of 1956 (Port of Spain: Paria Publishing Co. Ltd), 46.
9 Jouvay, from jour ouvert (opening, or first day) is actually the late night and
early morning before Carnival Monday. Jouvay is for old costumes and "dutty
(dirty) mas," which includes the literally dirty (mud mas) and the metaphorically
dirty (such as cross-dressed characters and vulgar costumes). See Cowley and


And carnival has never been conducive to large-group, minutely
choreographed performances, explaining why the second act and the
play itself eventually disappeared, though the costumes remained. It
is less clear why cross-dressed female characters faded away, but today
"Dame Lorraine" refers to a man in woman's clothes (occasionally to a
woman) whose costume includes exaggerated breasts and buttocks.10
The Dame Lorraine is accepted as a traditional character in Trinidadian
carnival, although it is not often recorded in chronicles of the festival.

Pis en Lit A nightgown, some blood, and a stick

Several nineteenth-century newspapers described the Pis en Lit literally,
"piss-in-bed" mas as one of the most vulgar carnival costumes. Men
who participated typically wore thin women's nightgowns ("often
transparent") and carried menstrual cloths covered with "blood"
(Crowley 46). Alternately, the nightgown itself was stained with fake
blood and sometimes the cloth carried was soaked in urine (hence the
mas' other name, "stinker") or the man wore a stick protruding between
the legs (Crowley 46). An 1884 commentator wrote that "There are some
costumes the pisse-en-lit for example which are so very indecent
they should not be tolerated" (Cowley 99, from Port-of Spain Gazette).
In 1944 a Guardian writer commented that "Pissenlit, a disgusting
and foul-smelling practice [was] now practically stamped out" (Crowley
46). Indeed, of the three characters discussed here, pis en lit is the one
which may indeed have completely disappeared although on jouvay
it would not be unusual to see a man in a woman's nightgown, the
menstrual pad might be considered strange. Why did the pis en lit
disappear and not evolve as the Dame Lorraine did?
It is likely that even though all transvestism in Trinidadian carnival
was outlawed in 1895, the pis en lit was indeed more objectionable to
Europeans than Dame Lorraine. Aside from sometimes literally stinking,
the former revealed black men's bodies complete, at times, with an
exaggerated penis an exaggerated physical representation of black
masculinity that was then very feared.
Early stagings of the folk play were held in yards, back areas where
few whites would enter. While Dame Lorraine performances also
included exaggerated genitalia, such displays were over fully-clothed

10 See King for the difference in treatment of female and male transvestism in
Trinidadian carnival.


performers. This, combined with the choreographed dance parody
probably led those Europeans who were aware of the mas to be more
amused at than offended by it. (That "the performers in Dame Lorraine,
both men and women, were often respectable citizens" may also have
helped [Crowley 46].) A black man dressed completely as a woman
with huge breasts and buttocks was surely less frightening than an
almost naked black man wearing a shift stained with blood. Even if the
blood is fake and meant to imply menstruation, it also implies violence,
and the poui stick between the performer's legs could easily signify
and become a weapon.
Under any circumstances creole men's "near nudity" was frightening
and threatening because it embodied the stereotype of black men's
predatory sexuality by emphasizing the black male body and
subsequently black masculinity and black male sexuality itself. As M.
Jacqui Alexander writes, "Black male sexuality was to be feared as the
hypersexualized stalker," and almost naked black men literally flaunted
and shook this fear in front of Europeans." While it was (and is)
acceptable to believe in this stereotype, it was not acceptable to display
an embodiment of it. Even, and perhaps especially during Carnival it
was important to restrain the perceived threat of black masculinity, to
quell the possibility that carnival could become riot. Thus, while Dame
Lorraine mas is hardly mentioned in the nineteenth-century press, the
pis en lit was frequently attacked.

Loca -rgQue es la locura de la loca?

The Festival Santiago Ap6stol, commonly known as the Loiza Festival
(it travels between the town of Loiza12 and the barrio of Mediania),
continues, in part, to be a celebration of Saint James the Apostle.13 But
it is arguably better known as a series of street parties featuring four
traditional characters: the vejigante (a devil / diablo trickster and one
of Puerto Rico's national symbols), the caballero (the "gentleman"),
the viejo ("the old man"), and the loca ("the crazy woman").14 Folklorist

"1 M. Jacqui Alexander, "Not Just (Any) Body Can Be a Citizen: The Politics of
Law, Sexuality and Postcoloniality in Trinidad and Tobago and the Bahamas,"
Feminist Review 48 (Fall 1994): 12.
12 Loiza is known as the center of black life and culture in Puerto Rico.
13 See Alegria and Harris' important but very different analyses of the festival.
14 Harris rightly points out that the Saint, Santiago Ap6stol, should be considered
a fifth character.


Ricardo Alegria writes that the festival "is so old that its beginnings
have been forgotten."'5 Scholars consistently (and vaguely) suggest
that some kind of celebration of Saint James has existed since about
1832, although they do not speculate as to when the four traditional
characters developed. The festival begins on July 24th and continues
for ten days, dates that correspond with Roman Catholic celebrations
of Saint James. The celebration includes prayer and recreation, but its
most popular aspect consists of three street parades between Loiza
and Mediania focused partly on three different manifestations of the
saint and partly on the revelry and dancing that accompany most street
If there is little written on the cross-dressed characters of Trinidad,
there is even less written on Loiza's locas or what exactly their locura,
their madness, is. In fact, with the notable exception of the vejigante,
there are no articles or studies that specifically address any of the four
characters. Instead, the scholarly literature focuses on the contested
origins of the carnival and the symbolism of vejigantes and caballeros.
This debate is principally about African retentions, European origins
and/or adaptations, and local creation; considerations that,
unfortunately, are not applied to locas specifically.
In contrast to the vejigantes and caballeros, whose entire bodies
are covered in yards of colorful fabric topped with intricate masks, the
loca is significantly less covered. The traditional loca is a man wearing
a dress, a headscarf, and a blackened face, with padded if not
exaggerated breasts and buttocks, who carries a broom and a large
biscuit tin. Although they will dance with anyone, locas are sometimes
paired with viejos. Here is Alegria's 1956 description of the loca

The locas pass along the streets of the town with brooms and cans,
sweeping and cleaning the streets and porches of the houses and asking
a recompense for their "work." They wear costumes of clashing colors
and fit themselves with artificial busts. They do not customarily wear
masks, but usually paint their faces black. (Alegria, 131)

While in more recent years locas are still seen with a broom and tin,
they are less often seen sweeping and asking for money. Instead, they

15 Ricardo E. Alegria, "The Fiesta of Santiago Ap6stol (St. James the Apostle) in
Loiza, Puerto Rico," Journal of American Folklore 69 (1956): 125.


alternately walk along the streets, usually with a fierce expression, and
dance with (or on) male and female spectators. Comparing Alegria's
1956 film and the 2003 festival, generally speaking the dresses have
gotten shorter and locas wore dresses alone in the latter, instead of
over pants as some do in the film.
In his important critique of Alegria's seminal article, scholar Max
Harris' only analysis of the significance of the loca character is as "a
parody of both the domesticated woman [because of the sweeping]
and the woman of the street" because the character typically flirts and
dances with observers.16 Yet much more could be said. The loca as
"woman of the street," as prostitute is not an unreasonable
interpretation. The sexually suggestive dances locas perform for or
with festival goers could be linked to prostitutes' promiscuity. And if
money was demanded in relationship to such dances, the link becomes
even more apparent. Furthermore, because prostitutes are typically
considered outcasts who "choose" their profession, it would not be
surprising for them to also be labeled mad, loca.17
Another interpretation is that the loca represents the male
transvestite, the person who would change his apparent gender, even
for one day. Of course, some traditionalists may take pains to insist
that the loca is not a transvestite. While such individuals are surely
engaged in a bit of gay panic, they also make a subtle distinction. The
traditional loca, who in Alegria's film is sometimes wearing a dress
over pants, is a man trying to look like a man dressed as a woman. The
transvestite, conversely, is understood to be a man trying to look like
a woman, trying "to represent normative gender difference
seamlessly."18 In short, the latter is trying to pass as a woman while
the former is not.19
Indeed, it must be pointed out that loca, in Puerto Rican slang, "means
queer, perhaps something akin to queen [in a North American

16 Max Harris, "Masking the Site: The Fiestas de Santiago Ap6stol in Loiza, Puerto
Rico," Journal of American Folklore 114 (2001): 364.
17 Outside the scope of this essay are interesting similarities between the loca
figure and the Espiritismo figure La Madama, which could point to other
contemporary references for the Loiza character.
18 Ben Sifuentes-Jiuregui, Transvestism, Masculinity, & Latin American Literature:
Genders share flesh. (New York: Palgrave, 2002), 4.
19 According to master mask-maker Rafil Ayala, there is also a difference between
a traditional loca and "a man trying to look like a homosexual" (in discussion with
group, 25 July 2003).


context]."20 And like "queer," "queen," and "maric6n," the inflection of
loca can be insulting or demeaning depending on who is using it and in
what context. In the late twentieth century there has been a small but
vocal group of concerned voices protesting "drag queens'" participation
in the festival and advocating that only "traditional" locas be allowed
to participate.21 But when I was able to see and participate in the festival
in 2003, there were no drag queens to be seen or at least they were all
dressed as locas.
The simultaneous meanings of "madwoman" and "queer" linked to
the word loca suggest that these are the most probable interpretations
of the Loiza character. Locas' performances are enjoyed well enough
by (female and male) spectators during the Loiza festival. Nevertheless,
like Dame Lorraines and pis en lits, this traditional character remains
one of the least-discussed aspects of the festival.

Contemporary Transvestite Performances No hay mas subversion
in the mas

The man in women's clothes is a long-standing and important tradition
in both the Loiza Festival and Trinidadian carnival. While these
characters are clearly different, there are some significant similarities
in the characters themselves and in how they are treated by carnival
participants and scholars.
At various times transvestism in both festivals has been threatened
with legal prohibition. In 1895 transvestism the pis en lit bands were
specifically cited was banned in Trinidadian carnival (Cowley ,131;
Pearse, 183). While this law helped the pis en lit mas to disappear,
Dame Lorraine continued to be performed and evolved to include only
the male transvestite character. In the past several years in Puerto
Rico, municipal legislation has been proposed that would implicitly
ban "contemporary drag queens" from the Loiza Festival.22 Yet despite

20 Lawrence M. La Fountain-Stokes, "Trans-locas: Migration, homosexuality, and
transvestism in recent Puerto Rican performance (Freddie Mercado, Javier Cardona,
Eduardo Alegria, Jorge Merced, Arthur Aviles)" (workshop manuscript, Center for the
Critical Analysis of Contemporary Culture, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, 2002), 5.
21 This same group argues that all characters should be "traditional," that in
addition to "drag queens," Halloween-type masks and other contemporary costumes
should not be allowed." Lowell Fiet, in discussion with the author, 17 July 2003.
22 It is unclear how the law would determine who is dressed as an "authentic"
loca, though this is presumably an attempt to remove potentially non-heterosexual
"drag queens" from a visible public space, and to distance them from "traditional"
locas who are assumed to be heterosexual. Fiet discussion.


old and new legislation, the loca and Dame Lorraine characters continue
to exist today and crowds enjoy both of them as funny, bawdy
participants in their respective popular street festivals. Furthermore,
it is collectively assumed that this transvestism is both a show and for
show, a carnival or festival performance that is not reprised (nor desired
to be reprised) during the year.
The laughing response to transvestite carnival and festival characters
reveals why (notwithstanding the proposed Loiza legislation) these
masquerades and the masqueraders are tolerated. A man who
appears in the street as a man dressing like a woman is literally dressing
down, mocking a collection of persons below him in the social hierarchy.
Men who perform as locas are dressing down even further, representing
themselves as black women.
Of course, to "dress down" has two meanings: to dress in a manner
or as a person considered casual or beneath you and to reprimand or
criticize, sometimes in a demeaning way. This double entendre extends
to the masqueraders discussed here as well. Loca and Dame Lorraine
players are dressing down because men remain above women in social,
economic, and political hierarchies, but the performances can also be
seen as "dressing down" women and transvestites by demeaning them.
The exaggerated breasts and buttocks and the performers' and
audiences' focus on sexuality personify the maligning stereotype of
women as primarily sex objects and transvestites as ridiculous gender
Of course, common sense dictates that popular festivals are not often
the place to go seeking progressive gender or racial representations.
And undoubtedly it would be better for women and those who do not
identify with traditional genders to be treated better in their homes,
workplaces, and communities than for the Dame Lorraine or loca
masquerades to change (should such a choice ever be available). None
of this excuses us, however, from recognizing the meanings and
interpretations present in carnivals, in particular that male transvestism
in these performances is an "inversion" or "reversal" that does not
undermine basic social hierarchies. Hence the title of this section, "no
hay mds subversion in the mas" there is no more subversion in these
contemporary masquerades, except insofar as they propose
nontraditional genders or understandings of gender instead of
reinforcing stereotypes.
Earlier I noted a possible difference of intentionality (the desire to
pass) between a loca (and by extension a Dame Lorraine) and a
transvestite. Of course, there need be no such distinction; a Dame


Lorraine or a loca can also be a transvestite, as some in Puerto Rico
evidently fear. And just as carnivals have generally existed in a space
in which the unusual, perverse, reverse, and inverse are tolerated if
not applauded, the Loiza festival and Trinidadian carnival create a space
in which a transvestite or drag queen can appear unmolested and
unafraid for a day or two. Cross-dressing parody can have subversive
and positive effects, opening up a space to critique gender norms, even
while it has negative aspects, in these cases ridiculing women's very
bodies and transvestism itself.
It is necessary to say a few words about the ambivalence of the gaze
of those who view these performances. Spectator-participants, by
dancing or simulating sex with the characters can also contribute to
them being read as stereotypes. But a man or woman who cavorts
with a loca or Dame Lorraine can also be seen as performing
homosexuality which is not widely accepted in Trinidad or Puerto
Rico.23 Both during and outside of Trinidadian carnival and the Loiza
festival, transvestites are enjoyed as stage performers whether as
locas, Dame Lorraines, or in cabaret or theatrical drag shows while
they are reviled and ridiculed as everyday performers.
While carnival and festival revelers enjoy Dame Lorraine and loca
performances, these and other transvestite characters are pushed to
the side of carnival literature. They are usually mentioned last in lists
of traditional characters with little information about them provided,
and sometimes they are ignored altogether. This is extremely
unfortunate; histories of Trinidadian carnival and the Loiza Festival
will not be complete until more is written about Dame Lorraines, pis
en lits, and locas. And contemporary historians and scholars do their
fields and their audiences a disservice when those who play locas and
Dame Lorraines are ignored in favor of more acceptable performances
of the vejigante or the Trinidadian dragon.24
Ironically, though, the very lack of attention paid to these characters
during non-festival days is somewhat comforting to me. The more
attention any symbol receives, the more power it has, and I would rather

23 And this does not include the sometimes dangerous ambivalence of those
who express hatred for transvestites in public but seek them out for private sexual
24 This elision is ironic; scholars are perhaps unconsciously continuing the
nineteenth-century European project of sanitizing carnival by either ignoring,
dismissing, or remaining unaware of more "vulgar" characters.


that the largely negative implications of the locas' and Dame Lorraines'
dressing down performances did not have a lot of power (nor do I
foresee the time that these characters will have power as positive
symbols of women or nontraditional genders). While I want and am
contributing to more analysis of and information about these
masquerades, I remain wary of their contradictions.
I am not advocating for the abolition of these characters or mandating
a change in their performances. Rather, I call for more analysis, critique,
and even a bit more celebration of these characters. Certainly I do not
agree with legislation to try to maintain "traditional" performances.
These characters will continue to evolve, as they have to this point,
based on local (and translocal) context and individual innovation.25 In
carnival exaggeration and even stereotype are just two more revelers
coming down the road. It requires a careful dance to enjoy and critique
these performances, but the social conditions of those who are
stereotyped the black woman, the prostitute, the transvestite or
otherwise queer or locaa" as well as the endurance and evolution of
Caribbean traditions, depend on where and how we step.

