Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Review: Palestine NM. PALABRA Poets at REDCAT. Xánath Caraza en Xalapa.

In this column...
Review: Palestine, New Mexico
PALABRA Poets at REDCAT / Disney Hall
Xanath Caraza Reports from Xalapa, Mexico

Note: Click on photographs for a larger image in a new page.

Review: Palestine, New Mexico by Richard Montoya for Culture Clash. Mark Taper Forum. Los Angeles CA.

Michael Sedano

History rings true with contemporary timbre in a plot combining a dead indian, conversos, Unitedstates and Afghan tribal people; humor reigns despite the deadly seriousness of the mysterious death of a soldier in Afghanistan; at the ending, tears spill in the eulogy for a dead son husband father; throughout, an eager audience devours the current visit of Culture Clash to the mainstage of the Mark Taper Forum atop Bunker Hill in downtown Los Angeles.

Despite having all these elements going for it, there's something wrong with Palestine, New Mexico, now through January 24.

It's not the audience's ignorance of Chicana Chicano Marrano/Converso history. And there's a rich lode of that. I heard one theatre-goer remark as she left the auditorium, "is that all true, is that factual?" She referred to the Jewishness thread running through the story, accounting for the rivalry of neighboring villages in rural New Mexico and syncretic religious jokes and sight gags.

It's not the profound awareness of the senselessness of soldiers killed in action, perhaps "friendly fire", in Bush-Obama's Afghan adventure. Nor does the exaggeration of drama mask the pin-drop ambience as the nearly sold out house holds its collective breath in respectful silence as the flag-draped coffin wheels onstage in a carreta. That it's a theatrical prop is irrelevant.

It's certainly not the emotion playwright Montoya tearjerks out of the snuffling house as the characters salute a fallen soldier, suspected of treason but cleansed in the explication of a US tribal person's respect for kindred tribal people populating Afghanistan. Russell Means' voice cracking rings with authenticity as a bereft father says goodbye to an estranged son.

And for dang sure there's nothing wrong and a whole lot of grand entertainment when Culture Clash takes center stage and goes through some inspired routines.

Although Montoya's play tends toward wordiness, especially the opening scene where the playwright has to establish linkages between Afghanistan, the remote New Mexico outpost of Palestine, conquistadores, the rez, Montoya's words rarely account for the sluggish production. No, it's the direction. Director Lisa Peterson doesn't get it. Satire needs to spin with manic, frenetic energy. Razor-sharp dialog needs to spin out of control and let the jokes overwhelm one another. But no-ooo....Instead, Peterson forces her actors to plod along. Utter a line. Stop. Wait. Cue next actor. Speak. Stop. Wait. Plod, plod, plod. What went wrong? Peterson directed Chavez Ravine. Her work there was puro masterpiece, a performance bursting with the pacing and energy sorely absent in her current job.

Natural conversation occurs in give-and-take interaction. Ditto the best teatro. Actors shouldn't wait for a character to finish a sentence all the way to the period or paragraph break. Audiences should be treated to actors jumping in, stepping on lines. Interrupt and interrupt back. That's natural in speech and beautiful in comedy. There's no chemistry among these characters.

With only a week remaining in the run, it's curious that the cast hasn't risen up in agony at the slow pace Peterson imposes on Montoya's play. Ordinarily I attend the first week of a run, but for this, the final production of the 2009 season, I had to exchange my tickets. I wonder if the first weeks, when the cast was still fresh, went better? Gordon Davidson would never have allowed this to continue. Clearly new "artistic" director Michael Ritchie has yet to hit his stride with LA audiences.

In spite of what's wrong with Palestine, New Mexico, the opportunity to share Culture Clash's comedic genius is not to be missed. Maybe the closing week's audience will shout out loud what I wanted to, "Faster!" and a miracle will happen, art will overcome artifice and the audience will be treated to everything this play ought to be.

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REDCAT may have a strange sound, but it carries the Disney cachet. The acronym contains the Roy and Edna Disney/CalArts Theater. It's tucked away in the southwest corner of fabulous Disney Hall, home to the Los Angeles Philharmonic and its justifiably lionized musical director Gustavo Dudamel. REDCAT corner is yet another richness contributing to the cultural life of angelinos.

Sunday, January 10 was a highlight of El Lay's, Disney's, and REDCAT's contributions to local cultura when PALABRA, A Magazine of Chicano & Latino Literary Art hosted a reading featuring seven artists of special merit, Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo, Carribean Fragoza, Gloria Enedina Alvarez, Stephen D. Gutiérrez, Enriqueta Luissi, Melinda Palacio, Juan Manuel Sánchez. As this was my first visit to REDCAT I was delighted to discover a coffee bar lounge tucked away under a streetside window. A richly delicious, affordable espresso made my day all the more perfect.

