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IMPRESSIONS: HOMAGE! Arthur Avilés Presents Three Legacy Works from the Repertory of his Typical Theatre

IMPRESSIONS: HOMAGE! Arthur Avilés Presents Three Legacy Works from the Repertory of his Typical Theatre
Catherine Tharin

By Catherine Tharin
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Published on December 9, 2022
Hunter Sturgis; Photo by Christopher Duggan

Based on Dances by Loïe Fuller, Martha Graham, and José Limón

HOMAGE! An Evening of Untitled Dance Pieces from the Repertory of Arthur Avilés Typical Theatre

Choreography: Arthur Avilés

BAAD! The Bronx Academy of Arts and Dance

Thursday, October 27, 2022


Notable for cofounding BAAD! and the institution’s good works in the Bronx community, Arthur Avilés pays homage to luminary foundational modern dance choreographers. The reworking in the 1990s of selected dance masterworks by Loïe Fuller, Martha Graham, and José Limón  “explores life on the margins of queer and Latinx, " says Avilés. 

Avilés follows the plot and pursues broad strokes for choreographic direction. Acting as a student of choreography he parses each dancemaker’s choreographic choices while developing his own version that concentrates on LGBTQ identity and community, and race issues. As a self-described ‘Gay New York-Rican,’ Avilés originally cast himself as the main characters (Arturito and Arturo). He also casts male dancers in historic women’s roles, and vice versa. By the conclusion of a dance, the naked male body is often featured. The evening is dedicated to and inspired by Doug Elkins, a choreographer who collages dance styles and sounds from multiple eras - including the dances of Graham and Limón.

Bald headed man wearing a long, magenta flounced skirt,, magenta button down shirt and black blazer holding a microphone with a projected image of a woman in a trailing skirt with a standing man projecting from her hip
Arthur Avilés; Photo: Christopher Duggan

Untitled #3 After José Limón (1994)
Music : Henry Purcell
Performers: Maéva - Priscilla Marrero, Arturito - Johnnie Cruise Mercer, Blanquita - Hunter Sturgis TrigeñX - Rafael Cañals
Costumes: Arthur Avilés with consultation by Liz Prince

In a flouncy magenta skirt, Avilés enters BAAD!’s stage adopting his alternate female persona, his alter ego, Maéva. Since 1991, Maéva has appeared in Avilés’ dances in the guise of the evil stepmother, the matriarch, and the superego, among other characters. Maéva expresses “autobiographical fantasies,” explains Avilés.

In Avilés’ Untitled #3 After José Limón (1994), based on Limón's iconic Moor’s Pavane (1949) a distillation of Shakespeare’s Othello, Maéva as Othello (Priscilla Marrero), favors her son, Arturito, (strikingly danced by Johnnie Cruise Mercer, the Desdemona character) over her daughter and Arturito’s sister, Blanquita (Hunter Sturgis, or Iago). TregueñX, Maéva’s other child and Arturito’s sibling, (Rafael Cañals, or Emilia), represents non-binary culture, thus the X in their name. The Spanish word, trigueño, defines the social hierarchies of color found in Puerto Rico and Latin and South America.

This dance of manners, a social commentary on good and evil in the courtly form of a pavane supported by Baroque composer Henry Purcell’s music, has been reconfigured to recount the experiences of a queer boy living with his untrusting Puerto Rican family. Avilés’ dance doesn’t veer far from the original except for modifications in gender and storyline details.

Dark-skinned man bare-chested wearing a long white skirt and tiara partners with a white women in black sweatpants striped with white and red tunic. Her dark hair is piled on her head and she is smiling. In the background a white man in a criss-crossed top and long red dress dances with a mustachioed man in blonde wig, green top and pants.
 Johnnie Cruise Mercer partners with Priscilla Marrero (foreground), while Rafael Cañals partners with Hunter Sturgis (background) in Untitled #3 After José Limón (1994);
Photo: Christopher Duggan

The four characters dance in symmetrical patterns, following Limón’s drama, the formality ever-present. The movement, full and lush with extended limbs and releases of the spine falling and rebounding in the satisfying style of Limón, stays within orderly confines. Beneath the formality, a swirl of suppressed emotion bursts forth the moment Maéva strangles her beloved son, a metaphor, perhaps, for society's slaying of the disenfranchised.