25 See La Fountain-Stokes. An especially interesting subject for further study is
the analysis of Dame Lorraine, loca, and other transvestite performances in diaspora
carnivals, such as New York City's Loiza festival and Labor Day jouvay and West
Indian Day Parade.

Desenterrando y mareando
la memorial: El arte del
recuerdo de Agua, Sol y Sereno

Roberto Irizarry
Universidad de Nebraska, Omaha
El 25 de julio del998 se celebraron en Puerto Rico una variedad
de events conmemorativos del primer centenario de la llegada
del ej6rcito estadounidense a las costas de la isla y del cuadra-
g6simo-quinto aniversario de la aprobaci6n de la ain vigente Cons-
tituci6n del Estado Libre Asociado. El grupo de teatro Agua, Sol y
Sereno (ASYS) particip6 en actos de protest en el pueblo de Guanica,
a cuyo puerto llegaron las fuerzas norteamericanas, y en el especta-
culo que sus miembros realizaron junto a otros artists se apreci6 un
notable replanteamiento de la memorial colectiva. En contrast con
el lider del Partido Independentista Puertorriqueflo Ruben Berrios,
quien hablaba desde una elevada tarima sobre un sospechoso pasa-
do hispano implicito en el culto al Ap6stol Santiago cuyo dia se cele-
braba en esa misma fecha, los miembros de ASYS y otros artists
acompafiaban un equino de madera y tela (denominado Caballo de
Troya) por una muy popular calle desde la cual se referian a un pasa-
do comparativamente mas plural y ambiguo. Ademas del proverbial
mensaje contra la violencia metropolitan llevado por un grupo de
vaqueros que asustaban a los transe6ntes con gritos de "iMove!," el
Caballo de Troya aludia a la complejidad racial y generica de la expe-
riencia puertorriquefia a trav6s de la presencia de una Estatua de la
Libertad interpretada por el actor de raza negra Javier Cardona1 y

La participaci6n de este actor y bailarin era mas bien una colaboraci6n con
el grupo. Cardona en realidad, como un gran nimero de los demis colaboradores
que pude reconocer en este proyecto, no es miembro de ASYS. De hecho, segin
informa Fiet:


mediante una vifieta sobre las esterilizaciones masivas de mujeres
de mediados del siglo veinte.
En esta actividad, el grupo y sus colaboradores pusieron de mani-
fiesto un vinculo muy concrete con la generaci6n teatral de los seten-
ta al explorer un espacio callejero no traditional y al proponer un men-
saje de resistencia anticolonial. A su vez, a lo largo de su existencia, y
en particular en sus piezas Una de cal y una de arena (1996) y Marea
alta, marea baja (2002), el grupo ha aportado a las artes esc6nicas de
la isla una notable complicaci6n de la memorial national basada en la
construcci6n de una identidad productivamente indefinida no sola-
mente por lo abierto de sus espacios esc6nicos sino tambi6n por lo
poroso de las fronteras de la ancestralidad local y del material cultural
manejado en sus producciones. Concretamente, el grupo desarrolla
su novel representaci6n del recuerdo ampliando el acceso a espacios
no tradicionales hasta llegar a una dimension publicitaria abarcadora
y maleable, representando entierros que obligan a negociar la identi-
dad de los muertos y de la misma comunidad que los celebra, y to-
mando prestadas formas culturales que permiten a la vez explorer la
experiencia propia y desarrollar vinculos cooperativos con otras tra-
diciones subalternas. Lo particular de esta puesta en escena de la
memorial national es, segun propongo, su llamado a reconocer los fan-
tasmas borrados de la historic official, difuminando y revisando al no-
sotros que recuerda y que se recuerda en Puerto Rico.

Aventuras por el espacio de la representaci6n

ASYS revisa de forma intensay constant la noci6n del espacio esc6nico
y en esta reconsideraci6n hay un inherente deseo de desarrollar publi-
cos nuevos. Al montar sus piezas en estadios deportivos, centros comu-
nales y plazas abiertas, el grupo se une a una tendencia artistic
postmoderna de la cual el te6rico de la arquitectura Carl Jencks y el
estudioso del performance Marvin Carlson han subrayado la duplici-

la autoria colectiva en las fases del concept teatral, disefio, construcci6n y
organizaci6n corresponde a Gradissa Fernandez, Maritza P&rez Otero, el artist grafico
Rafael Trelles y al disefiador esc6nico "Checo" Cuevas. Tambien participaron
miembros de muchos grupos: Agua, Sol y Sereno, el Teatro-Taller CamAndula, el Taller
de Otra Cosa, Yerbabruja, los j6venes del taller de Teatro en la Calle, mas numerosos
artists independientes (363).
Aunque no propongo que ASYS haya dominado este proyecto, si me parece que el
espectdculo manifiesta una est6tica caracteristica de las empresas de este grupo


dad del p6blico, uno que ha dejado de definirse por su elitismo y abar-
ca ahora ademis a las capas populares (130; 8).2 A la vez, la prepara-
ci6n del grupo asi como su trayectoria posterior ostentan el vinculo
con la generaci6n teatral de los afios setenta evidence en su ajuste
Ademas de realizar una extensa colaboraci6n con el grupo de teatro
estadounidense Bread and Puppet a principios de los afios noventa, a
fines de los ochenta, el director de ASYS, Pedro Adorno, colabor6 con
los Teatreros Ambulantes de Cayey, colectivo fundado y dirigido por
Rosa Luisa MArquez. Posteriormente, Adorno y Cathy Vigo fundaron
en 1993 el grupo y desde entonces el mismo ha sido uno de los mas
longevos y comprometidos del Ambito del teatro colectivo local.3 So-
bre todo MArquez le sirve de nexo con la generaci6n de teatreros de
los setenta a las propuestas esc6nicas del grupo. MArquez, actualmen-
te profesora del departamento de drama de la Universidad de Puerto
Rico, fue miembro fundador de Anami (1971-1974), un grupo que se
form en medio de la efervescencia estudiantil y political de los afios
setenta. Al igual que Morivivi (1972-1975) y el Tajo del AlacrAn (1966-
1976), Anamf se caracteriz6 por su compromise con la causa general
de la resistencia a la situaci6n colonial puertorriquefia y con circuns-
tancias relacionadas tales como la oposici6n a la Guerra de Vietnam,
las luchas sindicales y las comunidades de rescatadores de tierras. Un
primer manifiesto de 1971 establece la importancia del p6blico dentro
de la estrecha relaci6n entire arte y political de este colectivo: "Noso-
tros pretendemos popularizar el teatro entire las classes trabajadoras y
los sectors sociales afines a 6stas y devolverle la funci6n social al

2 Jencks se refiere a una double codificaci6n que consiste en la apelaci6n a tanto
la elite como al "hombre de la calle." Para 6l, el postmodernismo trata de trascender
el elitismo del modernismo "no dejandolo atrds sino extendiendo del lenguaje
arquitect6nico de muchas maneras-al verniculo, a la tradici6n y a la jerga
commercial de la calle" (8). Carlson, por su parte, junta el planteamiento
arquitect6nico de Jencks a los sefalamientos literarios de Linda Hutcheon,
Humberto Eco y John Barth para contextualizar el deseo de acceder a publicos
mas amplios que se manifiesta en el performance postmoderno. Seguin Carlson, el
postmodernismo es "una reacci6n que le devuelve el arte a un public mayor sin
sacrificar su riqueza ni su complejidad est6ticas" (130).
3 Ademas de Adorno y Vigo y de otros multiples colaboradores, ASYS ha contado
principalmente con la participaci6n de Kisha Burgos, Israel Lugo, Rudek P6rez,
Julio Ramos, Jessica Rodriguez y Miguel Zayas. El grupo ha montado junto a Una de
cal y Marea alta una series de piezas entire las cuales destacan Tun-cutun-tun (1993),
Pepin y Rosa (1998), El adiestramiento (1999) y La descalza agonia (2001).


teatro. Que 6ste no sea un product para ser consumido por el publi-
co sino un instrument para el conocimiento de la realidad y el cam-
bio" (reproducido en Ivelisse Rivera Bonilla 75). Como parte de su com-
promiso social y politico, el grupo redefine la relaci6n con un pfiblico
cuyo element popular se trata de ampliar. A su vez, esto propicia una
reaproximaci6n a los ambientes donde se realize la tarea teatral, se-
grin comenta Rivera Bonilla: "La intenci6n de recuperar el caracter
popular del teatro conllevaba desmitificar su espacio privilegiado en
la sociedad, Ilevandolo a la calle y permitiendo una relaci6n de mAs
comunicaci6n con el publico. ." (42). Concretamente, Anamu realize
esta renovaci6n montando piezas en ambientes esc6nicos no tradicio-
nales tales como plazas de pueblos, orfelinatos, centros culturales,
universidades, residenciales publicos, barrios marginales y terrenos
rescatados (Rivera Bonilla 77).
De forma semejante a estos antecedentes, ASYS ha representado
sus piezas en espacios caracterizados por su dimension popular e in-
clusive ha llegado a plazas cuya amplitud acomodan publicos
multitudinarios. Cabe recorder, por ejemplo, la puesta en escena de
Una de cal en el Coliseo Ruben Rodriguez del pueblo de Bayam6n bajo
el auspicio del Departamento de Educaci6n en 2001 y ante un piblico
de 14,000 estudiantes del sistema escolar. Por otra parte, mediante su
participaci6n en conciertos de musica popular, en events de propa-
ganda para autom6viles y otros products y en videos auspiciados
por el Banco Popular de Puerto Rico, el grupo ha accedido a un campo
publicitario y empresarial de una manera que los distingue de los co-
lectivos anteriores. En cierto sentido, dicho acceso amplia el mismo
deseo de devolverle el teatro al pueblo que habia manifestado Anamu
al asegurar una difusi6n aun mayor.
Sin embargo, visto como espacio de representaci6n, la cultural de
masas (y sobre todo el video) ostenta una mayor maleabilidad de las
imAgenes identitarias. En cierto modo, al entrar en dicho Ambito, ASYS
accede a un nivel imaginario y artificial que, seg6n el critic cultural
Juan Duchesne Winter, ostenta la vacuidad de las identidades puerto-
rriquefias y caribefias, las cuales se convierten, al aparecer en los
medios de comunicaci6n, en "una variante endurecida y autoritaria
tan domesticable por el capitalism de acumulaci6n flexible y sus ex-
presiones espectaculares y consumistas como por su contraparte
multiculturalista" (52). Duchesne niega categ6ricamente la posibilidad
de una identidad esencial anterior a la propaganda y, en cambio, su-
braya su existencia como objeto de consume dependiente de la dind-
mica econ6mica multinational. Cabe preguntarse, sin embargo, si, al


entrar en la producci6n de estas imagenes y aprovechar la artificialidad
que reconoce Duchesne, artists puertorriquefios como los de ASYS
ejercen una suerte de agencia que los liberal del papel de meros obje-
tos de una mirada externa.
Arlene DAvila ofrece un Angulo desde el cual apreciar el valor
reivindicador de la cultural de masas en la representaci6n de la identi-
dad puertorriquefia en Sponsored Identities (1997). Para DAvila, los
patrocinadores comerciales apoyan la creaci6n de formas Otiles para
expresar nociones de puertorriquefiidad "rechazadas por las defini-
ciones oficiales de la cultural puertorriquefia" (8). Si el artist compro-
metido con la independencia o con las causes sociales se veria ante-
riormente en una relaci6n de oposici6n a los intereses econ6micos
privados, ahora los empresarios se convierten en "personajes afiadi-
dos" en una dinamica de representaci6n en la cual el artist, ademas
de asegurar su supervivencia, encuentra en los medios de comunica-
ci6n "un espacio para representar la cultural y los valores puertorri-
quefios" en contraposici6n a la vision official (169; 173).4
La participaci6n de miembros del grupo en el video "Raices," patroci-
nado por el Banco Popular de Puerto Rico y difundido en las navidades
de 2001, subraya la productividad de la entrada a los medios de comuni-
caci6n masiva. El video forma parte de una series lanzada todos los afios
durante las festividades navidefias y su vision de la m6sica popular en-
caja perfectamente dentro de la nostalgia por un pasado idilico predo-
minante en esta 6poca del ano. Esta vez el video se dedica a la bomba y
a la plena, los dos g6neros musicales afropuertorriquefios por excelen-
cia. La relative ausencia de la discusi6n de la esclavitud y del racism
hist6rico y actual ofrece una vision idealizante del pasado y del presen-
te. Por otra parte, la intervenci6n de ASYS present una perspective
poco buc61lica en la breve escenificaci6n de arguments contados por
plenas tales como "Cortaron a Elena" y "Matan a Bunbun." De primera

4Aqui concuerdo con Fiet y Lafontaine quienes se refieren respectivamente a la
rara "independencia financiera" del colectivo a trav6s del "mal necesario" de entrar
en los medios de comunicaci6n (336; 86). Nelson Rivera, por su parte, critical estas
actividades propagandisticas de grupos como ASYS, afirmando que "[ajcceder a
estos espacios implica el sacrificio de una de las cualidades mAs significativas del
arte: la transgresi6n" (157). Cabe cuestionar si, al entrar en estos medios, ASYS
esta procurando una supervivencia que no dista much de la entrada de muchos
teatreros que, como el propio Rivera, entran en la docencia universitaria y asi ceden
un poco de su autonomia. En otras palabras, me pregunto si hasta cierto punto
Rivera "peca por la paga" tambien y si esta critical se le podria hacer a toda entidad
teatral que devengue un sueldo.


intenci6n, estas canciones teatralizadas se ponen en escena en lo que
parece ser una calle de barrio que ejemplifica la ruptura de los espacios
teatrales tradicionales caracteristica de ASYS. Asimismo, la violencia
de las acciones representadas, es decir el corte de la Elena de la primera
canci6n y la muerte del Bumbfin de la segunda, present un lado poco
paradisiaco de la cultural popular que contrast a su vez con la nostalgia
idealizante de la series a la que pertenece el video. Por su parte, los pa-
sos de baile realizados por Adorno en su interpretaci6n del desfalle-
ciente Bumbin presentan un lado igualmente poco traditional del terri-
torio national. Seguin Adorno va cayendo al suelo, hace pasos de un
breakdance que vincula al barrio representado por la escena con los
vecindarios neoyorquinos donde j6venes neorriquefios y afroamericanos
desarrollaron dichas formas de baile. En consecuencia, la imagen nacio-
nal que se desprende de esta escena llega a albergar la violencia y la
opresi6n que se vinculan con un racism y una diaspora cominmente
excluidos de las representaciones de la identidad puertorriquefia.
De esta manera, Adorno, con su elecci6n de pasos y con la repre-
sentaci6n de la violencia, es capaz de efectuar cierta agencia en la
confecci6n de este product, de forma que su creatividad y sus ideas
se cuelan dentro de la propuesta commercial del video e inclusive Ilegan
a poner en tela de juicio la imagen de un paraiso racial y national que
require la atm6sfera nostalgica de la series. Y como resultado, los per-
sonajes y las ideas que normalmente tendrian muy poca circulaci6n
de repente se convierten en parte de la cultural popular. La imagen del
Bumbin agonizante mientras baila su breakdance se hace asi, gracias
a esta entrada en los medios de comunicaci6n masiva, tan popular
como el obrero de Una de cal, el cual, segun cuenta Adorno, gente
desconocida le menciona con frecuencia en la calle.5 Igualmente, los
actors de ASYS se hacen tan agents como los consumidores
protag6nicos en la representaci6n masmedidtica pinada por Duchesne
Winter y los ejecutivos a los que alude Davila en su exposici6n del
aspect empresarial de la construcci6n de la puertorriquefidad.