The work exhibted skilfully wrought poetry or prose, obviously highly accomplished writers. You can read many of the works performed by ordering the current issue of PALABRA, and may as well treat yourself to the PALABRA backlist available online at its website. The afternoon was videotaped, so I'm holding out hope editor Elena Minor will one day soon post that on PALABRA's website so gente absent from the event can share the joy.

Following are fotos exposed as the writers put their work into the air. These are taken on a Canon Digital Rebel XT, generally at 55mm 1/5 sec f5.6. Selected frames 35mm 1/8 f4.5. All available light, hand held, ISO800. Artist bios pasted from PALABRA's announcement.

Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo is a native Angelino poet with an MFA from Antioch University Los Angeles. She volunteers as a creative writing teacher for women in the Los Angeles Metropolitan Detention Center and continues to research and write on U.S. immigration and detention. Her work has been published in Glass Poetry Journal and The Umbrella Journal, and new work is forthcoming in Los Angeles Review. She is poetry editor for The Splinter Generation.

This exposure taken sight unseen. I racked the lens full wide, 18mm, pointed the camera over my shoulder and let the auto program expose the appreciative audience at 1/15 sec f 3.5. In near foreground are Estella Gonzáles, left; Griselda Suarez, right. Enrique Berúmen in brown shirt center frame. Apologies to the woman between Gonzáles and Suarez, who may be one of Griselda's Long Beach State students.

Gloria Enedina Alvarez, a Chicana poet/intermedia artist, literary translator and curator, presently teaches creative writing and works as a consultant in public schools, universities, libraries, museums, and art centers. Her literary and artistic efforts have been recognized by the National Endowment for the Arts; Cultural Affairs Department, City of Los Angeles; and Poets & Writers, Inc., among others. She has been a writer-in-residence at the Social and Public Art Resources Center, East Los Angeles College, Getty Research Institute for the History of the Arts and Humanities, Beyond Baroque Literary Center, Los Angeles County Art Museum, Los Angeles Public Library, and faculty at University of California, Berkeley, California State University, Los Angeles, California State University, Northridge, and California Institute of the Arts. She has published and read widely in the U.S., Latin America and Europe. Her books of poetry in English and Spanish include La Excusa/The Excuse and Emerging en un Mar De Olanes. Her poetry has been published in various anthologies and numerous periodicals including Chicana Creativity & Criticism; New Frontiers in American Literature, Ciudad Hibrida/Hibrid City, The Production of Art in "Alien Territory", Urban Latino Cultures: La Vida Latina en L.A., Revista Mujeres an lnvocation L.A.: Urban Multicultural Poetry. Her epic play Los Biombos/The Screens has been produced by Cornerstone Theater and directed by Peter Sellars. Her libretto, a new version for the opera, Cuento de un Soldado/Story of a Soldier, also directed by Peter Sellars, was conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen, produced by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and performed worldwide. She has collaborated on the opera, El Nino, La Nativete, produced by Chatelet Theatre Musical de Paris, France and San Francisco Symphony.

Carribean Fragoza, raised in South El Monte, California, currently lives, works, and writes in Los Angeles. She holds degrees from UCLA and California Institute of the Arts and teaches at California State University, Long Beach. Carribean is currently working on her first book, The Legend of South El Monte Zombie: And Other Stories of Lust and Longing.

I enjoy taking candid audience shots when the opportunity avails. The light coming in from the window behind the readers provides effective profile illumination.

Enriqueta Luissi was born amid one of the frequent dust storms that fill the sky of her hometown in northern Mexico during the late summer months. As a baby she was nourished with oatmeal seasoned with flakes of dried rattlesnake and put to nap on a bed of cornhusks. Her mother took her at age five to see the famous doctor El Brujo, who predicted Enriqueta would be published in PALABRA. She lives in Chula Vista as foreseen by El Brujo.

Olga reads effectively, switching effortlessly from English to Spanish, as the poem requires. She adopts a neutral mien, allowing the words to speak for themselves without coloration by the reader. It is a good choice, given the intimacy of certain lines.

Stephen D. Gutiérrez is the author of Live From Fresno Y Los, a collection of stories recently published by Bear Star Press. Elements, his first collection, won the 1996 Nilon Award. He has published fiction in many magazines and anthologies. Recent appearances include Fiction International, PALABRA, Latinos in Lotusland: An Anthology of Contemporary Southern California Literature and the upcoming Sudden Fiction Latino. Personal essays have appeared in Fourth Genre, River Teeth, Los Angeles Times and ZYZZYVA. He directs the Creative Writing Program at California State University, East Bay.

