Mestizo: An Acrobatic Journey Through the Human Psyche

The international dance/circus collaboration group, MESTIZO, took over the Matucana 100 venue in Santiago’s Quinta Normal for ten days in September, putting on a variety of shows every day. But the main attraction was “Poleas y Polleras” (Pulleys and Skirts) from the Peruvian circus and dance company “Agárrate Catalina” — and it is spectacular.

Santiago Chile
Photo by Kendal Montgomery

The performance is a sequence of acrobatic dance pieces, beginning with three human marionettes.

Suspended from the ceiling by thick ropes of elastic,

Santiago Chile
Photo by Gabriel Morty Ortega

three women in identical green skirts and white blouses dangle morbidly at the front of the stage. When they begin to dance, the elastic gives a dream-like quality to their movements, slowing and exaggerating every step. They are joined by three men who manipulate them on their elastic bonds, and even when the women try to run away they are pulled back, helpless. At one point the men agressively push them to the floor and hold them down with one foot — the expressive seed for one of the main themes of the show is planted.

The next scene takes place in a white wardrobe that has been standing onstage all along. A door opens and a pair of feet begin to seductively wiggle in the white space.

Parts of the performer are revealed, and then withdrawn, as she maneuvers expertly,

Santiago Chile
Photo by Kendal Montgomery

and unexpectedly, around the tiny space, peeking from first one door and then another into the outside world, seemingly unwilling to leave the wardrobe.

This use of an enclosed space was what first brought to my mind the Brazilian dancer and choreographer Deborah Colker. Her work also uses props that physically resrict the dancer whilst expressing similar themes of gender roles and sexual desire, and her pieces often include acrobatic aspects alongside more traditional ballet — though not nearly as much as “Poleas and Polleras”.

Well, whatever these Latin American dance companies are eating, it sure as hell does the trick. A fantastic music selection accentuates the growing atmosphere of slightly sinister intoxication as the scenes continue, with music ranging from Tom Waits to the Italian partisan song “Bella Ciao”. The latter provides a stunning accompaniment to a scene with a woman wearing a wedding dress — a wedding dress that seems to be attacking her.

Santiago Chile
Photo by Kendal Montgomery

From an astoundingly funny and disturbing juggling act by a gangly performer with maniacal eyes (and his toy doll), to a topless woman in a perspex box smoking and wearing a glamour wig — like an outtake from a Wong Kar Wai movie — the show is absolutely riveting.

There are plenty of extreme acrobatics to enjoy too — in one piece a couple undress whilst performing terrific stunts. In fact, the show is full of people taking off their clothes — and putting on other clothes. The stylish garments chosen for the performance even play a role in some of the scenes; for example, a red dress (which pops up throughout) hangs suspended around a vertical rope whilst an aerialist climbs, pulls it on, pouts, then decides against it, only to have to traverse and down the rope as it pursues her.

Interwoven with childhood images; a lost doll, a surreal game of musical chairs, playground bullies: the sequence of scenes come together to leave a powerful impression, which is part wonder, part unease; and completely exhilarating.

Check Mestizo Circo Danza for more information and the 2010 program.

"Poleas y Polleras"
Agárrate Catalina
3–13 September 2009
Centro Cultural Matucana 100
Santiago, Chile

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