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Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Antonio Ramos: For love of the body

L-r: Antonio Ramos, Darrin Wright and Alvaro Gonzalez
in Almodóvar Dystopia, premiering next month at Dixon Place
Below: l-r, Wright, Gonzalez, Luke Miller and Ramos
(photos: Peter Yesley)

When I read about Antonio Ramos and The Gangbangers planning a world-premiere Dixon Place commission described as "part Latinx-flavored 'asstravaganza,' part humorous celebration of queer culture, and part an outrageous political statement against the body-negative and repressed nature of the world we live in" and, btw, "the work is performed in the nude," I must admit I thought: 'Great. Queer. Check. POC. Check. Nude and body positive. Check and check. Dixon Place. But, of course." I envisioned the delightfully Tricksterish Ramos bringing coals to Newcastle or...whatever would be the appropriate metaphor in this case. The famously-inclusive, provocative Dixon Place is not exactly enemy territory for any of the communities or sensibilities Ramos represents.

The work's title, Almodóvar Dystopia, references Spanish film director Pedro Almodóvar with whom Ramos feels creative kinship. Award-winning playwright/director/actor David Drake is onboard as dramaturg, and Ramos is joined in performance by Luke Miller, Darrin Wright, Alvaro Gonzalez Dupuy, Angie PittmanSarah White-Ayóand Awilda Rodriguez Lora--a diverse cast who "cull exaggerated personae from their personal backgrounds, exploring the challenges, anxieties, and neuroses entailed in the process of dance-making."

I asked Ramos, the self-identified "Queer-Puerto-Rican-Cha-Cha-Heels-Shaman," to share more about the mission and vulnerability behind the new work and how he hopes to relate to his audiences. Here are some excerpts from his remarks.
I wish an audience that is not used to seeing this kind of work would come to see it. I really want people to understand the importance of body respect and that, in my work, all bodies are beautiful. Right now, in society, there’s this whole thing about how the body should look and how the body should be. That’s affecting us on so many levels, even in the queer community. We call each other names, and I have a problem with that.

I’m actually doing a lot of work on genitals in Almodóvar Dystopia, about how society views genitals as disgusting, taboo, that we constantly have to cover them. It’s an issue I deal with myself: why, if we are made beautiful, we have to cover, and we treat people like they are perverts. To me, that’s the perversity–finding the nude body disgusting and sinful.

It has also been hard for me to find dancers who have that sense of freedom and to deal with photographers who have strict limits on what they can show in their photographs. They don’t have to be rude about it, though. If you’re a photographer, you should find a way to work with the nudity. Their discomfort can be funny, but it’s also offensive to me. Again, it’s the issue of how we deal with genitals in this country. For me, the body is sacred. This is the real thing. We’re real people who sweat. We’re real people who shit and fart.
I am grateful for my dancers' courage, for being vulnerable and naked with me, and for believing in the work.
When you look at Almodóvar’s work, I think he’s always been interested in Hollywood and how to copy Hollywood. I’m not interested in that. I’m more interested in his process and how that process of creating is very similar to mine. It’s almost like the meta of the meta of the meta. Kind of doing a play that is being recorded or making a film of and, at the same time, you see the inside of the film, and you see the actors showing you the process of making the film. I do that a lot--show you how the work is done. I have a collage of images--things happening right now, things happening to me, things happening in the world, in Latin America. I’m excited to work with David Drake as my dramaturg. He has been really great.

I’m using elements I haven’t used before, like green screen and livestream. My video designer Alex Romania has helped me with that. Live music. I wanted to make it like you’re in the studio making a film, making a dance and trying to make sense of this mess we live in.

I feel like I have to get my voice out there, and this is my practice to deal with how we are treating one another.

In terms of shamanism, it is my spiritual practice, and I’m trying to do it within my dance. It is my way of living, my way of breaking through. It’s not a dogma, not a religion, not a rule, but more things that come through nature. I feel related to that. A lot of the source material comes from my journey, connecting with nature. Some of this is connected to my mother’s illness and death.
I’ve always been interested in herbalism. I’m a massage therapist. I like energy work. I’m very involved with all that. This sustains the work and my practice as a shaman, as a healer. And I go in nature, I get undressed, and I do my little video in the sea, in the mountains. And somehow that material gets filtrated into the dance, and the dancers learn from these improvisations. The process keeps changing, but the process also keeps creating and setting things from that process.
I don't want to give too much away about the piece, but I always have food in my pieces, and it's a symbol of unity and family, getting people together--the warmth of the food, the sweetness of it. It's part of my Latin culture.
In Almodóvar Dystopia, it's a gift to the audience. I'm grateful to the audience for taking this journey with me. Regardless if you see me as dirty, nasty, queer, perverse, there's always the sweetness. 
I hope people laugh and have fun!
Antonio Ramos is a dancer, choreographer, and licenced massage therapist / Feldenkrais practitioner from Puerto Rico whose recent work has been presented at American Realness, The Center for Performance Research, JACK, and Museo del Barrio. He is currently a resident artist at Gibney Dance and Danspace Project. Ramos is the artistic director and choreographer for Antonio Ramos & the Gangbangers. As a performer, Antonio has danced with choreographers Mark Dendy, Neil Greenberg, Jeremy Nelson, Stephen Petronio, Merian Soto, Kevin Wynn, Ori Flomin, Donna Uchizono and Larissa Velez-Jackson/YACKEZ, among others.

 The Gangbangers find inspiration in pop music, queer identities,  shiny objects, all forms of dance, and the fabulous way a wig can enhance how one presents themselves to others.

Catch Almodóvar Dystopia at Dixon Place on Fridays and Saturdays, September 15-30 at 7:30pm. For information and ticketing, click here.

Dixon Place
161A Chrystie Street, Manhattan

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