Xicano Dreams: Earth, Life, and Labors of Love
This melding of sci-fi and ancient myth found a powerful beat that made it hard not to move
Reviewed by Jonelle Seitz, Fri., Sept. 12, 2014
Xicano Dreams: Earth, Life, and Labors of LoveSanta Cruz Center for Culture, 1805 E. Seventh
In Xicano Dreams, Aztlan Dance Company director Roén Salinas reminded that sci-fi and ancient myth – both part of cultural memory, both at times seemingly ridiculous and at others eerily correct in their premonitions – aren't so different. Salinas melded them into a plot frame for four dance sections: A star-traveling Codex Writer prescribes the collective experiences of the Chicano people before he is overturned by Mictlan (representing the underworld) and the Shaman. A quick-changing ensemble of eight danced the avatars of the collective experiences: villagers, fieldworkers, the Brown Berets of the Resistencia, and the "Modern Mestizo."
In its own 40 years of collective experiences, this community company – directed by Salinas' mother before him – has become an Eastside treasure. A familial vibe, onstage and in the house, pervades the tiny Eastside Santa Cruz Center on performance nights. In this show, the characters that drove the story's frame were most engaging and most vividly costumed. Designer Holli Hulett's outfits for Mictlan (Joanna Saucedo) and the Shaman (Beliza Torres) – hair afrizz, layered skirts, inventive makeup – seemed fresh from a Dia de los Muertos parade, and Paul Del Bosque, painted in silver, eyes hidden by dark glasses affixed with a monocular (like an early iteration of Google Glass) and by the brim of his silver cowboy hat, was a stealthy Codex Writer, stationed in a tinfoil-covered barber's chair stage left. The exuberant ensemble dancers, some of whom looked to be barely out of their teens, danced the first three cuadros of the work barefoot. Even without shoes, Salinas' choreography found strengths in the rhythms of folklorico: A simple skip has depths of power when performed intentionally to a compelling beat, and the mixed soundtrack was so full of those that it's a wonder the audience stayed still. Sure, there are criticisms one could make: Maybe Salinas could have included fewer fan-kicks. Maybe Hulett could have avoided using nude-colored tights as the base for the ensemble costumes. But this is deep-rooted, deeply considered community theatre – for and by – and that stuff is secondary. That's not where it lives.
The company's vivacity was no more apparent than in the final section, when the dancers took the stage in shoes. What is it about a strong heel and a flower in the hair that stirs the heart? Salinas took the stage then, too, his boots designing swirls across the stage, overtaking it in just a few sure strides, and joining the ensemble to bring down the house with machine-gun-tight rhythms. I imagined the sound resonating over to the bars on East Sixth, the people there, too, being dared to stay still.