Enterrando y desenterrando la isla: Una de caly una de arena

Una de caly una de arena ha sido montada desde 1996 hasta el presen-
te y su combinaci6n de elements musicales con la proposici6n de

5 Adorno hizo esta afirmaci6n en una entrevista telef6nica que le hice el 3 de
marzo de 2002.


una memorial contrastante con la historic official ha dado a conocer
al grupo entire los variados p6blicos locales e internacionales ante
los cuales se ha presentado.6 Inspirado en el popular espectaculo
ingl6s Stomp,7 el espectaculo caribehiza la propuesta original presen-
tando a una cuadrilla de obreros que crean ritmos de la urbanidad
afrocaribefia e international con sus herramientas de trabajo. A dife-
rencia de la tendencia del modelo britanico hacia el entretenimiento
puro, no obstante, la pieza cuenta la historic de la construcci6n des-
medida que se ha llevado a cabo desde mediados del siglo veinte
hasta la actualidad en Puerto Rico. Desplegando un compromise ideo-
16gico semejante al de los teatreros de los afios setenta, el grupo lla-
ma la atenci6n a los efectos nocivos que el desarrollo y el consumismo
exagerados tienen sobre la ecologia y la calidad de vida en la isla. Lo
novedoso de esta pieza, sin embargo, descansa en la puesta en esce-
na del mensaje politico y ecol6gico a trav6s de un motivo del entie-
rro que como event colectivo obliga a cuestionar la composici6n de
los comparecientes al rito finebre y, en consecuencia, de la comuni-
dad puertorriquefia. De forma mAs concrete, la pieza pone en escena
el progresivo entierro de la conciencia national bajo mfiltiples capas
de adoctrinamiento neocolonial y el repentino desentierro de la mis-
ma conciencia gracias a la indisciplina de los obreros. A su vez, la
presencia de un ser marginado hist6ricamente, una deambulante
desplazada geogrificamente y marginada por su g6nero complica el
rito mortuario, y su memorial, junto a la de los obreros, rellena las
lagunas dejadas por la historic official.

6 Una de cal se ha puesto en escena mas de sesenta veces en escuelas,
universidades y comunidades de Puerto Rico. De hecho, Fiet afirma que Una de cal:
"[d]ebe ser la pieza local de los afos 1990 de mas espectadores y representaciones
dentro y fuera de Puerto Rico" (337). Tambien se ha presentado en La Habana,
Cuba, en CAdiz y Madrid, Espafia, en Allentown, Washington D.C. y Cleveland, EEUU,
y en Caracas, Venezuela.
7Stomp es un espectAculo creado por los actors y percusionistas ingleses Steve
McNicholas y Luke Cresswell en 1991. AdemAs de su exito en Inglaterra, la pieza ha
sido muy popular por todo el mundo, e inclusive ha estado en cartelera en Nueva
York desde 1994. Al igual que en Una de Cal, en Stomp los actors hacen mtsica con
herramientas y utensilios de construcci6n o de la vida cotidiana tales como
basureros, escobas o cubos. Una diferencia notable, sin embargo, es que Stomp
estA orientado mas hacia el entretenimiento puro, sin necesariamente ofrecer
cuestionamientos sociales, culturales o politicos, mientras que Una de cal emplea
el element musical y teatral para contar una historic relevant por sus indagaciones
sobre la sociedad puertorriquefia.


Por su articulaci6n de una memorial contrapuesta a la version cons-
truida por la oficialidad y por el campo hist6rico abarcado, la pieza
entra en un terreno delineado por Arcadio Diaz Quifiones en su para-
digmatico ensayo sobre la memorial puertorriquefia La memorial rota
(1993). Al hacer girar un par de gigantescos neumaticos, una pareja de
obreros de la pieza recuerda claramente al trabajador del anuncio
televisivo de la Compaffia de Fomento Industrial, el cual movia una
rueda alusiva al desarrollo industrial comenzado en los afios cuarenta
y caracteristico del process hist6rico estudiado por Diaz Quifi6nes.
El critic puertorriquefo, al igual que la pieza, dedica su atenci6n a la
historic official construida por el protag6nico Partido Popular Demo-
cratico y la entiende como mito cuyo funcionamiento depend preci-
samente de los que mas sufren sus efectos: "No hay mitologia political
o cultural que sobreviva si no es aceptada por los que en ella han crei-
do, aun en la imagen del espejo quebrado" (52). En Una de cal los obre-
ros comienzan su faena discutiendo qui6n ha construido edificios y
carreteras tales como El Morro y la 65 de Infanteria. La respuesta ofre-
cida al obrero que lidera el cuestionamiento es unanime: los espafio-
les y los americanos lo han hecho todo. "Los indios y los negros," que
se identifican con el nosotros al que alude el obrero, segfn continia la
indagaci6n, han sido s6lo "Fuerza bruta." El obrero cuestionador dela-
ta el grado al cual el sistema educativo no ha logrado impartirle el
desconocimiento sobre la agencia de los habitantes de la isla, a la vez
que revela el 6xito de dicho adoctrinamiento entire los otros, quienes
le preguntan si ha cogido "la clase de historic de Puerto Rico." La cul-
tura official tiene, segin insinua la pieza, la funci6n de propagar la igno-
rancia de la poblaci6n sobre su propia experiencia.
De particular importancia en este proyecto national son la cons-
trucci6n excesiva y sus efectos nocivos en la poblaci6n y la ecologia
de la isla. Remitiendose a un moment de planificaci6n que puede
situarse tanto en comienzos de la industrializaci6n como en el mismo
present, una pareja de empresarios interpretada por los actors que
han hecho los papeles de la pareja de obreros discute un plano de la
isla en el cual se situa una series de proyectos entire los cuales destacan
hotels, urbanizaciones, centros comerciales, acueductos y sistemas
p6blicos de transport acuatico. Despues de la euforia demostrada
por los industriales, la t6nica cambia radicalmente. Uno de los per-
sonajes pregunta "%Pero todo esto cabe en una isla?" y llama la aten-
ci6n al problema bAsico del reducido recurso de la tierra en Puerto
Rico. Todos los int&rpretes parecen cambiar de papel para represen-
tar a una poblaci6n atormentada por el vertigo del exceso. Al son de


taladros, se enumera una lista de datos que provocan en las caras y
las voces de los actors: "iPlazas! iTres carros por familiar! iTres millo-
nes y pico de habitantes!" La comunicaci6n de datos alusivos a catis-
trofes reales en el Puerto Rico contemporaneo e hist6rico satisface el
deseo de informar e incitar al piblico a cuestionar la viabilidad de los
planes de desarrollo y su relaci6n con la ecologia local.
El proyecto gubernamental tiene tambi6n la faceta igualmente rele-
vante de crear una mentalidad neocolonial que facility la dimension
material. Dos de los aspects que mas subrayan la implantaci6n de
este estilo de vida son el uso del ingl6s como herramienta de domina-
ci6n y la sumisi6n de la masa obrera a una 6tica del trabajo altamente
jerdrquica. En various moments de la pieza, los personajes en las posi-
ciones mas altas de la jerarquia empresarial local se comunican con
sus jefes norteamericanos en ingles y asi manifiestan no solamente su
complete sometimiento a sus superiores sino su autoridad sobre los
obreros, quienes aparentemente no dominant esa lengua. En una esce-
na paradigmatica, uno de los actors le grita 6rdenes en ingl6s ("iSit
down! iSit down!") a un cami6n que hace las veces de d6cil perro y
emblematiza asi el papel hist6rico de la lengua en el control de la po-
blaci6n islefia. El 6xito de esta empresa, a su vez, se manifiesta sobre
todo en la entrega de los personajes locales a la 6tica del trabajo de
sus dominadores. Atrasados en su obra y amonestados por su supe-
rior inmediato, un ingeniero llamado Figueroa, la cuadrilla se mueve
como un pelot6n de soldados inconscientes dominados por un dicta-
dor fascista. Figueroa, a su vez, al ser censurado y ulteriormente des-
pedido por su propio jefe, sufre un aparente ataque cardiac. En este
regimen, es necesaria una entrega total de una fuerza laboral que aGn
asi es desechable si los deseos de los poderes extranjeros no se satis-
facen completamente.
Pero el ejercicio de poder delineado hasta este moment no es infa-
lible, pues surgeon en la pieza fuentes de otra vision de mundo y de
otras formas de conocimiento que escapan a la estricta discipline co-
lonial. La indisciplina de los obreros les permit de forma azarosa re-
conocer su valor propio. Por una distracci6n, los obreros cavan un
hueco demasiado profundo y al bajar a explorer sus dimensions en-
cuentran un yacimiento arqueol6gico indigena. Los objetos encontra-
dos, a su vez, los hacen valorizarse debido a la imaginada atenci6n de
los medios de comunicaci6n y tambien, implicitamente, les hacen re-
cordar un pasado indigena vinculado con un orgullo patri6tico y
anticolonial. El acto de desenterrar no puede ser mis sugerente: su
pasado indigena (e implicitamente el africano) ha sido enterrado


progresivamente a lo largo de la pieza bajo las multiples edificaciones
y adoctrinamientos coloniales y neocoloniales, y el acto de
desenterrarlos motiva la reformulaci6n de la identidad comunitaria.
El fen6meno del entierro, aqui implicito en el entierro paulatino y en el
desentierro repentino, establece de esta manera un vinculo con la iden-
tidad colectiva que Joseph Roach ha formulado en su paradigmatico
studio sobre el performance colectivo titulado Cities of the Dead (1996):
"En cualquier funeral, el cadaver ejecuta los limits comunitarios sa-
cados a relucir por la necesidad de sefialar el paso al mas allA del falle-
cido. Unidos en torno al cadaver, los miembros de la comunidad pue-
den reflexionar sobre la encarnaci6n simb61lica de la p6rdida y la reno-
vaci6n que significa dicho cuerpo" (traducci6n mia; 14). Aunque en
Una de cal hay una realizaci6n implicita del entierro a lo largo de la
pieza, el desentierro final supone una dinamica comunitaria de much
mayor relevancia, pues es en este moment que finalmente se mani-
fiesta un espiritu de valor colectivo y de sefialamiento de las fronteras
entire los obreros puertorriquefios y sus superiores metropolitanos. El
mismo obrero que hizo las preguntas sobre los responsables de la cons-
trucci6n del pais inicialmente se pregunta ahora ret6ricamente: "LFuer-
za bruta? Con esa fuerza bruta fue que construimos nuestro pais." Acto
seguido, los demAs obreros, que ahora si estAn de acuerdo con 61, se le
unen en un orgulloso grito del nombre de su pais: "iPuerto Rico!"
Hay hasta ahora, no obstante, una possible apariencia de que la pie-
za descansa sobre una propuesta nacionalista y esencialista. Segun
una lectura inicial, esta obra reconoce una rebeldia puertorriquefia
contra la opresi6n estadounidense e invita a proteger un territorio lo-
cal que funciona como piedra de toque de dicha identidad. Desde este
Angulo, como ha afirmado Grace DAvila L6pez, este espectaculo "su-
pera estitica e ideol6gicamente la 'valiente ingenuidad' denunciatoria
del problema ecol6gico para exponer con audacia el problema del
ambiente national de un pais sin soberania" (67). Pero cuando los obre-
ros gritan de forma rebelde y jubilosa el nombre de su pais consolidan
de una manera sospechosa la aparente homogeneidad del pueblo al
que pertenecen. Por otra parte, sin embargo, Una de cal expone otra
faceta implicita en el concept que Roach ha formulado del entierro:
al reunirse, la comunidad no solamente tiene que trazar los limits
que la separan del exterior sino los que la dividen de forma internal.
En esta pieza, asi como en otras producciones de ASYS, a la vez que
se afirma la puertorriquefiidad contra los desastres producidos por
la presencia estadounidense, se desconstruye esta misma identidad
al reconocer las dinamicas opresivas y exclusivas que operan en su


interior. La propia estructura de Una de cal revela estos dos process
intercalados: entrelazadas con la bfsqueda de los obreros, la cual re-
dunda en la afirmaci6n national hasta ahora descrita, hay intervencio-
nes de la deambulante, quien a lo largo de la pieza molesta a los ante-
riores con preguntas, con acusaciones y con su mera presencia. Su
participaci6n, en cierto sentido, es emblematica del desplazamiento
que se llev6 a cabo durante la industrializaci6n: para construir los
obreros tienen que desterrar a los habitantes originales del lugar que
sera ocupado por su edificio o carretera. Al recorder su extracci6n, el
personaje trae a colaci6n las migraciones masivas al area metropolita-
na y a los Estados Unidos en distintos moments del siglo veinte por
parte de la clase trabajadora puertorriquefia: "Sofiaba y me aterraba
cuando nos vinieran a buscar....Por eso me fui antes de que me saca-
ran." Aunque no menciona explicitamente su destino, el acto de irse
insinia la proverbial partida a las grandes urbes estadounidenses en
el antedicho period hist6rico. Al incluir implicitamente la diaspora
como extension del desplazamiento de las camadas rurales, la pieza
incorpora todo un segment poblacional comunmente excluido de las
representaciones locales de la puertorriquefiidad. Pero la marginalidad
del personaje tambien estA constituida por su genero, por el cual es
oprimida tanto por el regimen colonial como por la sociedad local. Es
decir, como mujer dentro del process industrializador suscita la me-
moria de las esterilizaciones a las que se sometieron a altos nimeros
de mujeres durante este period hist6rico-vale mencionar aqui que
esta mujer no tiene hijos ni familiar. Como mujer y como sujeto
diasp6rico, la deambulante sufre una marginaci6n no solamente en
relaci6n a la metropolis que la prime como a los obreros sino de la
misma colonia que la esteriliza y la desplaza.
La mfsica empleada en Una de cal lleva a cabo una exploraci6n pa-
ralela de unas fronteras externas cuya porosidad sobresale notable-
mente. La presencia de formas musicales extranjeras y la apropiaci6n
del modelo ajeno de Stomp ponen en tela de juicio el alegato de auten-
ticidad implicito a toda representaci6n de la identidad national. El
pr6stamo de formas culturales, de hecho, guard una relaci6n muy
intima con el llamado teatro antropol6gico delineado mas popularmen-
te por Eugenio Barba en su exploraci6n de formas teatrales latinoame-
ricanas o asiAticas. Al igual que en los experiments de Barba, aqui
hay una incorporaci6n de formas culturales ajenas en el marco de
una exploraci6n teatral. Sin embargo, al realizar sus espectaculos
desde una perspective subalterna, ASYS propone una dinamica de
poder cultural radicalmente diferente de la que manifiesta Barba. Vale


