“The Fifth Wall”: Marianela Boán and Contaminated Dance

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Interview with Marianela Boán, conducted by Abigail Levine. April 29, 2010. Sinaloa, Mexico. Translated from Spanish.

 

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Abigail Levine: How has Contaminated Dance evolved since you came to Philadelphia?

Marianela Boán: Well, I see two important things. The first is, obviously, the inclusion of technology, of video, within the show, its image, for the first time. In Cuba, I had decided not to do anything with those media because the necessary equipment didn’t exist there, what there was always broke. That was in the 80s. I tried to use video and said, “Here, it’s not possible.”

AL: But you were interested in it?

MB: All my life. We are talking about the year [1983] that I made a work called Nijinsky. I used video, but it was a disaster. Even though I had the luxury of having Padroncito [Juan Padrón, Cuban filmmaker—Vampiros en la Habana, etc.] edit my film... make me a film with images of Nijinsky, all at ICAIC [Instituto Cubano de Arte y Industria Cinematográficos]. It was, like, “Wow,”  but then there was no way to project it well, you know, old projectors and all that. At that point, I said, “I’m never using this stuff again in Cuba.” But video was already disquieting me a lot as an idea, as a phenomenon. I was living with this. I was already making another work that really needed video... also, there was the frustration of not having internet access. In Cuba, we lived with a scarcity of everything, which produces a thirst for all those things you don’t have. So, when I arrived in the U.S., to the MFA [completed in 2006 at Temple University], I focused in on that. I mean, one of the reasons that I left Cuba was because I couldn’t have access to the technology, and I felt limited. And I did not want to continue on like that.

Finally, then, I think this is the primary thing: that technology became one more element in the Contamination, along with theater, song, and all the rest. For example, in False Testimony, upon integrating technology, the contamination has become... has had new experiences. In False Testimony, it is a situation in which four artists of distinct disciplines participate in the action from their specific discipline, each expressive instrument is participating in a specific way--the musician with her cello, the videographer with the camera, the dancers with movement. All three are there, each using her particular vocabulary in the same situation. In this case, as a creator, it was like a kind of laboratory where two people are being checked, analyzed. And the cello, just as the camera, is used to spy, to provoke, to calm. This, then, is a completely new thing because it is not the same when it is the dancers who are singing and acting and all that. Using your instrument, your expressive language, maintaining it as it is, inserting it in a situation, sharing it in a situation. This was very important.

Each time I integrate technology, new things happen with the “contamination.” For example, in Voyeur, the idea was to incorporate the public into the scene, to break the fourth wall. And there, again, is another element. And, later, in Decadere, there was the idea of the abandoned office and the idea of having technology tossed around carelessly in the space. And there, I also incorporated the use of the microphone, the processing of sound live, the DJ on stage. There is a permanent microphone. So, now it is not only work with video, but I am also experimenting with the realm of sound. I mean, with every technological element that is incorporated, new possibilities open up in the Contamination. And possibilities for the interpreter to get to a much more distant place in the body. I mean, getting beyond that of the “dancer.” This was already a space opened in my work, but each time more and more.

AL: I read an interview that you did in Cuba where you said that you felt like you had to speak about the reality around you. Do you think that in your work in the U.S., for a North American audience, that they read and understand your work in a different way than a Cuban audience, or is it similar?

MB: No, I believe it’s similar. Moving here, I felt total censorship. I mean, I have not lost the sensation, being here, that I am being censored. For example, during the Bush government, it was almost like living in... It was so ideologically repressive because of the question of the war and American patriotism and all that. For example, in Voyeur, I used the “Instructions for Use in Case of a Chemical Attack”, a U.S. government document. It is an official text. I felt moments of “Wow, this could get me in trouble.” It is a powerful text. Another example is the nudity in False Testimony. I feel like there are places in the U.S. where I cannot use nudity. So, there are examples of moral censorship, and also ideological censorship, that I have felt perfectly clearly. And money directs and Christian morality imposes... So, I think my work continues moving, articulating ideology wherever it appears. I have felt with my pieces that the public here has had the same need to see their reality reflected, to have someone comment beyond what people are accustomed to art doing. Basically, audiences have received the work with great interest.

