"Agua Furiosa," the latest show created by the LA-based Latin dance theater company CONTRA-TIEMPO, will put a cultural twist on Shakespeare's work in the form of contemporary dance as a social commentary at ASU Gammage.
The show is loosely derived from Shakespeare's tale of "The Tempest," and focuses on humanity's relationships with nature and with each other in the form of expressive Afro-Cuban dance and audience interaction.
Ana Maria Alvarez, founder of CONTRA-TIEMPO, said she does not intend to remake Shakespeare's work, but instead uses it as the vehicle for communicating complex themes about society and its relation to nature.
Alvarez's work, a two-year process of research and collaboration, focuses on Caliban and Sycorax — the only two characters of color in "The Tempest." Multiple Calibans are portrayed to represent various methods of oppression in society.
The themes of colonization, the way humans hold power with and against each other and family dynamics in "The Tempest" all relate to complex social relationships that are also reflected within "Agua Furiosa." Water, a central motif in both works, is used as a starting point to develop and explore relationships between people as a community and with the world.
"The piece itself is really about connecting the way we treat each other as human beings, to our relationship with Mother Earth and to natural resources, specifically water," Alvarez said. "Water is an entry point to talking about nature and humanity."
Beyond just exploring relationships with nature and with people, however, "Agua Furiosa" intends to spark social change in light of the tense political and social climate in America, she said.
"Experiencing what has been happening in our country, you know, obviously it's been happening since slavery, but (it's) also because of cellphones that we've been able to see in a different way," Alvarez said. "In this generation there has been incredible brutality of black bodies, specifically black male bodies."
Alvarez, a mother of two sons, said she was also partly inspired to bring her vision to life because of her children.
"All you want to do as a mother is protect your own child and try to figure out, 'How am I in this conversation of creating a world where my son will be safe and where my son will be able to walk through the world and not fear for his life?'" she said.
Michael Reed, senior director of Programming and Organizational Initiatives for ASU Gammage, said he invited CONTRA-TIEMPO to Tempe because of their talents in dance and the vibrant way they provide social commentary.
"Besides being amazing dancers who create exciting shows, [Alvarez] and her company are also very compelling in university classroom and community settings in teaching the dance techniques and sharing positive social messages that really resonate with ASU and our Valley's evolving communities," Reed said.
Mathew Sandoval, a Faculty Fellow at Barrett, the Honors College, participated in the same program with Ana Maria Alvarez when they attended the University of California, Los Angeles. He has seen Alvarez and her company's works throughout the past few years and calls her desire to bring about social change through art "a rarity."
"It's a very diverse range of performers that she uses, so the work ends up being multicultural and intercultural in ways that a lot of contemporary performance isn't, which makes it really exciting," Sandoval said.
He also described how much of the company's work is grounded in its community. He said the company has participated in events in Phoenix and has worked with individuals who are working with water rights.
"They use that to inform their work, which is to say that they're socially engaged artists as opposed to just making things that are 'high art' and are beautiful to look at," he said.
Alvarez hopes the audience will not take the show at face value, and enter with "a spirit of curiosity" about the work.
"I hope that people don't just walk in, assuming, 'This is what it's going to be,'" she said. "My goal is that everyone sees themselves somewhere in the work, no matter who you are, no matter where you're from, no matter where your family is rooted. It's a piece that connects to our humanity and connects to our relationship with our environment — we have a relationship with one another."
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