mencionar que, seghn revela Ian Watson en Negotiating Cultures: Eugenio
Barba and the Intercultural Debate, Barba ha sido severamente critica-
do por desnudar sus fuentes culturales de su especificidad social y
political, encontrando en ellas un contenido universal anterior a la ex-
presi6n teatral: "Gran parte de la critical cuestiona la propia naturaleza
de lo pre-expresivo afirmando que es impossible separar la expresi6n
cultural de un modo de acci6n que supuestamente le subyace" (14).
Barba, para los critics que refuta Watson-y que para mi no tienen
poca raz6n-borra de forma questionable, a fin de cuentas, su posi-
ci6n como sujeto metropolitan y la resistencia que subyace al Angulo
postcolonial desde el cual sus fuentes han desarrollado sus formas
culturales. En cierto sentido, entonces, al no considerar su posici6n,
Barba se convierte en explorador y aprovechador inconsciente de su-
jetos de poder inferior en una dinamica no muy diferente de la que han
desarrollado hist6ricamente antrop6logos y demas exploradores en
el context de las express coloniales y neocoloniales.
ASYS, por su parte, propone una dinamica radicalmente opuesta en
virtud de su posici6n como sujetos neocoloniales. Al apropiar formas
culturales metropolitanas, el grupo interroga la desigualdad de su cir-
cunstancia dentro de la dinamica de poder y al incorporar tendencies
artisticas de sujetos poscoloniales, desarrolla un nexo de solidaridad
resistente que los fortalece y trasciende la unilateralidad de su rela-
ci6n con la metropolis. En Una de cal, el gesto en relaci6n a la cultural
metropolitan se logra mediante el prestamo y la transformaci6n del
modelo ingl6s de Stomp. Mediante la exploraci6n de una prActica cul-
tural metropolitan desde un punto de vista neocolonial, ASYS invier-
te la dinamica traditional entire el explorador metropolitan y el obje-
to colonial, y se sitia en el centro del process cultural, completando
su apropiaci6n a trav6s de la producci6n de ritmos que en gran parte
son fAcilmente reconocibles como caribefios. Al mismo tiempo, sin em-
bargo, aunque este process deja claras marcas de una subjetividad
local y caribefia, el mismo element del pr6stamo evita la esencialidad
y la rigidez de esta identidad. La ausencia de estatismo, a su vez, per-
mite la creaci6n de vinculos nuevos desde una subjetividad mas ma-
leable y ambigua. Concretamente, en Una de cal se aprecian muestras
de misica identificadas con urbes norteamericanas (como la canci6n
estilo Hip-Hop que acompafia la domesticaci6n del cami6n-perro) y
latinoamericanas (como la samba que bailan la pareja de trabajadores
en su pausa ociosa). Estas canciones, tomadas como pr6stamos cultu-
rales, proponen un nexo con subjetividades diasp6ricas (como la
afroamericana o la neorriquefia representadas en la musica Hip-Hop)


o postcoloniales (como la brasilefia implicita en la samba) basado en
una dindmica de solidaridad entire identidades oprimidas. La explora-
ci6n y la explotaci6n practicadas por Barba son sustituidas aqui por
un intercambio que fomenta coaliciones entire subjetividades subal-
ternas, y el artist explorador, asimismo, es remplazado por el colabo-
rador en la elaboraci6n de un nexo entire subalternos.
La incorporaci6n de formas culturales extranjeras ha llegado en la
historic de la pieza a representar una identidad irremediable y pro-
ductivamente abierta a subjetividades progresivamente menos ajenas.
La inclusion de un merengue en una puesta en escena el primero de
junior de 2003 registry la amplia presencia dominicana en el Ambito
puertorriqueflo gracias no solamente a la vinculaci6n hist6rica con la
isla vecina sino tambi6n a las oleadas migratorias de las ultimas d&ca-
das. Este factor se asemeja al de la diaspora puertorriquefia en Esta-
dos Unidos en el sentido de que es a todas luces un element activa-
mente excluido de las representaciones mas recientes de lo puertorri-
quefio, pero que a la vez es sumamente integral a la experiencia puer-
torriquefia. Ciertamente, si la pieza invita a una reunion en torno al
entierro y el desentierro de la tierra y la identidad puertorriquefias,
tambi6n parece sefialar que los personajes han cambiado y que entire
ellos debe haber una negociaci6n sobre qui6nes van a pertenecer al
grupo tras el rito.

Marea alta, marea baja: Un entierro fitil en el mar

Montada en la playa del Escambr6n en el Viejo San Juan entire el 29 de
noviembre y el primero de diciembre de 2002, Marea alta, marea baja
lleva a un nivel mas explicit la representaci6n del entierro y el des-
entierro y metaforiza de una manera espacial la exploraci6n de la fron-
tera entire la identidad propia y la ajena que reconocimos en Una de
cal. En Marea alta se escenifica un combat a lo largo de various perio-
dos hist6ricos entire rebeldes locales denominados Pr6jimos y pre-
sencias externas llamadas Grises. A su vez la lucha es alimentada por
el regreso fantasmag6rico de figures hist6ricas y miticas tales como el
colonizador espafiol Diego de Salcedo, famoso por ser muerto por los
tainos en 1644 y asi demostrar la mortalidad de los espafioles, y
Mackandal, h6roe de la Revoluci6n Haitiana ficcionalizado por Alejo
Carpentier en El reino de este mundo (1949). En medio de la contienda
mueren el guardia privado David Sanes, muerto en la vida real durante
las prActicas de artilleria de la Marina de Guerra estadounidense en la
isla puertorriquefia de Vieques, y la inmigrante dominicana arquetipica


Encarnaci6n. Al final, ambos son iniciados como ancestros en un rito
fuinebre dirigido por Salcedo y Mackandal. En esta pieza tanto el espa-
cio esc6nico de la playa como el element finebre exploran la
liminaridad como angulo productive no s6lo para enfrentar los con-
flictos politicos sino tambi6n para apreciar los lazos entire identidades
progresivamente vistas como interdependientes.
Esencial baluarte estrat6gico de las fuerzas militares coloniales y
punto de entrada de ideas y personas sediciosas durante el domino
espafiol, asi como centro politico y cultural hasta el present, el Vie-
jo San Juan es un caso ejemplar de un lugar que condensa la vida de
una sociedad, o, en las palabras de Joseph Roach, un v6rtice de com-
portamiento. Seg(in los caracteriza Roach, los v6rtices de compor-
tamiento provenn el punto neuralgico del semiotexto del panorama
citadino circun-atlAntico -el bulevar, el mercado, el distrito teatral,
la plaza, el cementerio- donde la fuerza gravitacional de la necesi-
dad social junta a las sociedades y produce actors" (28). Particular-
mente, las playas del Viejo San Juan, las cuales no son s6lo scenario
de desembarques hist6ricos sino ambiente de reunion de la socie-
dad local y de ocio turistico para los viajeros, sobresalen como eje
que vincula la historic con la vida contemporinea y la poblaci6n lo-
cal con la extranjera. Pero sobre todo la playa, mAs que ningun otro
lugar del Viejo San Juan, ostenta tambi6n un caricter fronterizo que se
hace eco del intersticio entire la vida y la muerte que cruzan los muer-
tos celebrados por esta pieza. Es decir, la playa es la linea divisoria
entire el interior y el exterior, entire la poblaci6n local y los invasores y
los rebeldes solidarios que han Ilegado y Ilegan a la isla, entire Puerto
Rico y el resto del Caribe y entire la solidez de la tierra y la ambigiiedad
del agua del Oceano Atlantico.
Por su parte, el rito ffinebre, inherente a la exhumaci6n de Mackandal
y Salcedo y a la celebraci6n de Sanes y Encarnaci6n, accede a un nivel
liminar entire la vida y la muerte que la sociedad representada en la
pieza aprovecha para redefinirse. Vale recorder el papel de dicho in-
tersticio que Roach reconoce inspirado en el antrop6logo Victor Turner:
"la liminaridad-un estado intermedio, un 'modo subjuntivo' en la gra-
mAtica de la actividad comunitaria-caracteriza como 'dramas so-
ciales' aquellos comportamientos en que las categories normativas
son transgredidas o suspendidas s6lo para ser reafirmadas por pro-
cesos rituales de reincorporaci6n" (37). En cierto sentido, lo fronte-
rizo de la playa supone una posici6n intermedia paralela a la situa-
ci6n de la sociedad de la pieza gracias a la celebraci6n. Pero en este
caso, a diferencia de la finita y ulteriormente resuelta liminaridad de la


que hablan de Roach y Turner, pues en las sociedades que ellos des-
criben las normas vuelven a restablecerse, en esta pieza el rito se cele-
bra en una arena player y frente a un agua que impiden una fijeza
comunitaria total y el regreso a una norma pura. Es decir, el espacio de
la playa, perpetuamente fronterizo y conectado a un oc6ano en eterno
movimiento, se hace eco de la irresuelta apertura de la sociedad puer-
De forma mas concrete, la exhumaci6n de los muertos tiene lugar
en el context del sugerente combat entire grupos politicos y cultura-
les cuyo caricter binario y basico, se asemeja al de la definici6n nacio-
nalista de los obreros de Una de cal en contrast con sus superiores
explotadores y estadounidenses. En Marea alta, la contienda es aun
mas amplia, pues se desarrolla entire, por una parte, un grupo de rebel-
des vestidos en harapos (los Pr6jimos) caracterizados por sus movi-
mientos corporales marciales, y, por otra, un grupo de personajes de
aspect oscuro (los Grises) cuyos gestos con palos de golf y dicci6n
arrogante los vinculan con la explotaci6n military, inmobiliaria y turisti-
ca de la isla. Entre estos grupos se Ileva a cabo una lucha que alude a
distintos moments de la historic reciente en Puerto Rico. Ademas de
la presencia estadounidense en la isla, la cual queda implicita en los
gestos de los Grises, sobresalen algunas facetas concretas de las lu-
chas political recientes. Muchas de estas son significativamente muer-
tes literales o figuradas injustas: concretamente la de Adolfina
Villanueva en 1980 a manos de la policia por resistirse a ser desahucia-
da, la de Sanes, ocurrida en 1999, y la de Encarnaci6n, que temporai-
mente se sitfia en las uiltimas tres decadas, en las cuales la inmigraci6n
dominicana ha tenido su mayor auge. La otra victim de una muerte
que ha suscitado reacciones fuertes entire la poblaci6n local es el am-
biente. En cierto moment los Pr6jimos aluden a playas (Punta
Borinquen, Tocones, Las Picfias) que en cierto moment fueron el blan-
co de la actividad especuladora de politicos puertorriquefios y derd
industrial hotelera international y cuyo balance ecol6gico asi comoa w
acceso al pueblo local se han puesto en peligro. Al igual que en Una de
cal, aqui hay una afirmaci6n de una comunidad dentro del context
binario de la lucha con un grupo opresor y a lo largo de un period
hist6rico amplio.
Asimismo, en Marea alta el develamiento de elements del trasfon-
do cultural inspira a la intensificaci6n de la conciencia colectiva de
manera semejante al efecto motivador que tiene el yacimiento indige-
na en los obreros de Una de cal. Si en Una de cal el encuentro de los
artefactos tainos entra en la dinamica f6nebre gracias al hecho literal


del desentierro y de su efecto en la comunidad que lo lleva a cabo, en
Marea alta lo mortuorio se manifiesta a trav6s de la entrada en acci6n
de los muertos Salcedo y Mackandal. En Marea alta, el efecto es seme-
jante, pues la entrada en acci6n viene a intensificar el conflict y, par-
ticularmente, Mackandal, visto como lider heroico de la ejemplar Re-
voluci6n Haitiana, inspira el espiritu combativo de los pr6jimos. El
performance de la memorial, de esta manera, se Ileva a cabo como "es-
trategia para dar poder a los vivos," seguin comenta Roach (34).
Significativamente, en Marea alta los Pr6jimos lanzan un anzuelo al
mar y acto seguido llega Mackandal a la playa en una entrada en ac-
ci6n cuyo heroismo se comunica mediante su baile apote6sico y a tra-
ves de una canci6n que ensalza su figure: "Sali6 de St. Domingue... Se
sumergi6 en el mar... Sale a la orilla porque alli su voz alcanza el reino
de este mundo ... Se fusion Mackandal con la colonia boricua ..
Esclavo rebelde. ." La aparici6n de Mackandal tras su salida de la
antigua St. Domingue recuerda la llegada hist6rica de emisarios de los
revolucionarios haitianos con el fin de fomentar movimientos rebel-
des entire los esclavos locales. Al mismo tiempo, sin embargo, el acto
de lanzar un anzuelo por parte de los Pr6jimos subraya la exhumaci6n
active del h&roe por parte de la comunidad rebelde como forma de
motivar su lucha y galvanizar su comunidad. De hecho, inmediatamente
despues de la entrada triunfal de la figure heroica, los Pr6jimos bailan
y se arrodillan en una cadena, evidenciando tanto la reverencia como
el efecto unificador que Mackandal tiene en ellos. Pero la practice de
buscar imagenes del pasado para fundamental una comunidad en el
present no se limita a los pr6jimos. Tras la Ilegada del lider caribefto,
el colonizador espafiol Salcedo sale a la orilla y es recibido por el lider
de los Grises. El espafiol bautiza en nombre de la corona espafiola y
con una botella llena de agua de mar al lider Gris. Asi se propone una
esfera metropolitan dentro de toda la historic insular que abarca no
solamente al gobierno colonial espafiol sino a la metropolis estadouni-
dense y a los lideres locales que la han apoyado. De esta forma, los
conflicts politicos y culturales del present, segfin se representan en
esta pieza, se fundamental de esta manera a trav6s de la manipula-
ci6n contrastante de imagenes del pasado.
Si hasta ahora el efecto galvanizador de los elements pret&ritos
exhumados es igual en esta pieza al que observamos en Una de cal, el
entorno cultural y la comunidad en Marea alta son sumamente mas
abiertas y difusas. En cierto sentido, la reuni6n mortuoria que se ce-
lebra en Marea alta subraya la importancia de comunidades mayo-
res que la national y la necesidad de una constant revision de los


