November 12, 2016 CHOREOGRAPHY Part 5 

This is a final entry in a series of quick blog posts to share some of the inspiration, development, and meaning behind choreographies that will be presented in Luz...

Title: Sangre 

Solea, the “mother” of flamenco palos, will close the show. Fanny Ara and I have collaborated on the choreography for this piece that will include manton work. It will be the most traditional piece in Luz, closing the evening with the purest flamenco sounds of the concert.

I've thought about how flamenco shows are traditionally presented and how Solea is almost always the final palo in flamenco performances around the globe. Keeping to this tradition is appropriate for Luz because it honors all of the flamencas who have helped establish this tradition--the women who have defined what it means to be flamenco. Many of us who practice this art form do it because of the women (and mothers) we've watched on the stage and screen perform pieces like the solea. The most important influences in my flamenco training are also mothers: Juana Amaya, Matilde Coral, Pastora Galvan, Eva la Yerbabuena, Adela Compallo, La Farruca, Mercedes Amaya, and Manuela Carrasco to name just a few. The art work from these woman has help shape me since I was fifteen years old. They are my flamenco all-stars, and my inspiration. 

I'm fortunate to participate in an art form that goes hand in hand with motherhood, one that values family, and one that not only acknowledges the beauty of flamenco matriarchs, but celebrates them faithfully. This is why flamenco is such a perfect medium for honoring mothers who are artists. This is why flamenco is perfect for Luz.

Sangre is the working title of this piece. I've chosen it because like solea, the blood is an image that is powerful, brutal, and generative. It represents the mysteries of genealogy, the substance that binds us, and the foundation of creation. The profound honor of motherhood is expressed in our blood. We don't always appreciate it, but it is always there, just beneath our skin, allowing survival and potential for creation. From it we can draw hope and renewal.

I hope this series of posts on the choreography of Luz has shed some light on why this project is so personal and so important! And of course, I hope you can join me on December 2nd and 3rd for Luz in Arizona! 

November 11, 2016 CHOREOGRAPHY Part 4 

Continuing this series of quick blog posts to share some of the inspiration, development, and meaning behind choreographies that will be presented in Luz...

Title: Dar a Luz 
a percussive piece featuring the rhythms of Diego "El Negro" Muñoz

This short piece is the most recent Luz choreography by Fanny Ara. It was mounted just one week before the first tour of Luz in California and New Mexico in February, 2016.  

The music features percussive work by Diego "El Negro" Muñoz. Diego, originally from Caracas, Venezuela, is considered one of the foremost cajon players in the world. He has recorded with Paco Peña and has accompanied dancers of the highest caliber, including La Tati, Antonio Canales, Joaquin Cortes, Sara Baras, and Rocio Molina.  

Perhaps the most unique choreography in Luz, this short work reminds me of what it feels like to be in labor. There is almost a rhythm to the surges that happen in those hours. As things move faster, time seems to slow down. There is a back and forth conversation between tension and release. In the midst of that kind of intensity, we may want to escape. We may even attempt to hide, to curl ourselves up into whatever shadow we can find. 

But light breaks through. We move out of the eclipse. Light suddenly rushes over us, and everything about us changes forever. 

November 10, 2016 CHOREOGRAPHY Part 3 

Continuing this series of quick blog posts to share some of the inspiration, development, and meaning behind choreographies that will be presented in Luz...

Title: No Tiene Cuna 

This piece was choreographed by Fanny Ara and is set to the music of Miguel Poveda’s “Nana de los Rosales,” a flamenco lullaby.

I first learned this piece from Fanny in a workshop she gave in 2013 in a studio in Phoenix, AZ. As we learned the material, Fanny explained that she was inspired to create this piece right after her close friend lost a child to miscarriage. Beyond the beauty of the music and the movement, the inspiration of this piece really touched me and the others in the studio that day.

About a year later, when I first talked to Fanny about working together on this project to honor mothers, I knew I'd ask if she'd allow me to present this piece. It was a blessing to hear her enthusiasm. Though the piece reflects despair, tragedy, and loss, it also speaks to the beauty of motherhood in its various experiences. It is probably my favorite choreography in Luz because though I've never felt this particular kind of pain, I embrace the idea that even if a child is in the womb for days, weeks, or months, then gone, a mother remains a mother forever.

One thing I've learned in the process of creating Luz is that we as mothers and artists can bear each others burdens. There is a phenomenal tie between women who share in each other’s grief and support each other. I'm so grateful for the women in my life who have come along side me, I'm grateful for the moments I've had the opportunity to come along side them, and of course I'm so very thankful for my friend, Fanny, for making Luz with me.

Workshop with Fanny Ana mounting choreography to Nana de los Rosales, 2013.

November 9, 2016 CHOREOGRAPHY Part 2 

Continuing this series of quick blog posts to share some of the inspiration, development, and meaning behind some of the pieces that will be presented in Luz.

