Blogs The Green Room Shieva Salehnia

Shieva is a public relations intern for the Walker. As a University of Minnesota graduate, she is currently a Minneapolis writer and editor, and future law school student.

luciana achugar: Cultivating Communal Vibrations

Focusing on energy and vibrations in space, the Walker-commissioned OTRO TEATRO will extend choreographer luciana achugar‘s philosophies surrounding dance and the female form. The Uruguayan-born, New York–based artist incorporates notions of collective experience and ritualized movement, bringing performer and audience together. A professional dancer and choreographer for nearly two decades, achugar will premiere OTRO TEATRO […]

Photo: Gene Pittman

Photo: Gene Pittman, Walker Art Center

Focusing on energy and vibrations in space, the Walker-commissioned OTRO TEATRO will extend choreographer luciana achugar‘s philosophies surrounding dance and the female form. The Uruguayan-born, New York–based artist incorporates notions of collective experience and ritualized movement, bringing performer and audience together. A professional dancer and choreographer for nearly two decades, achugar will premiere OTRO TEATRO at the Walker on February 27.

Throughout her career achugar has embraced dance as a means to create a sense of communal awareness. Intentionally spelling her name without capital letters to diminish hierarchical power, her choreography reflects the same passion for equity –her work lacking the traditional, established soloist roles. She told Curator Michèle Steinwald that she believes “everything should be a collective.”


Homogenizer Hybrid, Canada, January 2004

OTRO TEATRO will expand upon the feminist perspective achugar presents in her compositions. She challenges socially constructed standards of beauty and elevates the female form by concentrating on movement from the pelvis. The women in her 2004 piece A Super Natural Return to Love wore blue factory uniform smocks, storing red paint in the pockets that leaked through, and was later spread onto the white set backdrop. Celebrating the female experience, achugar’s work focuses on the sensuality – not sexuality – and pleasure of movement and the body. Her development of feminine expression aims to channel energies and cultivate communal vibrations.

achugar draws on the use of ritualized sound and movement to encourage a social bond between the audience and the performers. Patterned and repetitive sequences strengthen and clarify the dancers’ emotional intent, and empower the audience to actively engage with the performance. Recurring sounds construct an otherworldly, meditative space in which the choreography comes to life.

For her 2010 work PURO DESEO, she composed a dark and haunting duet with long-time collaborator and OTRO TEATRO set designer Michael Mahalchick, utilizing repetition of sound and action to articulate “performance as an incantation.” A spiritual tone resonates through many of her works. In PURO DESEO, both male and female voices alternately sing short, insistent melodies reminiscent of the chants of Tibetan monks. A single bell rings again and again, vibrating like the singing bowls historically used in Eastern meditation and healing practices. As achugar and Mahalchick pace, crawl, and reach upward across the dimly lit stage, a mysterious and dark energy vigorously appears.


PURO DESEO, The Kitchen, May 2010

Integrating a performance’s surroundings also affects the relationship between vibration and energy exchange. Steinwald wrote of achugar’s productions, “Each completed work takes on a ceremonial tone, acknowledging the agreement, we as audiences and artists have together, within the inhabited theatrical experience.” Like attending a church service that allows the congregation to share the same space physically and mentally, achugar endeavors to create an environment that both performer and spectator occupy, transferring energy to one another. OTRO TEATRO, for example, will metaphorically take place “in the ruins of a collapsed theater.” This work will actualize the performance space into which we, the viewers, will enter and participate.

An exploration of movement, sound, and perception, achugar’s OTRO TEATRO will provide a window into feminist expression in a vibratory landscape. Her past works’ engagement of the spiritual mind and imagination has redirected rhythmic and ordinary elements to produce meaningful, provocative exchanges. Continuing in a tradition of experimental and socially aware choreography, the ritualized patterns and communal consciousness that have served achugar so well will lay the foundation for her upcoming world premiere.

luciana achugar’s OTRO TEATRO opens February 27–March 1, 2014 at 8 pm in the McGuire Theater.

“Patriarchy is Over”: Feminism in the Art of CocoRosie

“The more you tune into it, the more you realize that, as a female, you’ve been excluded and you’re supposed to just paint yourself into the picture, into the male image.” —Bianca Casady of CocoRosie Religion, sex, and politics: these are topics we are taught not to discuss over the dinner table, or in the […]

CocoRosie

CocoRosie. Photo: Jean-Marc Ruellan

“The more you tune into it, the more you realize that, as a female, you’ve been excluded and you’re supposed to just paint yourself into the picture, into the male image.” —Bianca Casady of CocoRosie

Religion, sex, and politics: these are topics we are taught not to discuss over the dinner table, or in the company of strangers. For CocoRosie, these controversial subjects are fundamental to their feminist artistic expression. Sisters Bianca and Sierra Casady delve unabashedly into male-dominated art forms, collaborating sonically and visually on multidisciplinary projects. Their songs, theatrical performances, and provocative imagery explore the conceptual possibilities and socially accepted realities of what it is to be a woman and an artist.