elements que constituyen la membresia local. El material cultural em-
pleado en el entierro, mediante la inclusion de elements superficial-
mente ajenos a lo puertorriquefio, acentha la presencia de comunida-
des amplias basadas en la solidaridad y en el espiritu de resistencia.
Concretamente, la pieza incorpora aspects marciales de la cultural
brasilefia aportados por la coautora de la pieza junto a Adorno, Mareia
Quintero. Cabe sefialar que Quintero, egresada de la Universidad de
Sdo Paulo, actualmente ensefia historic en la Universidad de Puerto
Rico y capoeira, un arte marcial de origen afrobrasileflo, en academias
de baile de la isla. En la pieza de marras, los Pr6jimos intercalan sus
intervenciones con movimientos acrobAticos y agresivos de la capoeira
y un ciego que camina por la orilla de la playa lleva un berimbau, un
artefacto que hace las veces de instrument musical y de arma en la
forma de combat del Brasil. De forma muy sutil, estos factors mar-
ciales subrayan el espiritu combativo de la poblaci6n local a lo largo
de la historic y su relaci6n con otras formas culturales de resistencia
tales como la mfisica y el baile. Lo interesante, sin embargo, es que
este aspect propio se enfoca mediante un vocabulario de movimien-
to prestado de otra cultural. El efecto, como afirm6 en relaci6n a la
musica en Una de cal, es doblemente sugerente. Por una parte, se de-
sarrolla un vinculo con otra cultural de resistencia y en este caso inclu-
sive se Ilega a hablar de una cultural afrolationamericana fundamenta-
da en la rebeldia solidaria y artistic. Por otra parte, la exploraci6n de
la identidad propia-en este caso el espiritu rebelde hist6rico-no re-
dunda en una afirmaci6n esencialista, ya que el empleo de una forma
ajena cancela lo aut6ctono de la representaci6n.
Por su parte, la representaci6n de una ancestralidad negociable su-
pone una notable revision del concept de los origenes culturales. El
ciego sabio capture el sefialamiento bAsico de la pieza en relaci6n a
los antecedentes comunales: "Nuestros ancestros grises, pr6jimos,
familiares." Los ancestros locales, origenes de la identidad national,
tienen que abrir espacio para la entrada de nuevos padres de una co-
munidad en constant process de renovaci6n mediante el reconoci-
miento de la participaci6n de identidades ajenas e inclusive oposito-
ras (como los Grises) en la formaci6n de la cultural local. La misma
apropiaci6n de Mackandal como ancestro inspirador de los pr6jimos
ya abre el pante6n national a un nivel regional caribefto. Asimismo,
esta caribefiizaci6n continfa con la intervenci6n de Encarnaci6n, cuyo
fatal viaje en yola a la isla se escenifica mediante un baile en la arena
en la que es sugerentemente acompaflada por el lider de los Pr6jimos.
La presencia dominicana en la isla es aqui aceptada y el nefasto


discrimen hist6rico y actual contra este sector es vencido en aras del
espiritu solidario caribeho que fundament6 la incorporaci6n de
Mackandal. A su vez, el final de la pieza, en la cual Salcedo y Mackandal
bautizan al puertorriquefio Sanes y a Encarnaci6n como nuevos
ancestros de la comunidad local, marca la cuspide del espiritu
incorporador. Sanes, que hasta este moment ha sido representado
por una efigie de plastico, sale del agua representado por el mismo
actor que ha interpretado al lider de los Grises. La frontera entire la
colectividad local rebelde y sus opresores se ha hecho tan porosa que
la victim y el victimario llegan indivisiblemente al pante6n local.


Con el final de Marea alta, ASYS Ileva, a mi entender, a uno de sus
niveles mts acertados su practice double de ejercer una resistencia
puertorriquefia contra la opresi6n political y econ6mica y a la vez ex-
plorar la multiplicidad de Angulos desde los cuales se ha experimenta-
do dicha opresi6n. Y el notable acierto de incorporar las mOltiples
histories individuals, marginales y extrafias y desinflar las grandes
narrativas nacionalistas resume la manera en que ASYS, no solamente
en Marea alta, sino tambi6n en Una de cal y en sus otras actividades,
se inserta en el Ambito de la cultural postmoderna y actualiza la tradi-
ci6n teatral de naturaleza opositora. De esta manera ASYS demuestra
una sobresaliente conciencia de la necesidad de desarmar el naciona-
lismo a la que se ha referido recientemente Carlos Pab6n en Naci6n
Postmortem (2001) al proponer que hay que "abandonar el esencialismo
del discurso neonacionalista y defender la articulaci6n de un discurso
alterno que reconozca la diversidad y multiplicidad de posiciones
identitarias que nos caracterizan"(53). ASYS logra la meta de crear este
discurso alterno no solamente rompiendo las paredes del teatro na-
cional, sino tambi6n reconociendo que los muertos y los vivos que
hay en el y en torno al sarc6fago national son muchos y todos tienen
algo que decir. De este inmenso y abierto f6retro que es el teatro puer-
torriqueho sale, por lo tanto, gracias al trabajo de ASYS, una memorial
tan rica y complicada como la colectividad que la ejecuta.


Obras citadas

Carlson, Marvin. Performance: A Critical Introduction. Londres:
Routledge, 1996.
DAvila, Arlene. Sponsored Identities: Cultural Politics in Puerto Rico.
Philadelphia, Temple UP, 1997.
DAvila L6pez, Grace. "Teatro ecol6gico y las nuevas construcciones
del ambiente national en Una de cal y una de arena." Propuestas
escnicas de fin de siglo. Ed. Juan Villegas. Irvine: Gestos, 1999, 65-
Diaz Quifiones, Arcadio. La memorial rota. San Juan: Huracan, 1993.
Duchesne Winter, Juan. Ciudadano insano: Ensayos bestiales sobre cul-
tura y literature. San Juan: Callej6n, 2001.
Jencks, Carl. The Language of Post-Modern Architecture: New York:
Rizzoli, 1977.
Fiet, Lowell. El teatro puertorriquefo reimaginado: notas critics sobre
la creaci6n dramdtica y el performance. San Juan: Callej6n, 2004.
Lafontaine-Stokes, Larry. "Creaci6n colectiva y vanguardia preformativa
en Puerto Rico: tres casos notables." En Lowell Fiet y Janette Be-
cerra, eds. g(Con)fusidn cultural?: performance y performers
transcaribefios. Rio Piedras: Caribe 2000 y Universidad de Puerto
Rico, 2001, 67-84.
Pab6n, Carlos. Naci6n Postmortem: Ensayos sobre los tiempos de inso-
portable ambigiiedad. San Juan: Callej6n, 2002.
Rivera, Nelson. "Experimentaci6n, marginalidad y canon en el teatro
puertorriquefio contemporaneo." En Lowell Fiet y Janette Bece-
rra, eds. Caribe 2000 (1998): Un convite de poetas y teatreros. Rio
Piedras: Caribe 2000 y Universidad de Puerto Rico, 1999, 155-158.
Rivera Bonilla, Ivelisse. Anami: La busqueda de una nueva estetica de
teatro y sus aportaciones (1968-1974). Tesina del Programa de Ho-
nor de la Universidad de Puerto Rico Recinto de Rio Piedras, 1993.
Roach, Joseph. Cities of the Dead: Circum-Atlantic Performance. New
York: Columbia UP, 1996.
Watson, lan. "Staging Theatre Anthropology." Negotiating Cultures:
Eugenio Barba and the Intercultural Debate. Ed. Ian Watson.
Manchester: Manchester UP, 2002, 20- 35.

"I Have to Feel it First...": An Interview
with Artist Awilda Sterling-Duprey
on the Creative Process

Interview by Julia Ritter
Rutgers University

[Note from the Interviewer: During the 2003 NEH Seminar in Caribbean
Theater and Cultural Performance, I studied with Awilda Sterling-Duprey
in her workshop, Taller de Danza Afro-Caribefia, and witnessed her
" Vejigante Decrepito" as a site-specific performance. She is a key figure
in Puerto Rico's contemporary art scene, having influenced younger
generations into experimenting and validating their Afro-Caribbean
identity. She has received various grants and fellowships for individual
work from NEA, Instituto de Cultura Puertorriquefia, Instituto de Puerto
Rico en Nueva York and Centro de Estudios Avanzados de Puerto Rico
y El Caribe, among others. She actively teaches and performs, and at
present is an adjunct assistant professor at the Sociology/Anthropology
Department of Long Island University [Brooklyn Campus] and in Puerto
Rican and Latino Studies at Brooklyn College. Inspired by Awilda's
artistry, and the ways in which she creates meaning from her
experiences of feeling and seeing, I wanted to engage in further dialogue
regarding her process of creating visually arresting and compelling
performance works. This document includes excerpts from several
interviews with Ms. Sterling-Duprey about her work and creative
process. I thank Dr. Jeffrey Friedman, Ph.D., founder of the Legacy Oral
History Program for his advice and assistance with this project.]

Julia Ritter: After many years of creating work, how would you describe
your aesthetic choices, your inspirations do you have a mission statement
for yourself as an artist?

Awilda Sterling-Duprey* There are two major impulses in my work.
The first has to do with the self as gendered myself as a woman.


When I use that as a motive, the use of loneliness has a lot to do with
being disappointed about love relationships. Since I am influenced by
popular culture I use boleros, and traditional boleros speak of
disillusionment. As men are usually singing the songs, the men are
singing of disillusionment with women and the women carry the weight
of that, but I turn that around and use it in what I call a movement
monologue. The movement monologue starts with a relationship with
the song, and through that 1 respond to what the singer is saying. My
second impulse is my concern with bringing folk traditions into a more
contemporary focus. In my work with traditional orisha dances, and
with African traditional dances I have found I am in love with the
strength and tradition of that movement. The vocabulary is not the
same as that of other movement forms. I want to use the forms to
teach and show that there is validation in African culture and religions
and to erase all the prejudices that others have written on those forms.
There is a lot of color, texture, beauty, joy in the dances and most
importantly, I have found that the transformation that people go though
when they learn them is astounding. I am really using them, I suppose,
by extending them and expanding them beyond the form and the
vocabulary so people can feel comfortable coming close to the
traditional cultures and religions.

JR: Can you tell me about your training?

ASD: This is something I have been thinking a lot about.. .asking myself,
"When we talk about training, is it in terms of formal training or training
in terms of how you begin to think about work?"

JR: How about your formal training... ?

ASD: The first experience was with an African-Puerto Rican woman
Sylvia del Villard, although it was not the training as I know now that
you take a person and you do a warm-up, and a center, or...diagonals
or sets of step patterns, and then experiment on those sequences.
Although it was not that formal, she had a consistent pattern in her
classes and rehearsals. She would talk about what she wanted to do
and while practicing the steps we were warming up the body that I
understand now. At sixteen or seventeen, I did not have the idea at
that time that I would continue this I was doing it because I liked it.
So I was very disciplined and very interested in what she had to offer.
And what she was offering was a culture that dances and a culture that
was very close to Puerto Rican culture, without anybody telling us


before her, and connecting it with the African Diaspora. And for me
the main thing was a connection, how I could relate to and how I could
learn the dances, which were complicated, so easily, with such
openness. I always think it was because of rhythm, because of my
training with rhythm in Puerto Rican popular culture that opened the
path to connect with something that was apparently strange to us, but
really a part of the culture.

My second training was a big leap away from West African dances
connected to Puerto Rican bomba from there I went to jazz dance.
Jazz dance as very much a part of personal technique of the teacher,
Lotte Cordero. Lotte trained in ballet under her mother, and she [Lotte]
wanted to create in Puerto Rico a vehicle to create musicals, because
that is how she wanted to express herself. She was not only d very
creative person, but at the same time a woman who was connected
with the social and political situation in Puerto Rico, so she would use
her work to speak about how she felt about her relationship to the
country. This was very interesting for me, how she could mix those
two different lines into one concept of performance. I was very
attracted to that technique also because it was very rhythmic; she was
Puerto Rican and wanted to bring that rhythm across. Her two teachers
- the first time I went to New York City in the 1970s, I took some classes
with them were Jo Jo Smith, who was receiving a lot of recognition at
the time because of the way he was connecting African dance steps
with his jazz technique, and there was also Luigi, [someone] coming
from a European tradition and an Italian-American at the same time -
his line, was completely different from Jo Jo's and was more stylized,
the work of the upper body and the shoulders, and he designed a whole
technique of the upper body. I was very attracted to that, where the
upper body and the line was stressed. At this time I also became
interested in the formality of the dance class, because this was a formal
class, with barres, and mirrors.

JR: [Subsequently, Awilda returned to clarify more about her first
movement influences... ]

ASD: My first exposure was not to Puerto Rican bomba, but to social
dancing, with partners, actually with my father. With my dad I learned
to dance with a partner and this taught me to have a sense of being
led. It taught me to have a relationship with another person, where
bomba was very individual. In the 1950s, dance was very much


influenced by Cuban danz6n, with the aesthetics of European partner
dances. It was very defined in terms of gender roles. So, I think that I
did not find it very difficult to follow and learn steps in a dance class
situation, although a different kind of structure, because of this

JR: I am very interested in the "sense of self" you started to experience
during your formal classes...which came from the interaction with the
mirrors that you mentioned...

ASD: I was very much annoyed and confused by the mirrors. This
was the first time I was looking at myself, my body in the mirror in a
different manner, not like an everyday person, pampering yourself,
but looking at movement. What I used to do, was close my eyes, and
the teacher would say open your eyes, but I would say I feel I know
where I am going. But I did become comfortable with the mirror and
I also felt very easy with that technique as well... I found it very
beautiful and it was my first real connection with images I had seen
as a child of seeing Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers dancing. Because
that was what gave me a different sensation of the dance that I knew
- they impacted me a lot, how they could glide through space with
such ease at the same time with such intricate steps of the feet. My
first class in jazz was... not seeing the person, but trying to see my
body moving. I was confronting another self there I saw my
confusion, there I saw my uneasiness I could see things I had not
seen when normally standing in front of a mirror, which was usually
when I checked to see how nice I looked, like when I was preparing to
go out. It was a different perspective from that self. At the same
time, I was feeling the movement and then seeing it happen, which
were two different things. I usually felt better than I saw. It took me a
long time to put both of those levels together...enjoying the form and
the shapes my body was making.

JR: What is so interesting about what you said is the connection with
those images of what we are taught a dancer looks like or is whether
through the idea that the dancer is Ginger Rogers or Fred Astaire or
whoever but there is that moment of "oh, my body does this too..."

ASD: Yes, yes, exactly. Once I felt good with what I was doing, I didn't
worry. I wasn't thinking that much- that was a pattern in my life, I
never think that what I do and enjoy I am going to continue I just
continue. I don't plan I never planned to be a dancer, I told you, I was


training to be a painter. But this was so nice for me. I thought, I can do
this, and people were calling me to do things. I never considered it a
profession at that time.

In 1977, my first year at university in New York [Pratt University], I
took a dance appreciation class with Pauline Tisch. She told me that
next semester, there would be a workshop with a very important
experimental dancer, Trisha Brown. What I appreciated about working
with Trisha, was that she did not present herself as a "dance teacher."
She was so flowing and soft-spoken. At the same time she was working
with us, she was experimenting with gesture, and sharing with us her
work with accumulation. I was very attracted to that and realized that
was part of what she would be teaching us to do, working with small
movements and connecting ourselves with what our bodies could do.
I remember that there was also a lot of floor work.

JR: Was this the first time you had experimented with working low to the

ASD: Outside of exercises? Yes. The first time of using the floor as the
means to produce, using the floor as an ally to produce movement and
to learn about your body, just lying there. It was so relaxing and so
permissive, that I fell in love with it immediately. What she [Brown]
said to me is I can start from what I already have. Some of her company
members would come and we would work on how to follow one part of
the body, to use the floor in different manners. And to work in silence,
to work without any other sound reference except your own, and to
learn how to listen to your body and your breath.