In 1994, the year Aviles choreographed this dance, the rights of the LBGTQ community, and Puerto Rican and Latin American race politics were on the cusp of society’s awareness. Avilés makes a statement as an unabashed proponent of the marginalized and overlooked.

Untitled #1 After Martha Graham (1994)
Music: Norman Dello Joio
Performers: Maéva -Josiah Vasquez, Arturo, the Maiden, the Warrior, the Martyr - Johnnie Cruise Mercer, Mi Titi - Rafael Cañals, Mi Madrina - Dea’Shinique Ramsey
Costumes: Liz Prince

Avilés' Untitled #1 After Martha Graham (1994), captures Graham’s portrayal of the inner emotional life, conflicts, and turmoil of her characters. Based on Seraphic Dialogue (1955), articulating the spiritual life of Joan of Arc, Avilés positions Joan as Arturo, the Maiden, the Warrior, and the Martyr (after Graham) danced fearlessly by Johnnie Cruise Mercer.  Mi Titi (my auntie) and Mi Madrina (my godmother) flank Maéva, performed respectively by Rafael Cañals, Dea’Shinique Ramsey, and Josiah Vasquez.

A man clothed in a long purple dress and long white gloves holds a 5' white cross as weapon against a man on his knees who kneels in front of him. The man on the ground is bent backward reaching one arm beseechingly.
Josiah Vasquez and Johnnie Cruise Mercer (foreground), Dea’Shinique Ramsey and Rafael Cañals (background) in Untitled #1 After Martha Graham (1994);
Photo: Christopher Duggan

Joan is persecuted by the three as she skitters on her knees in prayer and flagellation while in supplication to the cross. The music, composed by Norman Dello Joio, buttresses an especially stirring section.  Joan turns in large shapes, walks on her knees, performs a series of hops, and melts to the floor while Mi Titi and Mi Madrina jump repeatedly in second position. Maéva, costumed in a long purple dress, leaps while holding the cross overhead. She then murders Joan with the cross as Joan kneels and prays. Joan transforms into a naked angel cloaked in white wings (kitchen curtains purchased by Avilés at a garage sale). Behind her, a projection of a blue sky with fluffy clouds materializes indicating that Joan’s reward in death is heaven.

Puerto Rican Faggot from the South Bronx Steals Precious Object from Giuliani's East Village-also known as-Untitled #4 after Loïe Fuller by way of Jody Sperling (1999)
Music: Conception/Performance: Mobéy Lola Irizarry  
Performer: Hunter Sturgis
Costume: Arthur Avilés

The first half of the title, Puerto Rican Faggot from the South Bronx Steals Precious Object from Giuliani's East Village-also known as-Untitled #4 after Loïe Fuller by way of Jody Sperling (1999), focuses attention on Mayor Rudolf Giuliani’s support to gentrify the East Village, Avilés’ precious object. Republican Guiliani was vehemently disliked by social activists. By proclaiming himself as both Puerto Rican and Faggot, not considered positions of power, Avilés protests the actions of the government.

A drummer dressed in black shirt and shorts and textured stockings plays the conga while a mustachioed man dances in swirling gold fabric. Projected behind them is an undulating gold backdrop pierced by bright green glints..

Mobéy Lola Irizarry and Hunter Sturgis  in Puerto Rican Faggot from the South Bronx Steals Precious Object

 from Giuliani's East Village-also known as-Untitled #4 after Loïe Fuller by way of Jody Sperling (1999); Photo: Christopher Duggan

This third-generation dance (Fuller to Sperling to Avilés, the second half of the title) features Hunter Sturgis rippling softly through space. Clad in billowing gold fabric ala Loïe Fuller, Sturgis’ smooth-as-silk dancing contrasts with the percussive sounds of conga and bongo played live on stage by Mobéy Lola Irizarry.  In front of an undulating gold projection, Sturgis sheds each piece of his costume. His body, now naked, a precious queer object, floats seamlessly as the lights descend.



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