|Mariana Valencia in her 2019 solo, Bouquet|
(photo: Madeline Best)
by Mariana Valencia
Performance Space New York
January 9-11, 16-18
Very early in Mariana Valencia's new solo piece, AIR, she half-drops into a space of privacy with a person who has come out of the audience to sit in front of her, back turned to the rest of us, and assist her as she makes a change of clothing. You can only see Valencia's steady eye contact with this aide, who is Black, and mostly only hear Valencia's end of whatever verbal exchange might be going on, since the other person, in her few responses, is very soft-spoken. Valencia has already shown herself to be a self-possessed, warm and wry presence and continues to do so throughout this segment. So she easily holds our gaze and interest in place even though her attention is lavished on her helper. What a moment and what a performer--at once, holding us at bay, gathering us in and suspending us between worlds!
Truth be told, she had me at Lotería, the oversized, cream-colored sheet of paper she distributed to each of us (instead of the usual program notes, which we'd get on the way out) after we took our seats. Inspired by the popular Mexican card game of the same name, this sheet, printed in green, served as a clever introduction to a variety of popular culture figures of Mexican descent--from tv astrologer Walter Mercado to Tejano music star Selena to film actress María Félix--cited as major influences on Valencia's life and aesthetics. The first touch of this sheet of paper took me out of "downtown" and all that means as I believe it was supposed to do. It opened up a sense of another influx of energy, a source of creativity that is most often unknown, ignored, devalued and certainly unexpected in these climes, and that felt really, really good.
AIR asks us to consider the what-if of putting kids on stages instead of cages. Its random cinder blocks and white plastic crates suggest an environment of denial--I invite you to contemplate both uses of that word--that diminishes us all. And its prancing, spritely performer uses a droll sense of humor to persuade us how effortless it can sometimes be for marginalized people to absorb and slip into the codes of another culture--from picking up how to say "hello" in England to switching from butch to femme clothes in a Popeye's restroom on your way to a fancy wedding. It's a celebration of a kind of genius and maybe a subtle lesson for us all.
Lighting: Kathy Kaugmann
Sound Engineering: Jules Gimbrone
Music: Jazmin Romero
AIR's last performance happens at 7pm this evening. For information and tickets, click here.
Performance Space New York
150 First Avenue (between 9th and 10th Streets), Manhattan
DISCLAIMER: In addition to my work on InfiniteBody, I serve as Senior Curatorial Director of Gibney. The postings on this site are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views, strategies or opinions of Gibney.
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