This was very important to me. From the time when I was very small,
I had always liked silence. To understand that you could produce
dances in silence was a big release, and very emotional. Soon thereafter,
Meridn Soto recommended that I work with Dana Reitz. Dana was
postmodern, but more the "teacher-type." There was structure here.
Dana worked on repetition patterns, and was also using the floor a lot
and allowing yourself to work with what came to you. The process
there was even more internal still, because it was very cathartic for
me you had to really rely on moments of silence and use the ideas
that came to your mind to produce movement and with this I started
connecting myself with places, hidden spaces that I was not really aware
of. If I told you I got emotional with Trisha's work, with Dana it was
real crying spells. This work was so personal, so deep and internal


that it touched places that we don't focus on so much. I worked with
her for a span of five months in New York.

JR: And what was next for you?

ASD: While at Pratt, in the late 1970s I began to work with Merian
Soto. MeriAn was beginning her own projects. She would take us as
her dancers and we would experiment. We would gather together, being
friends, and we would do performances, sometimes at her studio, at
that time on West Broadway and Canal Street. She was always very
appreciative of our movements and how we brought back to her the
ideas that she was experimenting with. At that time she was
experimenting with Cuban "Son Montuno" she was decoding the
traditional time and frame of the musical structure. She was breaking
that syncopation into something more personal and adding gestures,
freezing movements while others continued dancing. "Son Montuno"
was the basis of what would become mambo and salsa so you would
dance with a partner to a steady beat, and people would improvise but
you would always have a structure that would pull you back together
again. MeriAn was experimenting with that making solos, duets, trios
- she was using the classical structure of European or American dance
in "Son Montuno." That gave me ideas of how to improvise with rhythms
I had already managed and how I could break them and listen to silence
between the phrases and between melodies. I was mostly drawn to
work with silence once I learned that I could work with silence.
Probably because I was dealing with sound so much of the time, I was
very much interested in what my own self had to hear when listening.
When working with silence I was always very aware because I didn't
have other references. How was I going to put these phrases into dance
material I had to be more aware than if I was connecting with other

JR: Tell me more about silence in your work...

ASD: I remember the first piece that I created, in 1978, it was called
"Aqui y ahora" [Here and Now], because it was very short...I was mixing
the elements that I learned from Trisha, Dana, and MeriAn. It was in
silence and also using breath. I was looking at something in the back
space, and I came to stage left, and then went across in a straight line
from left to the right and when I would get to the right, I would pick a
piece of dust, and begin doing the movement from that place, moving
from the shoulder, just concentrating on moving from that place. My


very first piece of experimental dance, it was very moving, and when
finished I had to cry. What happened was that the more I worked with
silence, the more spaces I found in my body when doing movement,
the more memories came to me from my childhood. So many people I
knew could say many things about their childhood but for me it was
these techniques, working with my body, which started to bring up
many memories... I found that work as a way of getting to flashbacks
from my life...it was my way of remembering, working with my body.

JR: Alternative performance spaces have interested and influenced you,

ASD: "Aqui y ahora" was done at 104th Street between Lexington and
3rd Avenue where there is an old firehouse. That firehouse was used
by different organizations as an artist space, by Taller Boricua, a group
of visual artists who had their studio there. There was a nice area that
was like a living room, with the fire poles for sliding down. And we fell
in love with that space it didn't have water, or heat or anything but
we almost took it over by assault. It was one of the places that I loved
the most...it was so old, but homey. At that time we felt we could do
anything I don't know why I lost that sensation with time, because
we were only really doing what felt good. Not having any worries for
staging things, just doing what felt good and what was honest
and...each of us very different from each other. Everyone had their
own voice. That was why I felt so compelled to use different spaces to
work in, because I had some ideas in mind. I still do that, I always
wanted to see the physical space first and see what areas I wanted to
use before I started to do any kind of work. And most of the time I
would pick that structure from Dana Reitz, the improvisation structure.
I would set myself points in the space and I would know what I would
do in every point, but I would never know what I was going to do to get
there. Those were my points of reference and I felt very comfortable
with that, because it was also new for me. I had to be so aware of what
I was going to do, that I didn't have anytime to think that I was
performing for an audience. I was just there and it was very much like
child's play. That was the training from Dana, just know where you are
going, and what you are going to do once you are there and what
happens in between it will happen and then the only thing you have
to keep in mind is how you are going to get different shades, so you do
not become so repetitive that you lose your own sense of things. That
was enough for me.


At that time, I was entering my second year at the university, but Pratt
closed their dance department that year, in 1978. That year I finished
my work with Merian. In the early 1980s, I began to feel uncomfortable
in New York. My son was very young, and he wanted to go back to
Puerto Rico, so I returned. Once in Puerto Rico, I felt comfortable
enough to start experimenting with my ideas. And what I found in my
classes, was that once people began entering deeper in their bodies,
they became uncomfortable with the work. I was doing a lot of work
with the floor, with breathing, and I was adding some yoga and also
closing the eyes and letting the images cross the mind without judging
them and I think it was hard for some people. At the same time, I was
beginning to show small pieces. My friend, Rafael Fuentes, had a really
huge house in Santurce, with a living room that was perfect for
performances. We had that as a performance space. Rafael had studied
pantomime in San Francisco. There were many of us who were very
enthusiastic, and our real goal was to build a school of contemporary
arts in Puerto Rico. But the only thing we could do was be consistent
in presenting our work. The school would never materialize, but we
continued giving performances. Merian would also come to give
workshops, and incorporate us into performances, when she would
visit on vacations. We received a good reaction from people, which of
course were all of our friends. I feel this pushed all of us to start working
on other projects. We were so convinced that we wanted to do our
work. We were not even saying we were doing something new...we
were just representing another way that we had found to work. This
way everyone had something to do and say and bring to the work...it
was a really collective work.

It was about 1981 then. This was the beginning of the group "Pisot6n,"
when we were working at Casa Aboy, the house of cultural activist
Ram6n Aboy, located in the area of Miramar. This was his family's house,
and no one was using it. So he organized the cultural center, and
different art expressions were presented in that small, experimental
context. It was really like a cultural "clubhouse." We worked there for
eight to ten years consistently. It was a house known also for housing
people who were very political. Many people came in and out, but we
kept a nucleus of about five people and the others were invited, invited
by Petra Bravo. She is a Cuban who has lived in Puerto Rico for many
years. She was trained in classical ballet in Cuba, part of the Ballet
Nacional de Cuba. She had been experimenting with classical ballet
and modern dance in Miami, developing her own style with her


company "Fusi6n." She was invited to work with us, first of all because
we were looking for people who had experience in different arts, so
that we could share that. She would venture more in doing group
choreographies. Three or four of us were the core of people: Petra,
playwright and actress/director Maritza P6rez Otero, actor/singer/
dancer Jorge Arce, choreographer/dancer Gloria Llompart and myself.

JR: Tell me more about your work there, and your interest in locating
performance in different places when you started working at Casa Aboy,
is there one piece that was your first work, or your signature work for that

ASD: I was always the one to use more non-traditional spaces. I was
always looking for places to hide, and I could surprise the audience. I
was always looking to do things unexpectedly, to leave them looking
for where I was going to leave them looking for where I was going
when they thought I was coming back and I would never come back!
I was starting to feel that I could play with the audience, rather than
giving them everything. I wanted them just to follow me and at that
time I found myself in power because I knew I had the power to get
their attention. So I started to play with them, and moving them from
place to place, leaving some people standing and some people sitting.
And the structure of the house provided for that, it had a porch here, a
set of stairs there, a second floor where you could begin speaking and
then come down and small spaces like under the stairs, where you
could begin a performance. I was in love with a friend, a guy who was
very connected with nature and so was I. So one night I was looking
outside and it was a full moon, so I called him and said, "Manolo, I
called you so you can see the moon..." Manolo: Anoche te llamd para
que vieras la luna. And I found that so beautiful that I used that as the
title. It was a very intimate piece, where I was dealing with an empty
frame. I had found a frame, I think it was like six feet by six feet, on the
street and when I saw this frame, I saw myself going in and out. And I
said I don't know what I am going to do with it, but I am taking this
frame and I am going to start going in and out to see what happens. So
I took it right to Casa Aboy, because that was the only place I could
have it! It didn't fit in my house, so I put it there and I started working
the piece right there. And since I was working with an awkward sense
of balance, instead of placing the frame on the floor, or on a horizontal
line, I hung it from the tip, which made a huge diamond, it made it
bigger. And it was supposed to barely touch the floor so that if I touched


it, it would turn. I worked more on the prop than on the actual piece,
because I wanted to see myself reacting to the movement also of the
frame. And I was accompanying that, I was humming the opening
segment of a Brazilian Bachianas.. .the same voice is like an undulating
line so I used that as my motivation to start the dance.

JR: And you were humming as a score?

ASD: Yes, I was humming at the same time and I was sitting in a chair
inside the frame, with my back to the audience. And so I would start
like drawing a line like that, and go around the table and stop again,
and while this was happening the chair sat there, and I did the
movements in and out in silence and I finished by putting a vase, or
something on the chair. If it was ten minutes, it was a long piece! But
it was very well received. And I had very subtle lighting also, I only had
a lamp that was hitting the floor, so I was almost in darkness. That was
the first piece I presented in Casa Aboy as a solo artist. The rest of the
program was all the people doing their thing, and mostly
group...collaborations and group pieces.

JR: What year was this solo presented?

ASD: It was 1982. Because it was the first presentation that we did at
Casa Aboy and it was PACKED. It was really, really packed. The balcony
was packed and people were looking kind of in the windows and some
people went to the stairs so they could see. It was really, amazing, it
was packed. We did it for two or three weekends, for a start that was a
hit. It was very interesting, because we had all kinds of criticism, which
varied from the best things to the worst. But most of the people, when
we got the bad criticism started to be very worried. And I said to
them, "Why are you worried? It is understandable they don't
understand what we are doing, it is only us that do. It is new! I think
what is important is that we don't get that personal. Don't worry about
the audience. Look at the people that were here, they liked it. That is
what we need. So the critics don't understand it what are we going to
do?" I was never worried about a bad review if I felt good about what I
was doing. If I didn't like it, I was the first one to be very critical. But if
I felt good about what we were doing, I never felt threatened by critics.

JR: I think that is very important if you are satisfied, you should let
those things fall away.

ASD: Oh, yes, yes.


JR: How did you feel empowered by these improvisational forms?

ASD: Because some people were not used to improvisation they had
to have everything set, they were very much afraid, they would think
that improvisation was like being lazy or doing things with no
responsibility, but I would come back to myself. For them to be at ease,
I would always present a structure, and say "But remember, it can
change...". Probably I would decide to change something, and this gave
me the opportunity to have confidence in myself, and to start expressing
with clarity what I wanted to do. This was also when I really began
making solos for myself. I felt threatened working with groups, I felt I
didn't have enough vocabulary and I didn't have the craft I have never
taken composition and I decided to do solos. I was very at ease
working with solo pieces.

And when working with solo pieces, I was working with gestures most
of the time, and because at this time I was thirty years old, I never
developed such technique as high extensions. I was more interested in
working with the upper body and I started connecting with my painting.
That was a real breakthrough. I started feeling that my body was doing
movement the painting I was doing was abstract expressionism and I
was standing in front of my surface and just moving my arm. But I did
not know I was moving my arm I was looking at what the movement of
the arm was doing on the surface in terms of mixing colors. But all of
the sudden, I connected that what I was doing with movement had a lot
to do with what I was doing in painting. In time, I wanted to move that
painting as three-dimensional space, and that forced me to want to move
in very large spaces. But I couldn't do that at the time, because I wanted
to work, to paint straight on the wall something that no one would
allow me to do in a gallery? Forget it! When in Puerto Rico they didn't
let me work my painting as big as I wanted, and paint straight on the
walls, I decided I was going to dance with the elements of painting. Then
that gave me a more solid structure. Even when improvising, I understood
that what I was looking for was self-expression in painting I never did a
sketch, I always attacked the surface with color. Now, I could dance as I
was painting and I could use as much space as I wanted with my gestures
because my body became the instrument. When I started choreographing
as a painter, with the painting experience in my mind, and not the body
of a dancer, I really started to use more space and really compose I was
thinking of different types of line, different types of texture, about depth
and about tones.


JR: [Later, Awilda clarified a few more influences on her work,
particularly related to design...]

ASD: Sometimes I don't have specific images for a set but I often
have images of color. I work the set in terms of changes in color. I
often need three-dimensional objects in the space. I need spaces that
you move around, to enter the spaces they create. And they determine
what path and what interaction I am going to have with them.
Sometimes they have a specific role of breaking the space into different
areas, or something specific, say, to the work. But then also, I can
work in a very empty space where the mood is changed with changes
of color.

JR: In the early 1990s, you were working with a folk dance company.
Were you starting to work with groups? What was the company's name?

ASD: That is a long, long name. I mention it because I am not very good
with names! Ballet Folkl6rico Contempordneo de Caguas. And when I
say "group," it was eighteen people. Nine couples. Because those
companies, they are very gender oriented and the participants were
paid by the city....part of the government, and funded. I started
choreographing on the side, things more consonant with my view with
the two or three who were willing to work with me at that time. And
because they already knew their choreographies, and then I would work
with them and I had a very good assistant working their
choreographies with a different touch. And the good thing was that we
always...most of the time, worked with live music, and that allowed
me to do those changes. I could use the live music to add things... I
could play more. So I felt more comfortable working with them. The
last work I did with them I did not know it would be my last but then
I had to resign because at that time I was starting to travel a lot and
they were not giving me enough time to travel. And I said, "If I don't
travel, my work won't grow. So if you cannot allow me to travel, I have
to resign." They didn't want me to go, but I said, "I'm leaving and what
we can do is if you want me here, you can give me a contract and I can
come from time to time, but I cannot stay, because I need time for
myself." So I ended up choreographing a more theatrical concept
dealing with what I had learned from the beginning, from Sylvia del
Villard, and the African dances and making from that a vignette of
different moments in the history of Puerto Rican song and dance; much
of the inspiration for this came from the African community in Puerto
Rico. It was a very successful presentation because it was not like




what they were used to doing. Usually, every time that they would
finish a dance they would take a bow. The audience felt very awkward
because they had to decide to clap or not. So we went in transitions,
very clean transitions from one thing to the other until the end and
there was this silence, because they were not sure if it was over...and
then the audience responded very, very positively. And then, I also
had the opportunity to work solos with the performers they were so
at my mercy, in that piece. I could work group pieces, but I also could
do duets and trios. It was very nice.

JR: And what was the name of that piece?

ASD: It was "Poemario Baila'o y Bombea'o pa' Sylvia y Pales." Luis
Pales-Matos, is the poet that she [Sylvia del Villar] praised the most.
Pales, a Puerto Rican poet, and very prominent in the 1930s... was the
first Puerto Rican poet to do a whole work on the African presence in
Puerto Rico. And his poetry is very rhythmic, so she used his poetry
to make dances to, and to stand out that specific way that rhythm is a
part of African languages. She was very fond of him and because he
was so into bringing that African presence...most of the poetry she
worked with was from Pal&s-Matos. So I was doing something like an
homage to her, to his work. I took her original script, that was mostly
all the poems and the dances and something from a story, and I
condensed it. And I used different rhythms that identified each poem
with a specific Caribbean island. So it was a nice variation of rhythms
and also a good variation in terms of the movements. And it was
significant because I had to do workshops with them first, I had to do
release technique, I had to do some yoga, I had to do this in many
sessions so they could really get into it, but it was very pretty. Very
pretty! But since then I have not choreographed a group piece, again.
But I think now one is coming to me.

