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Monday, September 20, 2021

An interview with the Granada Artists-In-Residence

The Department of Theater and Dance is showcasing two artists this Fall – Sara Shelton Mann and Guillermo Gomez-Pena. MUSE interviewed them this week before their opening performances.

SARA SHELTON MANN

What has it been like as a Granada Artist-In-Residence here at UC Davis?

It’s fantastic. I have an apartment! I’ve never had an apartment in my life; I have a kitchen. I’m two blocks away from the Farmers Market. I’m a ten-minute walk to the university, there’s a pool three blocks away. I like being able to open my door. That being said, environment is very important to me, and the parallel of that is the environment I create onstage and create with people and what it’s intended for, how it permeates the house, how it speaks to the community and how its ripple effect hopefully goes out in the world.

But from auditions to now, it feels like a lifelong journey. The magical way in which the universe brought people to me through word of mouth from the cast, from the beginning of auditions and the way the faculty supported me to find the [performers] I needed and the revealing of different people’s skills has brought a real experience of excellence.

Your new production is called “Tribes: the unified field.” How would you describe it? What is it about?

“Tribes” – the word came to me two years ago and I knew that I was going to make a piece out of it. So I started doing my research and finding a lot of things I did not like and did not understand. “Tribes” has become the group. The people create a tribe. My own research that I’ve developed over many, many years becomes the form by which people process and develop their physical, scripted language. The people’s skills, their cultural backgrounds, their beliefs, their lineage and what they stand for becomes the cultural conversation. I’ve worked with people from very diverse backgrounds over the years. The people that come together and the environment in which we work creates the fabric and the context. “The unified field” has some secrets to teach me and it’s basically the human consciousness that we are, that holds us together. It’s basically love.

What was the choreography process like?

I asked [the performers] what they could do! “Oh, I can cook.” “I can paint.” “I can play saxophone.” Within my training, I develop skills and over time those skills develop into movement, choreographing and scripted, written language. I slice and cut and deconstruct it so [the performers] learn it from visual techniques, choreographic techniques, relationship techniques, energetic techniques, and present techniques. Then I try to pull people out and assimilate, collage, integrate and make a good meal.

What do you hope the audience will get out of the performance?

I hope they have a fabulous time. I hope they are brought to contemplation, reflection, activism, communication, questions and talking to me and talking to the performers and having a great time. I think my and Guillermo’s show is quite a big piece. [The two shows] both have a very big worldview and they’re placed beyond just the performance itself. They both make an impact in a very different way, and the context is one of the things that creates such a full-fledged show for the audience.

GUILLERMO GOMEZ-PENA

How important is it to have a close relationship with your performers? With only 6 weeks to rehearse for the production, what have you done to achieve the chemistry necessary for a performance?

In my daily life, I treat everyone equally. For me it is extremely important to treat them with utter respect and generosity because that is how I like to be treated and that’s how people should treat others in the larger world. If you respect their ideas and listen to their ideas and treat them as colleagues, inevitably the performance improves and the performance is better. It is very important that they own this project – I just want to contribute a little bit into having a more integral education. As a performance artist, I cannot teach them skills – the faculty will teach them skills and critical thinking – but what I can teach them is a different way to present and distribute their ideas.

With the group of students and faculty chosen to perform, how has your initial idea expanded through in what you call jam sessions and what direction do you plan on taking this specific production at UC Davis?

Essentially, I think that we are dealing with issues that are important to all of us. A lot of the issues that we are dealing with in the production are important to everyone, not just ourselves. There are a lot of issues that emerge out of the production that everybody is interested in and so in a sense, people are raising their voices and concerns during the process and these concerns and ideas will be expressed in the final production. I really believe that the artist is not some kind of marginal bohemian existing in the dark corners of society but the artist is a public intellectual and the critical voice of the artist is necessary for democracy to exist. And throughout the process I really wish that they are empowered to think of their artistic process as a very important one and their role in society as a necessary one. In my methodology, the performers participate in every aspect of production – they don’t just perform. That is a very important thing for them. It gives him a very strong sense of power, that they themselves can do it.

Corpo Ilicito: The Post-Human Society 6.9 is centered on a political message – specifically about the end of the Bush regime – which is performed through a series of impressionable images. Tell me about this idea and what you mean to convey with it.

Corpo Ilicito basically means “illegal body.” My hope is that the audience experiences a new kind of art that reveals the complexities of our times and that the audience experiences live images that articulate our sense of despair and the possibilities of hope we have. The audience understands what we are doing. It is very experimental and very bizarre on one hand, but on the other hand, these images are strangely familiar to the audience. They are images that they see on television, movies or on the Internet; it’s just that the images are presented differently and they make you think, they make you think about the times we are living in.

KAREN SONG and ROBIN MIGDOL can be reached at arts@theaggie.org.

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