Sunday, March 30, 2014

The Definition of Magic: By Katie Jones

I just had the privilege to direct The Definition of Magic, a thesis project for Kebrina Josefina DeJesus, who will graduate from Naropa University’s MFA/Contemporary Performance program in May. It was an amazing experience, for several reasons. First of all, I was collaborating directly with Kebrina to do research, devise theatrical moments, and create a script. It was a daily battle over ideas and images, but in the best way, because we both cared about the piece, and the people we were representing within it. Kebrina and I also have balanced strengths and weaknesses – she is a movement/dance genius and a courageous actor, and I have a more dramaturgical and storytelling mind. So we achieved something together that neither person could have done alone. We also worked with an ensemble of nine people in the Boulder community, to train them in Naropa’s post-modern theatre techniques – Viewpoints, Somatic Movement, Roy Hart Vocal Work, Suzuki, Presence Work, etc. And, along with music director Ben Christiansen, the ensemble also learned Bomba.

Bomba is a music and dance tradition of Puerto Rico that originated in the 1700s. At that time, there was a convergence of cultures between the Tainos (natives of the island), the Spanish settlers, and their African slaves. Eventually, as these cultures meshed, the Boriqua race, and Bomba, were born. In Bomba, one can see elements of Flamenco, African drumming and hip movements, and elements of native ritual embedded in the dance. The singing is all done in Spanish, with Puerto Rican dialect, and some words are Taino or even Creole. To me, what is so amazing about this form, is that it allowed three groups to actually join together and create something beautiful, even though their history is full of tribulations.

Even more surprisingly, is that the concepts of Bomba, in addition to the post-modern techniques and the Shambala Buddhist traditions of Naropa, began to affect our rehearsal process, and our identity as an ensemble. Everyone who participated in this show was excited to be at rehearsal and grateful for new knowledge and experience. There was a level of support and understanding that, in my opinion, is very rare in a cast, especially one so varied. The performers ranged in age from 21 to 76, and represented a variety of ethnicities and nationalities including Persian, Vietnamese, African American, Cuban, Causasian, and Boriqua (Puerto Rican). Every person had different skills, such as belly dancing, salsa choreography, drumming, singing, or acting, and it helped us all to have such a rich experience. And the differences in age and culture were only ever a positive thing.

Kebrina and I were writing a show about roots and community, and only realized later in the process that, through this project, we had created a new community of people that had its own unique beauty, that cannot be repeated. It has made me realize why cultures, throughout the world and over centuries, have always created dances, songs and traditions – because every one of these groups wanted their legacy to be remembered. And even though the original makers of these traditions are lost in history, their essence will never be forgotten. To me, that really is the definition of magic.

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