JR: Name some other works you have done, and the spaces you worked
in...what was influencing you when you returned to Puerto Rico?

ASD: I did "Aqui y ahora," an extended version, in 1982 and that was at
the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture in San Juan. That was the first
time I choreographed for a stage. After that, Viveca VAzquez came to
Puerto Rico to present a piece that was called Asignaci6n de baile
[Dance Assignment]. She wanted me to participate and she called and
gave me the instructions. I also was designing the flyer, the publicity.
So I started working with Viveca in that manner. I could see at that


time she had developed a language for herself, that she had grasped
enough language as a tool to choreograph a group piece. I said to
myself, "am I going to do that? I don't think so..." and I kept running
away from creating group works. So every time that she invited me to
work on her pieces, I separated myself as a dancer until I understood
what she wanted me to do as an element of her work. How she would
choreograph also helped me understand many of the elements I didn't
know how to manage in a group. Now, just now, I am venturing into
groups just three, and that is too much, with myself always on the
outside. But working for example, with Petra Bravo and Viveca, I have
learned much; I have learned to accept that even if you know how to
choreograph, that it's not every day that you come with suitable
material to work with. That you do not have to really push yourself
- because we work in such a tight environment in terms of warmth and
connection we learn to respect each other. When I was called to direct
a whole dance company, the Ballet Folkl6rico Contemporineo de
Caguas, because they needed an African-Caribbean component in the
company, I found that I had to live with the whole repertory that they
had, because they had many dances from different places in Puerto
Rico. Because I brought a different approach to choreographing, I had
to rethink everything. I started by respecting and acknowledging what
they had done. Some of the choreographies were, in my opinion, awful,
but I never told them because they considered them good and they
had been performing for many years. So I started by telling them that
my approach to choreographing is not what you are doing all the time.
First of all, the kinds of dances you are used to doing are not the dances
I am doing for myself, but I do know about these dances enough to
remake them with what I know. Because if I am going to direct now, I
have to put the seal of my personality there and if you agree, we can
work and if you don't agree, I won't be able to work. So I started, before
teaching them anything I was called to teach them, I started playing
with their pieces, by changing partners, changing or delaying entrances.
At first it was very awkward, and I think they even hated me. But when
they started to feel that they could have a good time remaking what
they were doing, then I started teaching new material. This was in

JR: And then you created "Vejigante Decrepito?" Several dance writers
and critics have mentioned this work of yours can you elaborate on
your process and its influences?


ASD: "Vejigante" was created in 1999. When I was painting as a way of
expressing myself the choices I make...they are not intellectually
planned. They are more the energy of how I see and what I see at the
moment. How do I want to break into that how do I break into the
elements that are present in the tradition to extend it into something
more contemporary? I want to break the concept of folklore as static.
I am uncomfortable with folklore as static. What I can feel is that there
are principles that evolve around people, and they change with time,
but I am trying to break that space or formation that folklore brings to
culture and bring it to a more accessible space. For "Vejigante," I had a
wire sculpture of a vejigante and it was beginning to corrode because
of the weather in San Juan and it was very corroded and breaking down.
A metaphor for African culture in Puerto Rico is "disappearance"- it is
crumbling down. This is a short piece about the crumbling of the
essence of the culture this vejigante is very much away and apart
from its original meaning. I wanted to keep challenging attitudes of the
vejigante.. .they can venture to do whatever they want. I was using those
elements of the vejigante, but using the female body, breaking gender
patterns, bringing all those elements together with my contemporary

JR: Will you discuss your decision to use blackface in this performance?

ASD: Originally, I had a half mask, but had to come up with another
option. An African person with the black face was something that was
very much used in the African context. I was not using it as an ethnic
commentary. I was using it more in aesthetic terms, to represent the
absence of expression, a mask over my face, "you are not you," but
you are the mask the absence of something in the theory of color,
black can be the mixture of all colors or the absence of light. In the
end, all the elements really worked to speak about ethnicity and that
was what the work conveys and provokes in people.

JR: And you did a work in 2002 based on migration? Can you describe
your installation of the piece, and more about your creation? I think you
mentioned that it was inspired by a woman who arrives in New York,
displaced and terrified?

ASD: The name of the piece on migration was "Esto fue lo que trajo el
barco" [This is What the Boat Brought In]. The story behind this piece
starts the year before, the first night I did a piece at BADD [Bronx
Academy of Arts and Dance.] It was a shared concert with the group


Universas. I was working with my son and my brother. Well, both of
them are percussionists, but my brother is a master drummer. So I
was using him to help me structure...a piece structured by rhythms
from different surfaces. One time I heard him hitting on the table, and
I said, "I want that for my piece."

So they were doing this and at the same time, they were playing
rhythm with their voice. And when the Universas group saw, when we
had our rehearsal and they saw what I was doing, they said, "Hey, we
are doing more or less the same thing," because I did a very simple, a
very practical installation, they said, "Can we use your elements?" And
I said "okay, why not." And it proved to be a very successful night. So
I told her, [Jane Gabriel, Associate Director of Pepatian], "Jane, what
about working a full work with them, in collaboration?" and then Jane
said, "Yes, I think it is fabulous," but it didn't work. For so many reasons
it didn't work as well, because they [Universas] are better known in
the Bronx than I am, the person who went to video took more of what
they were doing because while they were performing, I was doing my
movement between them.

I was trying to work there that sensation of luggage and...usually, and
this is very comical, even today there are so many types of luggage,
from the most expensive to the cheapest, that I don't know why Puerto
Ricans like to put our things in boxes. When I fly, and that is why it is
most important with Puerto Ricans, what you see at the airport are
boxes and boxes and boxes. Because they buy things to give to people,
to the families, and they carry it in boxes. And I do like boxes a lot,
even in my visual work, in my visual arts work, I work with boxes. I
wanted to deal with boxes as the main element representing migration,
in different sizes and different shapes. I was not going to be here during
the time the installation was ready, I was going to be here one day after
the installation was going to be done and one day before the show. So
I called these two friends, Benji Rosen and Gadiel Rivera, because I
had worked with them before, to see how they could interpret that
migration process with the elements we were working with. And it had
to be using found objects, I didn't want to buy anything, it had to be
everything that they found, that they could find. So, I didn't have any
idea, they didn't send me anything, they didn't call me, but I was
confident. The day that I came, the whole room was set, and it was
very beautiful in a sense, but very strong, because they had put all the
boxes hanging at different levels from the ceiling and in the small space


that was in the basement of the Bronx museum. There is a huge room
there, I don't know whether they use it but it is a beautiful square room,
big room, with a stage. So right on stage they rebuilt, New York
buildings, with stacking boxes, of different sizes, like a New York skyline.
So what I did, was enter to the space, like a person...my whole
movement centered on looking at the high-rise buildings and being
very confused and carrying many boxes. So I don't know what to do
with the boxes, and I go to this building where I am supposed to be
living. And the whole time while I am doing my movement, they are
singing from different spots. There are five of them, so there are five
spotlights; each of them has a microphone...Universas. The person
who was videotaping, concentrates on them, so most of my movement
was lost. We didn't have a dress rehearsal, at the time that we started
my rehearsal...the person did what she could, and the video is not
good. So to me, that is lost. This was supported by Pepatian, in the
"Jump It Up Series," in 2002.

JR: What about the photo you showed me can you speak about that
work the title, set, costumes?

ASD: "Shining Star of the Caribbean" in a sense.. .is the way of speaking
about going back, so you can push further. The set was...boxes of
different shapes.. .a small mountain that I am behind. The music was a
jazz score, "The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady," it's divided into
movements, each one represented some kind of human condition. The
music is by Charles Mingus. All the sounds were very distorted... no
single instrument could be identified. The character could not find
balance she was wearing a very high heel, only one. The first part is
very abstract a character, first time to use a character, costumes/wig
- transforming myself. Another kind of mask, into the image of a
prostitute which represented Puerto Rico available to whoever
wanted to use her. Here I show myself losing my mind, by constantly
changing my identity, and the movements around many boxes -
looking for things in the boxes, taking off and putting on many items.
The last piece of garments and costumes I use refers to female African
dress. The character finds more stability, more strength in her stance
and balance and I am using elements of a warrior, Ogfin. I was creating
a metaphor for Puerto Rico in a stage of abandonment...going back to
the traditions that made Puerto Rican identity not as a solution but
as an alternative going back to those ideas and traditions for
information, really creating characters. The only things I carry are the


costumes I bring the piece to life using items found in the space in
which I am performing. This was during a tir>- when a lot of people
were living on the streets in boxes, many homeless.

JR: Is this the last work that you did with "Jump It Up," or have you done
something else since then?

ASD: Yes, it is. You see, "Jump It Up" is usually in the spring. I have
done other things with Jane, in BADD, but in concepts that were
sponsored by other programs.. .such as the Latino Performance Series.
There, I presented a work that I worked on separately, which is
experimenting with traditional Yoruba dance, Yoruba religious dance
and more experimental qualities. That piece is called "Circles of the

JR: Is this something you want to expand?

ASD: Yes, that is the one I want to expand into a group piece.

JR: But you did it first as a solo?

ASD: Yes, first as a solo. Yes, because you know, I have to feel it first.
And then later I decide how I want to distribute it to other people.



Duprey-Sterling, Awilda. Performance of "Vejigante Decr6pito" as part
of the "Teatro, Danza, Performance u Otro?," sponsored by the
University of Puerto Rico and the National Endowment for the
Humanities Summer Seminar on Caribbean Theater and Cultural
Performance on June 30, 2003.
Workshop Taller de Danza Afro-Caribefia, 21-24 July, 2003.
Oral History Interview by Julia Ritter on 22 July 2003.
Oral History Interview Julia Ritter on 9 December 2003.

Who Is Eating Whom?:
Canibal es el Mundo

Margarita Espada Santos
Stony Brook University
John Lutterbie,
Stony Brook University
ne foot seeks an avenue of escape when a drop of blood hits it.
The other foot rubs the spot away as more blood falls
splattering, again, the first foot and then the other. Efforts to
wipe the feet clean succeed only in spreading it. There is, in the end,
no way to get rid of the blood. A limbless torso is embraced as one
would an infant, but is shifted onto the back, becoming a burden of
love and shame that can never be put down. These images are from
Teatro Yerbabruja's production of Canibal es el Mundo, created by
Puerto Rican performing artist Margarita Espada-Santos. Writing as the
United States and Britain invade Iraq to establish a base of imperial
power in the Middle East and to gain control of oil and water resources
that are the lifeblood of the Iraqi people and bordering Arab countries,
clearly it is salutary to raise the question of cannibalism in the age of
globalization. Canibal es el Mundo cannot speak for the victims, but
addresses our complicity in crimes against humanity, from genocide
to the everyday, that allow us to write/read this in relative comfort.
Cannibalism, according to The Oxford English Dictionary, is "the
practice of eating the flesh of one's fellow-creatures" or, figuratively,
"bloodthirsty barbarity." It has been practiced as a sign of respect to
the dead, passing the life-energy of the deceased to the living; as an
insult of final degradation to a foe; as the only means of survival; and
as part of a ritual of regeneration. There are also less literal and more
figurative ways of thinking about cannibalism these are the primary
focus of this article. In addressing the work of Teatro Yerbabruja, we
look at the relation between the animate body and the stilled body of


the victim, at the symbiotic relationship of the living and the "to-be-
Margarita's first improvisatory explorations of the subject of Canibal
encountered a silence, an inability to find words to express the complex
and contradictory impulses emerging from contemplation. Nor did the
body, as a whole, respond to the urge to investigate. Only parts of the
body entered into conversation with each other, as if cut off from the
desiring whole. The feet were the first to engage the discourse, and
then the drop of blood was imagined. From there Canibal became a
piece for two performers and a mannequin, with multi-media
projections, tracks of everyday sounds, and a text provided by a poet/
Cannibalism, for whatever purpose, depends on the death of another
person, whether literal or figurative, and the extraction of value, use,
or surplus, for the continued well-being of the one who consumes.
Neither Margarita nor Petra Lammers (the other performer) nor Rafael
Acevedo (the poet and dramaturge) sought to tell the story of the victim
because in the act of devouring another, that person has no voice. At
the core of cannibalism there is a silence, no longer a life to be told, no
longer a voice desiring to be heard. To speak about cannibalism is
always to speak from the point of view of the survivor whose story
continues because of another's absence. To move and speak, to be
animate in the presence of the one-to-be-eaten, is to mock and revere
the stillness of the corpse.
Initially the piece described here was to be a solo work, with
assistance only from the mannequin. Working in New York, Margarita
did not have the community of actors with whom to work as she does
in Puerto Rico. However, Petra Lammers, a German student studying
at Stony Brook University, asked to work with Margarita. With two
performers, the work increased in complexity. The mechanical and
fragmentary movement style with which Petra was most comfortable
contrasted productively with the more centered, martial arts-based
training of Margarita. Moreover, the European body contrasted in size
and color with that of the latina. For Margarita, Petra served as an
alter ego, expressing the recognition of her complicity. For Petra, the
performance became an engagement with her being German and that
history, which manifest itself in an almost absolute resistance to
touching the mannequin a shame that needed to be overcome.
In Canibal the corpse is ever present in the form of a mannequin not
the idealized form from the shop window, but an emaciated, withered
body, painted over with a map of the world, laid out on a banquet


table, surrounded by ripe fruit. Petra, dressed in a close fitting, beaded
helmet, blouse with full sleeves, black mini-skirt and stiletto heeled
shoes, tends the body in expectation of VIP diners who will feast on
the flesh. While waiting, she opens the cavity of the stomach, and with
dainty sophistication samples a morsel. Later she reaches into the torso
and extracts a sandwich and a bottle of Coca Cola and takes a drink,
but instead of drinking symbolic blood, she could just as well pull out
clothing, computer chips and other objects produced by sweat shop
labor, by women and children who are fired if bosses believe they do
not work sufficiently well, persons who lose their jobs, jobs without
benefits, when they become ill. Petra pulls a blood-red ribbon from an
opening in the cranium and wraps it around her neck like a boa,
completing the fashion statement. These grizzly and symbolic acts are
performed with nonchalance and a proprietary solipsism that echoes
the projected images, underscoring the arrogance of power, daily
violence in the Middle East, and the uncaring exploitation of those
whose need is desperate by any standards. What might have been
shown, were the image available, is the United States testing the MOAB
(the acronym for the "mother of all bombs"), a twenty-one ton liquid
explosive that sucks the oxygen out of any living thing as it disintegrates
all structures in the circle of its destruction. And the corpse in its
impenetrable silence lies on the table, sere and flayed, while Petra,
confronting the magnitude of her acts and in repetition of an earlier
action performed by Margarita, vomits blood.
Margarita undergoes a series of transformations, morphing from
sweatshop worker, to businessman, to Argentinean woman, to member
of the military, and then to indigenous woman/warrior. The clickety-
click of the sewing machine takes us to her as a young girl feeding the
material under the needle making garments for pennies a day and brings
to life an alter ego, dressed in designer clothes and a beaded cloche. A
businessman with a brief case for a head recognizes the effects of
exploitation on the working poor, but realizes it is too late and chooses
to commit suicide rather than live with his failure. An Argentinean
mother in the Plaza de Mayo cries for her country and for her children,
"Where is my country? Where are my children?" A member of a military
junta circles the body, reaches into the stomach, comes out with oil on
his hands and begins stabbing at the fruit with a bayonet blood runs
off the table and onto the floor. A native woman with the soul of a
warrior cries at the side of the body, pulls its heart from the cavity and
eats it, rubbing the blood onto her face and hair, and then onto the
face of Petra.