“They [CocoRosie] are unafraid to manifest their vision that the application of magical creativity could be a balm for aching souls in a struggling world.” —Antony Hegarty of Antony and the Johnsons

Underlying the duo’s genre-bending music is the idea of feminism as a restructuring force — that in order for more accurate perceptions about gender to be widespread, powerful institutions that oppress women must be reorganized or removed. On religion, Bianca told The Stranger, “The concept of a male god is the root of so many of our troubles and misconceptions about women and men.” To her, the “illusion of male spiritual superiority” stands in the way of humankind acknowledging its treatment of Mother Nature.

Magazine

Girls Against God, issue #1, co-edited by Bianca Casady and Anne Sherwood Pundyk, designed by J. M. Ruellan, published by Capricious

In line with her beliefs, Bianca recently launched a feminist arts magazine entitled Girls Against God. Created with artist Anne Sherwood Pundyk, GAG integrates the concepts of community and public space through interviews, essays, and original artwork from diverse contributors. The magazine is described as shedding light on patriarchal institutions, including “male-defined religions.” Acting as a platform for political content, the print publication is the literary manifestation of CocoRosie’s feminist philosophy.

GAG

Girls Against God, issue #1, co-edited by Bianca Casady and Anne Sherwood Pundyk, designed by J. M. Ruellan, published by Capricious

“Patriarchy is over. This is my slogan of hope. We must project optimistic images. I don’t want to see popes and presidents and warlords anymore.” —Bianca

Through five studio albums — the latest is this year’s Tales of the GrassWidow — CocoRosie has created and refined a kind of surrealist pop music, incorporating politically and spiritually charged messages into haunting melodies and dream-like instrumentation. Pushing musical palatability, their unique mix of blues and hip-hop stylings has proven polarizing with music fans and critics alike.

However received, their sound has lent itself well to working with multi-faceted artists like the duo’s longtime collaborator Antony Hegarty of Antony and the Johnsons. Since appearing on CocoRosie’s second album, Noah’s Ark, Hegarty has joined the duo for a host of feminist-oriented endeavors, ranging from multidisciplinary festivals to a political collective called Future Feminists. The group concentrates on bringing feminism and environmental responsibility to the forefront of public discourse through artistic action.

“Questions are being asked that weren’t asked before. Things are being covered in the media that didn’t have so much attention. And there is a change in the temperature of peoples’ consciousness.” —Sierra

The sisters’ progressive and socially conscious views materialized in 2013’s Tales of the GrassWidow. Bianca said of the record’s title, “It’s not a widow mourning the loss of a husband, but a child that’s mourning the loss of innocence.” That interpretation is literal in the song “Child Bride.” Based on a true story, the lyrics follow a five-year-old girl’s emotional journey as she is married to an adult man.

The song’s music video shows a girl and her mother both wearing long, sheet-like coverings and gold metal masks covering their mouths. The costumes — evocative of burqas worn by some Islamic women — criticize the tradition of child marriage maintained in many countries by oppressive entities.

“There will not be an invitation for women to take the seat of power — we must just take it.” —Bianca

Their visual work is as experimental as their musical catalogue. In 2012 Bianca opened her art exhibition Daisy Chain in SoHo. The show juxtaposed imagery and meaning, balancing a masculine influence expressed as the current state of the prison system and the seemingly feminine softness of watercolor pastels. (For more on Daisy Chain, read Chris Mode’s piece “Harmonizing Contrasts: CocoRosie and their Visual Aesthetic.”)

The eccentric nature of CocoRosie’s live performances speaks to their creative breadth. Video projections behind the band run the gamut from perverse cartoons to birds flying over a horizon to black-and-white footage of clowns. Challenging the flawless facade expected of female pop singers, the sisters’ extravagant costumes, wigs, and exaggerated makeup often act to cloak or disfigure their physical appearances. Bianca frequently dresses in drag, confronting definitions of gender and sexuality. In their unconventional stage shows, a distinctly subversive attitude is illuminated.

Controversial or not, the Casady sisters bring up topics that can make us uncomfortable. In line with the duo’s eclectic array of creativity, their music finds a place for the denouncement of sexism and political and religious oppression next to tinkering piano keys and lullaby-like tunes. While advocating for equality, editing an arts magazine, presenting original exhibitions and touring internationally, the two also find time to write and record albums. By means of cross-disciplinary collaboration, CocoRosie fearlessly explore their feminist beliefs in the hopes of changing the current discussion on social justice, art, and music.

CocoRosie perform at The Cedar on Saturday, October 19, 2013 at 8 pm.

 

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