Melinda Palacio grew up in South-Central Los Angeles and now lives in Santa Barbara. She is a 2007 PEN Center USA Emerging Voices Rosenthal Fellow and a 2009 alum of the Squaw Valley Community of Writers. Her work has appeared in a variety of publications, including BorderSenses, Black Renaissance Noire, Buffalo Carp, the Valley Voice, Maple Leaf Rag IV: An Anthology of Poems, the Naugatuck River Review, O&S Poets and Artists, and Latinos in Lotusland: An Anthology of Contemporary Southern California Literature. Her first novel, Ocotillo Dreams, will be published by Arizona State University’s Bilingual Press Fall 2010. Folsom Lockdown, winner of Kulupi’s 2009 Sense of Place chapbook contest, will be available next month. Come to her book signing at Tia Chucha’s, March 27 at 1pm.

I was waiting for some passerby to perform a dance at the window. Numerous folk walked past, most glancing into the coffee lounge, hitching a step momentarily, then striding on. This kid had a good time. I wish he and his two friends had come inside to hear what they were missing.

I enjoyed Melinda Palacio's "Sister's Shakedown at Steven's Steakhouse, City of Commerce, California, 2008", in the current PALABRA. The unparalleled warmth expressing the poet's love and appreciation for her sister dancing the night away at a well-known raza hangout was magnified for me when Melinda introduced me to her vivacious sister, the subject of the poem. What a treat! This is the kind of joy attainable only from attending events like this.

Juan Manuel Sánchez is from San Diego. He attended the University of San Diego, University of California, San Diego and the University of Illinois and has taught Spanish at various universities. Nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2008 and 2009, his work has recently appeared in Pembroke, Ninth Letter, Mandorla, and The Southern Review. New work is forthcoming in Lana Turner and in Junta: Avant-Garde Latino/a Writing.

A visit to REDCAT, or Disney Hall, is incomplete without a stroll through the gardens on the second level. Ascend the grand staircase at your risk. I take the elevator, accessible through the administrative building on the south side of the complex.

The mirrored passageway is my favorite spot. I came upon three tourists acting silly and having fun. I offered to take a photo of all three of them, using their camera. I directed them to their reflection in the polished wall--they had not taken in the possibilities. Three frames should provide them lasting memories to share with the folks back home.

Here I stand in a reflective moment.

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Bobby Salcedo, ¡Presente!

In Monday's La Bloga, Daniel Olivas helps eulogize Bobby Salcedo, an El Monte CA educator, who was murdered in Mexico during a family visit.

There's no denying Mexico is going through an epidemic of murder. Reading the newspapers one might think no one no where is safe in Mexico. Perhaps not. Given such ominous perceptions, I am happy to share a set of reports from Mexico that reflect more pacific experiences, these from Xánath Caraza, a leader of Kansas City's Latino Writers Collective, who writes, "Hope these words bring a bit of hope and beauty to the readers."

It's a pleasure to share Caraza's reports that come, bilingually, with a spirit of renaissance, or at least, purification, for the image of Mexico lindo y querido. How refreshing it is to read something positive and optimistic.

Entre las calles de niebla
por Xánath Caraza

Tener la oportunidad de recorrer México entre galerías de arte, música, cafés y librerías es un placer inusual. Hoy en día la mayor parte de las noticias que recibimos de México están enfocadas en todo menos en el arte que México tiene.

Tuve la oportunidad de recorrer la ciudad de Xalapa las últimas tres semanas. Xalapa es la capital del estado de Veracruz. Está ubicada entre el mar, la costa del Golfo de México y los bosques tropicales de niebla de las montañas al norte de ésta. Xalapa desde sus inicios ha sido una ciudad donde el ambiente cultural ha prevalecido. Xalapa es una ciudad con orígenes prehispánicos. Su nombre en el idioma azteca ancestral, náhuatl, significa “Manantial en arena”.

Durante la colonia española, su clima volvió a Xalapa el descanso obligado entre el caluroso puerto de Veracruz y el largo camino hacia la ciudad de México. Lo que atrajo un sin número de artistas, músicos, pintores que pretendían entretener a los visitantes de paso hacia la Ciudad de México. Desde hace unos siglos la tradición cultural de Xalapa es conocida, haciéndole ganarse el sobrenombre de la Atenas veracruzana.