AL: I have felt that there is an a-politicism, if that’s what to call it... that a great deal of the work produced by the dance world here [in the U.S.] tries to exist in a world apart. But you have felt that audiences react to your work, making the connections between the work and its surroundings...

MB: Yes, they get it! They react. They laugh. They understand the codes, and they appreciate the work. The problem is that my sensibility is not going to change.

AL: As far as practical conditions--economic, the structure of the artistic community... Has it been a change being here?

MB: A total change, yes!

AL: And has it affected your work? Advantages? Disadvantages?

MB: Yes, it was a total change. It took me a lot of work to adjust to the system of production here, the conditions. At first, I started to do things as I had in Cuba. That is: find a space and people that want to work with me; get together and make works until I feel that they are good and show them to presenters until they program the pieces. I did that until I started to apply for and receive grants. At one point, I decided to create a non-profit. Lots of papers. They offered me a course in Arts Business. I found a lawyer. But in the end, I went back. Cuba-style. I hole myself up in a space and make things I like, and when I need money for something, I apply for a grant and that’s it.

AL: And it wasn’t easier in Cuba where you had your dancers and all that?

MB: Yeah, a thousand times easier. Of course, of course. Now I figured out the way to produce work here. It has been a lot of work, but when I want to make something here, I have a thousand people that want to work with me. If I have money at that moment to pay because I have a research grant, great. If not, the people who can’t work if they don’t get paid, don’t do it. I work with those who can and, at some point, they are going to start to earn money because, hopefully, the work is good and it gets presented. That’s what has happened up to this point. And each time I have more money. Often I ask for grants and they don’t give them to me, but normally... Now I am in the grants “system” here.

AL: And Cuba, does it remain a level of your work, of your thinking?

MB: I think it is a level that has passed, that I have now superseded. Not that that is better or worse, but I see myself as far away from that by now.

AL: What I was thinking of in particular was whether the themes that were a part of your work there continue to have a presence in the work now?

MB: For me, Cuba as a theme does not interest me. Not at all. There is nothing left to say. It doesn’t interest me to say any more about that, about that country, about that system because I don’t believe that anything is going to change, absolutely nothing. I feel very used. At some point I said, “If I continue talking about this, I am being an accomplice to it because I am sure that it is not going to change.” I spoke about these things because I thought they were going to change, that it was going in a positive direction. But when I saw that the negative direction was not going to change ever, I got tired of talking about the same thing. It didn’t interest me anymore. And being here, I have not spoken of being an emigré. I chose to leave Cuba because I wanted to, not because I had to. To the contrary, I left at the high point of my career. I was very free. I had absolutely no problems with Cuba. I left because I wanted to leave, to have another experience. Because of that, I don’t have the nostalgia of the immigrant, nor is immigration a problem for me at all. I don’t have any problem of that sort. As a theme, nothing.

What remains is that I see things here from the same point of view from which I looked at them in Cuba, the same need to speak about a place... I saw Obama and said, “And now? Now what?” It is the first time that I agreed with a president. Well, I was in agreement with Fidel until the 80s, until I began to feel like there was injustice everywhere... from then on, I became an artist of permanent opposition. When Obama was campaigning, I said, “I agree with all of this,” but then the [economic] crisis started... Decadere is a work of the crisis in the United States. It is like El pez de la torre in Cuba; it is the work of the crisis. Decadere is the work of the crisis of the Capitalist system. That’s why the title refers to decadence. In fact, I cite two previous works--Fast Food and El pez. Moments from these works are re-edited here. Fast Food and El pez were the works of the crises of ‘93 and ‘96, and this work is the work of the crisis now, and I re-use moments and cite them here in a new way. But always purposefully.

AL: And are you creating works with the hope that there will be change here [in the U.S.]?

