A Soaring Celebration of Frida Kahlo and Femininity

On Providencia’s uninspiring thoroughfare Santa Isabel, a brightly-painted rambling house transformed into the bohemian performance space “Sofa” houses a queue of uniformly unconventional spectators. The line winds through the deconstructed building carefully decorated with murals, busts and refurbished antiques, into the twilit garden where visitors take their seats on mismatched chairs, idly chatting in front of a 30-foot metal frame which supports four lengths of red fabric. An aerial silks performance, also known as “silks” is about to be performed.

Santiago Chile
Photo by Macarena Peñaloza (click here for more photos)

Silks is an acrobatic discipline where performers are suspended above the ground from hanging fabric without the aid of harnesses or safety nets. Performers use the pliability of the fabric in unimaginable ways to perform acrobatic feats, spin, swing, and sometimes fall through the air in a performance which resembles a form of trapeze.

Santiago Chile
Photo by Macarena Peñaloza

The spotlight comes up on a performer dressed as Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, capturing her appearance down to her uni-brow. She stands stock-still as two sinister hands appear from under her colorful, voluminous skirt, winding themselves around her calves. The hands grow into another performer who snakes out from under Frida’s skirt. The second performer is made up like Frida too – but a Frida dressed as a man.

The two Fridas face each other. Then, moving around the mat with disjointed grace, they remove their outer costumes until they are identically clothed in white tights and stylized back braces alluding to Kahlo’s survival of polio and her injuries from a bus accident. Stalking the stage with uncertain steps, they pick up items that are weighting the ends of the red fabric to the ground and cast them into the darkness, letting the lengths of fabric fall into four strands. Books, letters, a skull; the items are thrown away and just the performers are left, tangling themselves into the silks on the floor. From there, the two performers skillfully wind the silks around themselves to make their way up into the air.

Compañia Humus founders Leslie Balaguer and Anaïs Nadal created “Frieda Corto Teatral Aéreo,” which they also perform. “Our inspiration to make this production was Frida Kahlo the woman and her strength to face life. The work was developed based on her mobility problems. Many of the climbs, poses and movements are based on her disability, also on her pain, her love and her passion for life.”

Using a jerking motion, the performers climb the silks. At times they struggle; against each other, against gravity, against the strands; at others they move in harmony, swinging, sliding and falling with the greatest of ease.

Santiago Chile
Photo by Macarena Peñaloza

At the end of the show, one performer sits on the lap of the other as she uses the silks like a swing; the red strands slide between her legs in a sanguine stream to the floor. The performance ends with the raising of a loaded clothesline across the stage.

“The end is inspired by Kahlo’s work ´My Dress Hangs There,´” explained Compañia Humus. Balaquer is Colombian, a trained actress who came to Chile especially to learn aerial acrobatics. Nadal, from Puerto Rico, studied the technique for 4 years in Costa Rica. Both performers have a background in dance and gymnastics.

“The truth is that aerobatics is what I enjoy, whether it is silks or trapeze, because you acquire a consciousness of the body, you discover that the body has no limits … and what’s more, if you combine it with theatre you can find a language whereby you can communicate your message to the audience,” said Balaquer.

Santiago Chile
Photo by Macarena Peñaloza

Nadal told Revolver: “As a mode of expression it is subtle and gentle, yet strong and sometimes painful: it lets you play with gravity and feel free. At the same time is a world of possibilities where there is much to investigate.”

The piece was accompanied by the haunting music of Lila Downs and Chávela Vargas, both Mexican folk musicians, and by words from their songs spoken over the music.

Compañia Humus will be performing at festivals in Santiago and throughout Latin America in 2010/11. Further information can be obtained via email. Bar Sofa host regular art events which can be found on their facebook page.

Frieda: Frieda Corto Teatral Aéreo
3 6 December 2009
Email: friedaereoteatro@gmail.com

Santa Isabel 0151
Santiago, Chile

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