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IMPRESSIONS: “Fandango For Butterflies (And Coyotes)” at La MaMa

IMPRESSIONS: “Fandango For Butterflies (And Coyotes)” at La MaMa
Dot Armstrong

By Dot Armstrong
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Published on March 3, 2020
Photo by Maria Baranova

February 14, 2020

Written by Andrea Thome // Directed by José Zayas

Original music by Sinuhé Padilla // Choreography by Alexandra Beller

Produced by En Garde Arts (Anne Hamburger, Founder and Artistic Director; Heather Cohn, Executive Director)

Performed by Carlos Albán (Rogelio), Jen Anaya (Mariposa), Frances Ines Rodriguez (Pili), Silvia Dionicio (Rafaela), Andrés Quintero (Elvin), Roberto Tolentino (Johan), Sinuhé Padilla (Lead Musician), Tania Mesa (Musician)

Papel picado hangs from the balconies at La MaMa. A broad-paneled, larger-than-life fence towers in the background, a reminder of the reason we’re all watching this, right now, in the USA, under the Trump presidency. Candles decorated with the Virgin of Guadalupe cluster around the pylons on either side of the stage; bottles of tequila and a cooler filled with Coronas add to the fiesta atmosphere. Eight people stroll around carrying chairs and instruments.

Swigging an Aguila beer and tapping my heel to the jaunty son jarocho folk songs woven throughout the show, I feel both included in the party and distanced from the action. I’m still a spectator, though the stage is thrust, and the actors traverse the space casually, never hidden by wings.

A cluster of men play stringed instruments

Andrés Quintero, Frances Ines Rodriguez, Carlo Albán, Sinuhé Padilla in Fandango For Butterflies (And Coyotes) produced by En Garde Ars; Photo by Maria Baranova

Memories fill me up when I hear the thrum of the jaranas and the thump of the zapateado footwork on the tarima. I recall a Las Cafeteras concert where the air was close and electric with East LA protest songs. The musicians stomped out the cafe-con-pan rhythm — I danced until my feet were sore, clicking my heels on the sticky floor of the bar.

Tonight, the rowdy four-beat syncopation returns, in the context of effervescent joy and rich sorrow. I recognize the opening notes of “La Bamba.” Carlo Albán, as Rogelio the poet, explains that the song originated as a political satire. Each verse has space for improvised riffs, and singers comment on current events with humorous wordplay. This rhythm persists, too: introduction of cultural artifact, then explanation.

A man and a woman stomp their feet on a platform, surrounded a group of strumming musicians

The company in Fandango For Butterflies (And Coyotes) produced by En Garde Ars; Photo by Maria Baranova

Twin monitors flank the stage with closed-captioning in Spanish of the English dialogue. We are given a script, too. Given the crowd (majority: white New Yorkers) and the context (immigration narrative by a Chilean/Costa Rican playwright), this makes sense. We are in America, talking about how difficult it is to arrive and stay here. We agree that there will be misunderstandings and hasty conclusions. Fragmented Spanish and Spanglish spiced with slang pervade the dialogue. The characters’ conversations are cracking at the seams, conducted in a language spoken and broken. The songs, however, make the language whole again. Plaintive verses entice me with lilting syllables and idiomatic expressions.

As projections of maps, deserts, and shadows float across the back of the stage, the ensemble digresses into collective memory. Alexandra Beller’s simple yet dynamic choreography allows the characters to discuss the border crossing in an immigrant dream ballet of pedestrian gestures and simple, concise phrases. The characters kneel as if in prayer, crawl like animals or penitent saints, lean against each other, and drape over each other like pietas. All hands support Frances Ines Rodriguez into a slow counterbalance; Silvia Dionicio is lifted between two people like a statue. Roberto Tolentino climbs over someone’s back to look into the distance.

A man and a woman play stringed instruments as they smile at each other

Carlo Albán, Silvia Dionicio in Fandango For Butterflies (And Coyotes) produced by En Garde Ars; Photo by Maria Baranova

Most importantly, Beller’s fluid sequences cause the characters to lose their individual identities and become border patrol agents, coyotes, frightened children, protective parents/grandparents, and past versions of themselves as they crossed over to America. They talk while dancing —each explains their journey to New York — and render the choreography with casual precision. The ensemble takes two steps sideways, sinks to the floor, gathers their legs beneath them, bends their elbows like wings, and unfurls their hands as if tossing flowers.

Applause gives way to rhythmic clapping, signalling it’s time for a spontaneous fandango open to all. It’s not quite the electric jam I remember from the Las Cafeteras concert; instead, it’s a necessary translation of art into reality. Boundaries dissolve between spectators and performers. Everyone joins in for an awkwardly happy meet-and-greet. Friends hail each other, and old white folks try out new dance moves. The fourth wall falls to welcome community — how, we hope, other larger walls will topple too.

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