On Saturday, March 3 and Sunday, March 4, with 2pm and 8pm showings, Abrepaso Flamenco will bring its third evening-long production to the National Hispanic Cultural Center (1701 Fourth Street SW) choreographed by the company's producer and artistic director, Alice Blumenfeld, titled Vacío/Void. The show explores a diversity of environmental themes through the medium of flamenco, with original songs by composer Lauren Valerie Coons, guitarist Misael Barraza and singer Meagan Chandler. “I have a desire to create work relevant to today's world,” Blumenfeld explained. And through collaboration, has been able to access the themes of the work more deeply, while still making room for improvisation on stage. “Improvisation is key to performing work so dense, because it allows the dancers to be fully present in the moment. … Nature improvises, too.” Blumenfeld took some time to more fully explain the themes of Vacío/Void ahead of its premiere (tickets for which start at $28, and can be found at nhccnm.org).
Alibi: What prompted the creation of this performance, Vacío/Void?
Blumenfeld: Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring was the initial starting point. She was a childhood hero of mine; her writing is so beautiful and poetic—the imagery inspired my imagination as a choreographer. I also wanted to pay homage to her—homenajes are common practice in flamenco, but instead of one of my flamenco heroes, I wanted to make a tribute to her, especially as her work is just as relevant, if not more relevant, today as it was 50 years ago. And March is Women’s History Month, so it seemed like an ideal time to produce the show.
Why this environmentalist in particular?
[I like] the themes of interconnectedness, that man is not above nature nor do we have the right or the ability to control nature, and that we are part of the delicately connected web that is the ecosystem. Even as people become more and more aware of how we are desecrating the environment, we still live in a way that makes our lives more convenient at the expense of nature, which will eventually be at our expense as well. Other than dance, nature and the environment is one of my biggest passions, and I have always found inspiration in nature. Carson’s writing is incredibly poetic. … She was one of the first people to raise awareness that putting human convenience over the environment is not okay. At a time when there were few female scientists, she had the courage to speak up for what she believed in.
What is the significance of the title of the piece?
I was working with a lot of themes connected to Carson and I was having trouble seeing how they all connected, so I made a web diagram, but I couldn’t figure out what went in the middle, so I left it blank. I realized that the empty space—the vacío—was actually an idea that connected all the themes I was working with. [Ideas] such as the perceived distance between humans and the rest of the world, voids left when we lose someone important in our lives, the interconnectedness of living creatures being defined by the spaces in between them, silence, absence, only being able to see parts of the greater web of life, ideas of control, nature moving at its own pace, overgrowth, cancer, loneliness, trees and their methods of communication, roots, being physically close to someone but a million miles away emotionally. …The themes go on and on, but they all connect back to, or are defined in some way by the in-between spaces that we so often neglect. And by that, I refer both to physical space between things, and mental and emotional spaces.
Is it challenging to translate these big ideas into dance?
Yes, choreographing is the hardest and most rewarding thing I’ve ever done. I don’t come to choreography with answers, I come to the studio with questions. Choreographing is a means to explore and delve into the themes; it’s a way of research and investigation for me. I’m not simply translating the themes into dance, but exploring the themes in my body and in the dancers’ bodies.
What do you hope that the audience will learn?
I hope the audience will be inspired to look into Rachel Carson’s works and read some of her books. I hope the audience will look at trees differently, and be reminded of our interconnectedness. … We’re never alone, we’re part of this incredible ecosystem called Earth. I hope they’ll see that flamenco can be much more than a passionate woman in a red dress, that the art form can explore ideas relevant to anyone and everyone.