The text comes primarily from the poetry of Rafael Acevedo.
Margarita had e-mailed him the first images of the improvisations so
that he could consult them while writing "Who eats whom?":

Quien se come a quin
No precisamente las 60 millones de campesinas e indigenas
Que produce la mitad de los alimentos del mundo pero los hijitos
se les van muriendo de hambre.
4Quien se come a quin?

[Who eats whom?
Precisely not the 60 million farm and indigenous workers
Who produce half the world's food even as their children die of hunger.
Who eats whom?]

These words are repeated in an improvisatory whisper throughout
the opening of the piece, as the young woman seeks to wipe the blood
from her feet. The text of the poem serves throughout the performance
as a resonating chamber, framing the movement patterns of the
character, linking words to gesture, to the intensities of the character
and to the overriding need to speak about the issues. The language
used, in turn, was juxtaposed to a sound track of everyday noises,
interspersed with the sounds of gunfire and children playing, and in
turn was accompanied by images of the Palestinian and Israeli conflict,
a conflict that had heightened in intensity at the time of the
performance. A phrase of words from the text appeared on the screen:
the words feeding on themselves.
Canibal es el Mundo pushes the boundaries of performance by
disrupting systems of expectation. Most Dance-Theatre, a form that
emphasizes character, action and intention in dance, is still primarily
interested in how the body shapes and is shaped by space. While there
are narrative elements, its principal content focuses on the investigation
of the body in its social-cultural context and is structured as a set of
variations on a theme, often at the intersection of quotidian movement
and various dance techniques. One thinks of Bill T. Jones and his use
of non-dancers, or the works of Pina Bausch. Idealized forms are
replaced by the expressive qualities of the socialized body, introducing
subjectivity into the process of formal objectification. Much dance-
theatre, while evolving into a distinct genre, blends aspects of theatre
into dance, which, while frequently discordant in quality, seeks to
minimize contradiction as a form. On the other side of the equation,


theatre has frequently explored its physical roots in movement but
resisted categorization as a form fully integrating dance. When dance
forms are included they are generally perceived as a distinct part of
the production rather than seen as integral to it. While theatre,
especially in the work of LeCoq, Barba and Grotowski, has emphasized
the absolute centrality of the physical body in movement, there has
not been a conscious attempt to create a "dancerly" theatre, like that
evident in many Eastern forms of performance. Teatro Yerbabruja,
perhaps closer to the theatre of Reza Abdoh, incorporates dance but
does not attempt to pass it off as theatre nor does it try to create a
hybrid between dance and theatre. Instead, the focus is on tensions
between the two modes of performance in the structure and the
performer's body, preferring to use the disjunction of forms as a
thematic leitmotif, underscoring, in the case of Canibal, resonance
between the indeterminacy of the two genres and the ambivalent
relationship to cannibalism in the age of globalization.
Resistance to categorization in genre also takes on aesthetic
dimensions. For instance, the mise en scene pays attention to line and
color, which along with the media projections, constructs a visual
experience that pays homage to aesthetic expectations of the audience.
This contrasts starkly with the violent content of the images and
dismembering of the body/mannequin. The body movements and
gestures use the same equation, although it is less inherently obvious.
The tall, thin body of Petra, dressed to accentuate certain cultural
expectations of seduction, brings to mind images of a Barbie Doll. In
contrast, her movements are angular rather than curvilinear, shifting
attention from the lithe form of the performer to the mechanical
limitations of the hard plastic joints of a toy. The interplay of the
seductive and the grotesque reaches its apogee when she vomits blood
- an act that underscores her humanness and contradicts the toy
qualities of her persona. Similarly, the businessman, still with a briefcase
for a head, is at first humorous, but generates an unexpected degree of
sympathy as he searches for direction and panics at being late,
movements that culminate in an unexpected suicide.
The precision and the technical sophistication of the movement,
occupying the margins of dance and theatre but never choosing one
over the other, continue the dynamic of attraction/repulsion that
defines the political aesthetics at work in Canibal. The conjunction of
aesthetics and politics has a long and troubled history. The principal
argument being that aesthetic pleasure is incommensurate with political
action. The former depends on an excess of feeling and is an end in


itself, while the latter requires a frustration of the desire for that feeling
if the recognition of the need for change is to be nurtured. This tension
underlies Brecht's work and his search for the proper balance between
the culinary and the act of estrangement. If, as Brecht argued, political
engagement requires a different way of seeing, one that necessitates a
stepping out of the river of normative expectations to gain a new
perspective on the flow of everyday life, then one must first be in the
river. The question is, then, how do you get the audience in a position
to see differently. This is a question that plagued Brecht's practice, at
least from the audience's point of view. The standard critique of Brecht
was that his theory was not realized in practice. The silent scream of
Helen Weigel in Mother Courage may have been an example of rendering
the familiar unfamiliar, but for many audiences its impact was visceral,
lacking the political critique Brecht sought.
Since then Brecht's theories have been appropriated to the extent
that acts of de-familiarization are now the bread and butter of
advertising promoting capitalist consumerism. There have been
attempts to regain control of the theory by seeking modes of
performance that are currently inaccessible to popular culture. For
example, the engagement with physical pain that underlies the work
of Bausch (however illusory in execution) or the performances of the
Viennese Action group, the Artaudian excoriations of Karen Finley, of
the levitations of Stelarc, the masochistic piercing of Bob Flanagan or
the conscious surgeries of Orlan, provide a map of efforts to regain
access to estrangement as a means of political critique. The difficulty
each encountered in different ways treads a fine line between spectator
voyeurism and alienation, a difficulty so extreme that the process of
critique is foreclosed. Teatro Yerbabruja approaches this problem by
encouraging the audience to enter into a series of dialectics based on
expectations of an unsettling aesthetics. Is this dance or theatre? Is
this a child's toy or a dangerous cyborg? Is this an indigenous latina
mother or a cannibal? Tensions propagate on the promise of pleasure
and the resolution in meaning. The seduction is never gratuitous,
however, because the underlying seriousness the image of the to-be-
eaten, the inhumane images of war, the threatening sounds of the
environment, the precision of the technique body forestalls any
giving over to desire.
The deferred resolution suspended between competing potentials
that are never fully promised or provided in opportunities for release
are punctuated by images that resist the satisfaction of synthesis. The
suicide, the stabbing of the fruit, and the consequent flowing of blood,


the eating of the heart and the vomiting of blood -these occurrences
acknowledge another reality that is contingent upon but does not
resolve questions embedded in these dialectics, rather they reveal the
relative inconsequence of the questions raised by the dialectics. When
it comes to what is forfeited in the presence of the corpse, we are
reminded of what Giorgio Agamben identifies as "basic life": life that
cannot be sacrificed but can be killed. The specificity and violence of
the images, it is hoped, will be sufficiently searing to imprint themselves
on the consciousness of the audience, to render memory unforgettable.
To be unforgettable does not merely mean it can be easily recalled, but
that it returns, unbidden, in a future context that bears a relationship
to the dialectics of the performance.
As suggested above, one more element in the performance of Teatro
Yerbabruja makes the images palatable and deepens their impression:
the recognition of complicity. The perpetrator of the crime that provides
the to-be-eaten is not some anonymous other, is not the responsibility
of audience, but is found first in the performers in their bodies and in
their ambivalent relationship to the silent body. The transformations
that Margarita makes, the sophisticated hostess awaiting dinner guests
portrayed by Petra, and the poetry of Rafael Acevedo that provides
the spoken text: these individuals make reference not to others who
perpetrate atrocity, but to themselves.

Pero mas valiera cosernos los pArpados para no ver, o si no se tiene
vocaci6n de martir, mirar al lado. ,Quien se come a quin?

[More worth our while to sew our eyelids so as not to see or if we don't
have the martyr's calling, look aside. Who is eating whom?]

Staging the History of a Colonial Limbo:
Choreographies of Meridn Soto

Jessica Adams
Tulane University

The birth or death of a baby is also observed with a dance; in the
latter case the dance may continue until the stench of the body
can no longer be tolerated although preparations may have been
made for a party of many days' duration.

-Fr. Inigo Abbad y Lasierra, "Usos y costumbres de los
habitants de esta isla," in Historia geogrdfica, civil y
political de la isla de San Juan Bautista de Puerto Rico,

Art. 1. Owners shall permit their slaves to entertain themselves
and enjoy virtuous forms of recreation on holidays (after having
heard mass and attended their lessons in Christian doctrine)
within the plantation and without mixing with slaves of other
plantations, in an open place in sight of their owners, managers,
and overseers.
Art. 2. These amusements and diversions are to be carried out
by men and women separately; the men in such contests of
strength as stone hurling, pole throwing, ball games, and bowls;
the women, separately, at forfeits and similar activities. All, the
men and women separately, may dance to their skin-headed
drums and other instruments used by bozales or to guitars or
vihuelas as played by criollos.
Art. 3. These diversions may continue only until sunset or until
the call to prayer.
Art 4. Owners and managers are especially charged with
exercising the greatest vigilance in preventing the intermixing


of the sexes, excessive drinking, and the participation of free
blacks and of slaves from other plantations.

-"Reglamento. Sobre la educaci6n, trato y ocupaciones que
deben dar di sus esclavos los duefios y mayordomos en esta
Isla." Num. 225. Puerto Rico. El 12 de agosto de 1826. Miguel
de la Torre.'

Dancing with the odor of death in the air. Sweat and stamping

feet. The end of a new life as properly marked by choreographies
that allow the bodies that remain living to access a form of
immortality. The dancers connect with a genealogy of gestural
knowledge that has crossed oceans. And though the dancers in this
Caribbean place are white-or more precisely, of Spanish descent-
their movements likely have not only originated in Europe-but,
through translocation, syncretism, and contact in many different
modes, have taken on other shades as well. Meanwhile, dance is also
recognized as a possible, if not probable, site of subversion, through
the sexuality of the enslaved, through communication that might enable
the overthrow of colonizers and enslavers-as in Haiti, just over twenty
years before-or at least destabilize contemporary structures of power.
The highly circumscribed leisure of slaves was rigorously constructed
as a spectacle by, and for, whites. But the whites, in their leisure, were
no less watched.
Fast-forward two centuries: having passed through Spanish
colonialism, slavery, and imperial struggles that negated its near-
achievement of independence, Puerto Rico emerges as "postnational,"
and also "prenational." News flash:

Current theoretical work is implicated in the postcolonial interrogations
of the exclusions and ideological ambiguities of the modern nation-state
and at the same time is responsive to the ideal and imaginary appeal of a
national construct STOP The premodern history of Puerto Rico-its ethnic
and cultural hybridity and its nonofficial forms of cultural expression (el
velloneo, la guachafita, el vacil6n) whose irony stops just short of open
revolt-already wants to deflate all formality and forced homogeneity
out of the national (self-) concept STOP Here already we find the

I Both epigraphs taken from Music in Puerto Rico, ed. and trans. by Donald
Thompson (Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2002), 13-14.


polyphonic perceptions of citizenship expressed more by way of tongue-
in-cheek grimaces than by behavioral obedience STOP Only in these terms
may we understand the persistence of the national at the level of desire
and the imaginary without recourse to either folklorization or imported
models STOP Moreover, longstanding and massive emigration to the
United States makes a strong diasporic sensibility, with its resultant
separation between nationality and territory, an integral part of the
national experience2 FULL STOP

We have, in essence, not simply a single "locus" but a kind of location
in motion. As Jorge Duany suggests, Puerto Rico can be seen as a
"naci6n en vaivin" 3 -in which the terms that we use to frame and
categorize the experience of twentieth and twenty-first century culture
and society are clearly shown to be in radical flux.4 One might be
forgiven for imagining Puerto Rican culture, on the island itself and in
the diaspora, as an entity dancing itself into being, and one would have
precedent; as Lisa Sanchez Gonzalez has argued,

salsa is this community in motion and metaphor, abstracted by lyric and
made flesh by rhythm, as it glides between...the whole context of its
immediate interaction-the dancing, improvisations, and joy we
experience, as well as the racism, exploitation, and sorrow we encounter
every day-and...a geo-philosophical projection of past, present, and
future possibilities, an audaciously hopeful realm that is just beyond reach
but so close you can feel it coming."5

Returning to the scenes with which I began, in which dance appears
as an embodiment of multiple histories and cultures at the same time,
and as a potential threat, we can see this expression of Puerto Rican

2 From Juan Flores and Maria Milagros L6pez, "Dossier Puerto Rico: Introduction,"
Social Text (Spring 1994), 93. Terms in capital letters added by author of this
3 The Puerto Rican Nation on the Move: Identities on the Island and in the United
States (Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 2002), 2, 4.
4 Puerto Rico was characterized by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1901 as "foreign
to the United States in a domestic sense"-a phrase that suggests not only what it
means to say, that Puerto Rico could not be conceived of as a real member of the
family-the domestic sphere could not contain it, it could not be imagined as existing
there-but also conveys the unintended sense that what is foreign is already in fact
part of the domestic sphere.
5 Boricua Literature: A Literary History of the Puerto Rican Diaspora (New York:
New York UP, 2001), 168.


culture as even more multi-layered. As a site of power and danger and
pleasurable leisure, it illuminates the complexities of pleasure and
leisure, as well as power and danger-suggesting how, in the New World
context, these modalities inflect one another endlessly. What happens,
then, when this overwrought signification condensed within a human
body takes the stage, literally?

Merian Soto Dance and Performance, World Financial Center Winter
Garden October 17, 2003

It was early evening in New York as I found my way through lower
Manhattan, along the Hudson, to the self-proclaimed World Financial
Center, an office complex containing a large and imposing
performance space. In the high-ceilinged atrium of the Winter Garden,
royal palms towered over the neat rows of folding chairs arranged facing
the platform stage. A lithe dancer rehearsed out of costume, moving in
taut, otherworldly leaps and dashes. Two young men paused at the
edge of the stage, captivated by the dancer's beauty even as their
expressions suggested that they dismissed this "modern dance" as
so much bullshit. Office workers watched her as they descended the
long elevator into the Winter Garden, by turns intrigued, bemused,
and compelled-then entered the performance themselves as they
crossed in front of the stage on their way out to the street. When the
lighting changed and the quasi-backstage was recreated as the stage,
these connections between the rehearsal's incidental audience, their
casual participation in the performance, the center of global
commerce where it all takes place-even the palm trees-remained
Soto's enactment and examination of Puerto Rican culture taking
place onstage beneath these imported palms (which strangely literalize
the dependency of postmodern capitalism on the labor and products
of places such as the Caribbean) foregrounds the not fully postcolonial
economic and social linkages between Puerto Rico and the United
States, which began with such soaring confidence on the part of the
new imperial power. "I...preached, with all the fervor and zeal I
possessed, our duty to intervene in Cuba, and to take this opportunity
of driving the Spaniard from the Western World," wrote Teddy Roosevelt
in his chronicle of the Rough Riders.6 The Spanish-American War would
bring Puerto Rico into the purview of the United States as a place that

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