MB: I think, by now, no. Let’s see, I think... how to explain it? This is a good question. I don’t know if I lost hope, the faith that art can change things. That’s it. I think that I lost that faith. Better said, what I always feel is the necessity to express things that are going on around me--pains, limitations on people, those I see, my own, like a permanent scream. The work doesn’t talk; it screams. Until I have found that scream, I cannot create anything. So, my work is always asking for help, but it is not that I think that it can change something. I don’t believe that, no. Show, I think it can show something, put forth a scream.

In Decadere, there is a lot about the question of culture, about multi-culturalism. I am analyzing cultural reactions to a particular situation. For example, in the U.S., the workplace seems to me a very oppressive space, very strange. And what happened for Latinos and Americans in that same space? What are their affective reactions? I am exploring the question of culture, but much more broadly than just Cuba, at the level of the Latino and American, the Anglo and the Latino.

AL: I heard you speak about being happy about presenting your works within Latino and Latin American cultural contexts...

MB: Yes, touring these works, bringing groups from the U.S. to Latin America, I feel that at intellectually, culturally, on a very small scale, I am supporting something. For example, Philadelphia, to bring people from that city to feel our culture from the inside. Yes, that makes me feel very good.

AL: And the next step. Where are you headed?

MB: I think, in my next work, I want to use computation of some kind, a form of processing of the image live, to work with digital design artists. There are very interesting people in Philadelphia working on Digital Art... not just having a laptop in the wings, but having a computer on the stage processing images. And how to incorporate this world so that it has the same process of incorporation into the action, that I can really contextualize it into the work. I mean, as a challenge to me: Get to the point of using these technologies, maintaining the same principles of construction, of dramaturgy, etc. I am very interested because I believe it is going to give new possibilities for presenting the dancer’s body on the stage... a new element that can enrich the work. I think that I have a need that drives this. I am very curious. I now know a lot about the cameras, projectors, but now I want... I want to learn a great deal about this, as well.

AL: And in terms of the effects of all this equipment on the body, especially on the trained body of the dancer, what is it that interests you? How do you see this?

MB: Well, the first thing is that it can be like a cinematographic version parallel to the version on stage. I always envied film a lot. Film can get to certain levels, get into the body at some levels that I can’t do on stage. And that is what has fascinated me in relation to the movement and the body--that you can see the granules of the dancer. How does a granule dance? How does a pore dance? You know, that thing of seeing the dance the way the camera offers it to you. The camera offers new perspectives on the choreography, on the body itself.

AL: But it also changes the behavior of the body, both being seen and also, as I felt in False Testimony, working the camera changes how one moves.

MB: That’s true. There are a set of behaviors when a dancer is being filmed--the relation with the image. I mean, new points of view, new focus, perspectives. It is like a fifth wall, a fifth wall... It is a fifth wall that you have awareness of or not. I mean, there are the four walls and one more wall that the image brings. That just occurred to me. Ah, the interview should be called “The Fifth Wall.”

AL: Yes! For sure. One last one... Dance as the center of your work. It is just because it is?

MB: Yes, it is because it is, because I believe in the body as the source of expression, as a primordial source. That’s the thing. I mean, for me, I’ve always maintained that. It seems that there is an energy in the body. It’s not mental; it comes from memory, from memory that, you know, begins way, way out there, it begins... The body is full of memories past and future, so... I believe in the truth in the body... The body as energy of all types, coming from other expressive elements. And when I say “the body”, I do not mean just the physical body, the motivating body, the mental body... the body as the base of expression. And beyond that, that theory that I have that the dancer who has educated her body so fully, therefore, has a special sensitivity that allows her to use the voice, as well... whatever element she wants from that sensitive body... y ya.

 

Additional Info

  • Título: “The Fifth Wall”: Marianela Boán and Contaminated Dance
  • Fecha de presentación: 29 April 2010
  • Location: Sinaloa, Mexico
  • Entrevistado/a: Marianela Boán
  • Entrevistador/a: Abigail Levine
  • Idioma: inglés, español