Xalapa es una ciudad con neblina, especialmente en el mes de diciembre, debido al bosque de niebla. Esta niebla vuelve pintoresca a la ciudad junto con sus empedradas y empinadas calles – a veces muy empinadas.

Volviendo a la visita, de la nublada ciudad de Xalapa de mi niñez, puedo compartir con ustedes los siguientes puntos de interés. Un concierto navideño interpretado por la orquesta de cámara Amadeus y el coro Novum Tempo dirigido por Serafín Rodríguez fue mi reintroducción a la vida cultural de Xalapa. De música gloriosa al silencio para leer, con una vista panorámica del Pico de Orizaba, por supuesto disfrutando de la lectura con una deliciosa taza de café de la región, no pudo faltar. Ya en recorrido por la ciudad, de las visitas a las galerías de arte, me sentí inspirada con la cerámica de Mariana Velázquez. Su serie se llama “Floreciendo con la luna”. De su trabajo, puedo decir, por ejemplo, que su cerámica de cactus, tanto femenina como fuerte, contrasta con la vegetación tropical de Xalapa y sus alrededores. Entrando en historia distante, no puede faltar la obligada visita al Museo de Antropología de Xalapa (MAX). Pasé un día entero entre cabezas olmecas de piedra gigantes, cultura totonoca y una pieza tras otra. Regresando del pasado del MAX al siglo veintiuno, un encuentro con mi buen amigo y pintor experto, Chán, completó el diseño perfecto de otro día de neblina en Xalapa. Sus intricadas pinturas de selvas son un tributo al trópico del sur de México.

Sin embargo, para mí el arte no sólo se encuentra en las galerías, sino también en las calles y mercados, con el ruido y los colores brillantes de cada día. A veces encuentro arte en las frutas tropicales como en la papaya rojo-anaranjada que ha sido cortada en fascinantes diseños en zig-zag para invitar a los posibles compradores. O al reencontrarme con algún actor callejero como mi amigo Javier Pérez, quien nunca deja de sorprenderme con la creación de nuevos personajes, como su hermoso traje de barro que refleja elementos de cultura indígena. Otras veces respiro arte en las caminatas por los bosques tropicales de niebla de los alrededores de Xalapa, o simplemente cuando me pierdo por las calles nubladas de esta mágica ciudad.

Through the Streets of Fog
by Xánath Caraza

Having the opportunity of touring through Mexico--between art galleries, music, coffee shops and bookstores--is an unusual pleasure. Nowadays the majority of news that we receive about Mexico is focused on everything but the art that Mexico has.

I had the opportunity of touring the city of Xalapa during the last three weeks. Xalapa is the capital of the State of Veracruz. It is located between the sea, the Gulf of Mexico, and the tropical cloud forest in the mountains north of the city. Since its beginnings, Xalapa is a city where a cultural ambiance has been traditionally prevalent. The city has pre-Hispanic origins. Its name in the ancient Aztec language of Nahuatl means “Spring (natural source of water) in the Sand”.

During Spanish colonial times, the weather of Xalapa for passers-by was a temporary haven from the hot city of Veracruz before setting out for the then long trek to Mexico City. What attracted a large number of artists, musicians and painters was being the entertainers for short-term visitors before departing for Mexico City. Dating back centuries, Xalapa’s cultural tradition is renowned, earning the nickname the Athens of Veracruz.

Xalapa is a foggy city especially during December, thus the cloud forest. This fog creates of Xalapa a picturesque city including its up and down—sometimes quite steep--cobblestone streets .

Of my visit to my foggy childhood home of Xalapa, I am pleased to share the following points of interest with you. A Christmas concert performed by the chamber orchestra, Amadeus, and the choir, Novum Tempo, conducted by Serafín Rodríguez was my welcome back to the cultural life of Xalapa. From glorious music to quiet reading time with a view, of course enjoying a book along with a delicious cup of locally grown coffee with a scenic view of the Peak of Orizaba could not be missed. Moving through the city, of the visits to the different art galleries, I was inspired by the ceramics of Mariana Velázquez. Her series is named “Blossoming with the Moon”. Of her work for instance, her feminine and powerful ceramic statues of cacti contrast with the tropical vegetation inside and outside Xalapa. Delving into distant history, a must –experience is a visit to the Anthropology Museum of Xalapa (MAX). I spent an entire day there among giant Olmec stone heads, the Totonac culture, and one amazing display after another. Returning from ancient centuries past at MAX to the 21st century, a get-together with my good friend and expert painter, Chán, completed another perfect day layered with the traditional fog of Xalapa. His intricate jungle paintings are a tribute to the tropics of southern Mexico.

