The Austin Chronicle

Las Cuatro Estaciones: A Story of Human Trees

In Sharon Marroquín's new dance, we are all gnarled and heliotropic

By Jonelle Seitz, March 24, 2017, Arts

The voiceover, blending English and Spanish, ruminates on autumn:

Las hojas no caen, se sueltan ...

Leaves don't fall, they let go.

But I recognize that I am a tree that has trouble letting go of its leaves ....

I feel so comfortable and safe with these predictable leaves, con estas costumbres perennes.

Clearly, this isn't the autumn of pumpkin-spice everything and construction-paper maple leaves. Rather, it's the autumn – these are the autumns – of individual trees and individual people, represented by dancers who, once the text has been spoken, fling themselves into Vivaldi's urgent winter. Fervently, they perform daily rituals: One dancer brushes and tosses her hair, another buckles and unbuckles her bike helmet, and yet another packs and unpacks, zipping and unzipping, her backpack. At the same time, Sharon Marroquín walks across the back of the studio, heaving a 2-foot-tall, 18-inch-wide section of a tree trunk from stage left to a spot just right of center and sets it on one end. Lisa del Rosario approaches the stump and slowly ascends it, her toes, hobbled by bunions, gripping the rough surface and her ankles adjusting for alignment. She unfolds her body, subtly twisting, trembling, and reaching toward thinner air. Once erect, she stretches her arms above her, her torso slightly bent, her shoulders just barely tilted and facing a different direction than her face, which is oriented to what can only be the sun. It is work, this heliotropism. This tree pose is unlike the square-bodied yogic one, but it is at once recognizable. Of course, we are gnarled, like trees. Our growth and the seasons mark us.

Marroquín is the author of the text and the choreographer of Las Cuatro Estaciones: A Story of Human Trees, a work she developed as a resident artist at the Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center, where I sat in on a rehearsal one Sunday in February. With a cast of eight formidable female dancers plus 10 children, video by Ana Baer, lighting by Scott Vandenberg, and costumes by Magdalena Jarkowiec, the work marks Marroquín's first full production since 2012's The Materiality of Impermanence, a nuanced and vivid work (think shards of glass and a rainbow of bras) about her experience with breast cancer. With Las Cuatro Estaciones, Marroquín continues her investigation of the acceptance of change and its inevitability. But in the new work, serious contemplation of our ashes-to-ashes destiny is prompted not by a portentous event but by the mere accumulation of experiences – springs, summers, winters, falls – and our increasingly refracted and sagacious perceptions. At some point, we come to understand, the leaves will not grow back. How, in the meantime, do we cope?

Dance is a self-referential discipline for such subject matter: Even more temporary than a person is a dance made by a person, and a person's ability to embody the dance. The aphorism "a dancer dies twice," which has been attributed to dancers as dissimilar as Martha Graham and Broadway star Gwen Verdon, suggests the particular difficulty of letting go of certain rituals, certain leaves. None of this is to say that Marroquín is going anywhere, in any way, anytime soon – only that she has a particular understanding of the journey.

Las Cuatro Estaciones: A Story of Human Trees will be performed March 24–26, Fri. & Sat., 8pm; Sat. & Sun., 2pm, at the Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center, 600 River. For more information, visit

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