Title: Alumbre 

This piece was choreographed by Fanny Ara in 2015 and is set to the music of Diego El Cigala, featuring Diego del Morao, “Sevillanas de Juan Antonio.” In four coplas, the choreography showcases modern flamenco movement and more complex rhythmic ideas than usually seen in traditional Sevillanas.   
For me, this piece symbolizes the duality of mothers who are artists--the two roles we play as parents and as creators.  This duality is both beautiful and overwhelming.  
Since Sevillanas is normally danced in pairs, this symbolism manifests in a solo piece where the dancer plays her own “pareja.” This piece speaks to the tug-of-war within the heart of mother artists--the pull from home to be there for our families, and the pull from the studio/stage to be our creative selves. Loving mother or independent artist? This piece is about the call to be both, the acknowledgment of the sacrifices on both sides, and the rejoicing in the blessings on both sides. The balance is daily measured.  
 While at times we may fail at either role (or both), we have a unique opportunity. Mothers can bring distinctive and necessary perspectives to the art world. And of course, an artistic perspective can illuminate the practice of motherhood.

November 8, 2016 CHOREOGRAPHY Part 1 

Though Luz gets presented in the course of just one night, the choreography for Luz has been in the works for several years! In the next series of quick blog posts, I'd like to share some of the inspiration, development, and meaning behind some of the pieces that will be presented in Luz. I hope these shed some light on what it means to be a mother and an artist--and how those amazing roles can be acknowledged, celebrated, and honored. 

Title: Eva 

This piece was inspired by the genesis story – the story of Eve. I started creating the Zambra in Tucson back in 2008, when I suddenly thought of Eve. I wondered, what would it be like to be created as a fully formed woman? To not go through development stages but to suddenly be, and to suddenly be woman? Never a girl. Never an adolescent. Never in those awkward stages. Never wondering what will change next in your body, and never worried about your changing identity. Also, naked and not ashamed. I thought about how amazing it would feel to be Eve. How amazing to be the mother of all people. 

As I read Genesis, I saw that Eve was not created from the dust like Adam, but created from the rib. She was created from bone. Strong. Solid. Connected. Purposed, and formed. She was taken out of man, and I’ve spent a lot of time wondering what that means. Is she the part that man is not? Is she the part that man now lacks? The part that man cannot make up for on his own?

Of course, this beginning of Eve is before the fall. All of this is in the state of perfection. Eve, in this state, is woman without pain and without loss. She is woman in bloom fully, capable of complete intimacy with man and his equal.  Before her, there was a question of whether or not God’s perfect creation was good enough for man. With her, it is. Reading this I know that as a woman and mother, I’m in the unique position to realize the role of what the bible metaphorically calls the church: the bride. In the bible, the bride (the church) waits for the groom (the Savior). Women and mothers--we understand waiting. We understand expectation. 

Of course, Eve doesn't stay in perfection. Things change and that is when she must endure suffering, but her suffering is directly linked to her identity as a mother. I think mothers (and artists) understand this idea: that creating hurts, and yet we are called to it. We were made for it.


October 25, 2016 

I feel like molasses. I’m moving so slowly, but thank God I’m inching along. It is hard to believe that Luz is now less than 6 weeks away. I want so much to make it perfect, to have all the right moves, the right costumes, the right lighting, and of course the energy to do it all. I want so much to have more time, enough time. But those desires of perfection are mostly ego talking. What I could be wanting instead is to be in each moment of making Luz. What I could be focused on is the perfection of this opportunity, like a divine appointment. That is so much more precious than ego. 
I’ll be working on that. 
Gladly, I have some inspiration. There are women all around me--probably heaven sent--who are mothers in the arts. Usually, I only get to witness the product of their art rather than the process of their art, but I can imagine all the thought, planning, and work they do behind the scenes, and the beauty of their practice. They weave everyday with art. 
They take a photo and fill a bottle. They make a brush stroke and comfort a crying child. They sew a stitch and run a bath. They write a verse and put their children to bed with a story. They dream an art project and wake to a child’s head on their shoulders. 
I'm so grateful to them. I honor their everyday. Their everyday work pushes me to get up early, before the rest of the house is awake, grab my flamenco shoes, and drive to a studio where I will fight to move better, feel more, dance well. I might be molasses, but I’ll get there eventually. I hope someday soon, molasses will be the very thing I treasure.

Sunrise in the studio.