However, for me art could not be found just at the art galleries, but also on the streets and in the market places with everyday noise and brilliant colors. Sometimes I find art in tropical fruits, for example orange-red papayas which have been cut open to entice customers in a fascinating zigzag pattern. As well, another highlight is meeting a street performer, such as my friend Javier Pérez, who has never stopped surprising me with the creation of new characters, such as his clay-clad body suit to beautifully portray some elements of indigenous culture. Other times I breathe in art when hiking in the tropical cloud forest surrounding Xalapa, or just wandering through the foggy streets of the magical city of Xalapa.

Foto Credits
Concert. Stephen Holland-Wempe
The Orizaba Peak / El Pico de Orizaba, Xanath Caraza
Ceramics/ceramica , Xanath Caraza
MAX / MAX , Stephen Holland-Wempe
My friend the painter/ Mi amigo el pintor , Stephen Holland-Wempe
The Clay Street Performer/ El actor callejero de barro , Tzununi Caraza
The Clay Street Performer / el actor callejero de barro , Tzununi Caraza
Through the fog/ Entre la niebla , Xanath Caraza

Gente, that's the second Tuesday of January 2010, a day like any other day, except You Are Here. Thank you for visiting La Bloga. Nos wachamos next week.


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Francisco Aragón said...

Wonderful wonderful post. And the series at REDCAT looks terrific: great space, great curation. Yes, I hope EM makes the video available.

Melinda Palacio said...

REDCAT was my first reading of 2010 and a wonderful way to begin the New Year. I'm grateful La Bloga was there to cover the event. Gracias, PALABRA y Elena!

Anonymous said...

Así de fascinante es Xalapa y más aún con tu perfecta descrpción.
Felicidades Xánath!!!
Besos desde la bella Xalapa...

Xiuhnelli Caraza

Z.A.F. said...

A mi tambien me gusta cuando hay niebla... incluso la música que suena en el ambiente mientras caminas por las calles empinadisimas que hacen que salga vaho por la boca. Es mágica la ciudad, siempre lo es... que bueno que estuviste aquí.

Linda Rodriguez said...

Wonderful to read of the REDCAT reading. Hope we can see Elena's video one day. And Xanath's vivid rendering of Xalapa was absolutely delicious!
Thanks, Michael, for putting together such a great post!

Stephen Holland-Wempe said...

Extraño caminar por las calles de Xalapa al leer tu artículo, Xánath. Muchas felicidades en difundir tal belleza mexicana y sobre todo xalapeña!

I miss walking through the streets of Xalapa when I read your article, Xánath. Congratulations on disseminating such beauty of Mexico and above all Xalapa!

Rodrigo Enriquez said...

For a brief moment, I felt as if I were breaking through the fog, hearing the musicians play on Enriquez Street, amusing myself while seeing the street-performers, and smelling the coffee that hits you when walking through a picturesque alley... For a brief moment I felt at home!
Xanath, thank you indeed for drawing with words a picture composed by such rich elements that define who we are.
REDCAT, thank you for this space and for supporting the proliferation of art and culture.

Greetings from Germany!

Anonymous said...

Gracias querida amiga por tus vivas palabras que me hacen recordar la Xalapa de antes y valorar la Xalapa de ahora. En tus palabras hay olores y sabores y hasta se siente el fresco de la niebla.

Rafael Jesús González said...

Felicidades. Es buenísimo su blug. Les invito muy cordialmente visitar el de su servidor Rafael Jesús González en rjgonzalez.blogspot.com

Anonymous said...

Miguel -- Hermoso posts -- when I catch la Bloga, the versatility totally engages!

Xanath -- your post on Xalapa made this bloga shine...voy a mandarselo a mi hijo en Veracruz inmediatamente -- estoy celosa de ti, hermana!

Gloria Martinez Adams

Michael Collins said...

Michael Sedano, hardest working literary guy/photographer in Southern California. Great post!

Red Cat said...

That was a very good article and very nice part of the history.

nancy said...

Beautiful writing and photos, thanks for sharing Xanath! Memories are flooding back to me, and I would not mind to walk into the museum again, and of course a delicious cup of coffee is a must.

chunying lowden said...

Xanath,thank you for taking us to Xalapo,a fog,picturesque and unique city. Reading those vivid words with nice photos is a wonderful experience.

Anonymous said...

jalapa, lugar de memorias de juventud - te extrano.

juegos de ben 10 said...

Así de fascinante es Xalapa y más aún con tu perfecta descrpción.