October 3, 2016 

I don’t have the greatest “relationship” with flamenco right now, but I am grateful that flamenco doesn’t make me choose between soft and hard, between weak and strong. I’m grateful that flamenco is best with both.  
#Luz still has me on a roller coaster, and I guess I’m starting to roll with it. I've been crying a couple times a day, usually when I think I’m alone, even though I don't feel "sad." There don’t seem to be enough hours in the day to deal with all the emotions that pop up. And there are physical challenges too--I stopped eating lots of things I like to eat in the portions I like to eat them. My joints aren’t happy. I’ve had a headache for about four days straight. Also, I have a bazillion student essays to grade (that little thing called my day job), but instead of reading them, I've been reading The Color Purple again. 
The first time I read The Color Purple, I was about Lola's age. Reading it again, with daughters of my own, with memories of everything that I experienced after I read it the first time, makes me crack open a little. I feel like I'm in the twilight zone. I feel like something is going to burst. I've been feeling this way for weeks. 
I guess I thought that as I matured, I'd get tougher. But it seems I’ve gotten more sensitive with each passing year. This feels like a problem because I started off as too sensitive to begin with. I don't like being labeled as sensitive. The connotation is weak, melodramatic, disorganized, out of control. I don't want to be those things. 
I try to pretend I’m not sensitive by being anti-sentimental instead. I'm okay with throwing out Gloria's first watercolor paintings. I don't feel the need to go to my 20th high school reunion. I've even gone so far as to sell off some of my inheritances. Does that make me stronger? Does that make me tough enough? 
In The Color Purple, I read again about Celie, Shug, Nettie, Sophia. I feel smaller, but better off. I feel like the book arrived at the library just for me. I needed to see these women in a book this week. I needed these characters to arrive in my home, in my head. They are strong. They are weak. They are mothers. 
I realize that Luz is a flamenco project asking me to see how sensitive I really am, but also how sturdy, how solid. Luz makes me a baby, expressing anguish with even the smallest of pains, and simultaneously equipping me with a coat of armor. Luz feels like a miracle sometimes—a miracle that I didn’t invent, and don’t have much control over, but I know where miracles come from. I know where Luz comes from. 

September 26, 2016 

I know we all have days or weeks packed with highs and lows, epiphanies then tragedies, blessings and then burdens again. The last two weeks have been like that for me. I’ve been given wonderful news then awful news then back again. I’ve felt comforted and at ease one moment, then shocked and confused the next. Some of this has to do with the planning of Luz later this year, some of it has to do with family, and some of it has just been about watching the news. The last couple of weeks have felt just like those roller coaster rides I used to love as a kid--the kind I can’t even look at now without feeling sick. 

The ups and downs shouldn’t be a surprise, but when those ups and downs get condensed, like quickened heart beats on a monitor, I start to feel lost and hyper focused at the same time. It is a strange feeling, and one that I know I’ve felt before. 

When Gloria was about to be born, the nurses broke my water to help things move along, to speed things up. It worked. Moments after my water broke, I felt something more intense in my body than I ever had in my life. I had already given birth to one child, so I thought I knew what labor was like. In reality, I had no idea what was about to hit me. Labor went from zero to sixty in that minute. I had no idea what those ups and downs would feel like in such rapid succession. I felt lost then too, and all I could do was focus on the eyes of one nurse in the room. I looked into her eyes without blinking for what felt like an hour. Suddenly, I was seeing pretty clearly. 

They say that a mother forgets labor. Well, I don’t remember what that nurse looked like. I don’t remember her name. I don’t remember many details of my labor with Gloria, but I have not forgotten that feeling of being lost and focused and up and down several times a second. That is a feeling I will never forget. 

Though these last two weeks haven’t been as dramatic as giving birth, my experience of having Gloria, of feeling her last hours inside me, her father holding me, and breathing all those short breaths—all of those things help me understand what it means to be right here, seeing clearly in the middle of the mountains and valleys. 

September 12, 2016 - Loving Mondays 

My three-year-old daughter, Gloria, joined me in the studio today. While I rehearsed, she played for a while by herself, but eventually she left her toys and distractions and walked right up to the mirror. Gloria’s immediate response to seeing her own reflection? Singing (loudly). And dancing (or at least spinning). 
Despite my attempts to keep her calm so that I could work, Gloria was unabashed. It didn’t matter that she didn’t know the words to her own songs. It didn’t matter to her that anyone else was in the room. She didn’t once self-criticize.  This is the way I know most toddlers to behave, and it wasn’t out of the norm for her. She lives her little three-year-old life like this pretty much everyday. 
My “normal” is to smile and indulge her for a moment, but then to try and somehow corral this behavior. Even though I don’t necessarily fault her for acting like this while I’m trying to get something done, I often complain about it, and even use it as an excuse for why I can’t seem to get anything done. Anyone who has spent even five minutes with a toddler understands this. But I sometimes wish that my “normal” looked a little more like hers. 
My mother started taking me to dance classes when I was three years old. I remember knowing what day of the week it was (Monday), because it was the day I got to dance. I remember putting on my ballet shoes and I remember looking in the mirror. I remember holding on to the ballet bar. I don’t recall much of anything else. But I do remember loving Mondays with all my heart. 
Everyone tells me that Gloria looks just like me. Sometimes people even say the words: “She is little Mele.” But as soon as I outwardly acknowledge our likeness, I find myself inwardly rejecting the idea. I think Gloria is beautiful, but I don’t really want to look like her. I often feel the need to remind myself that she is not me; I feel the need to corral the very idea of it, and to put a nice strong fence between me and that three-year-old little girl. But I wonder if God has a good reason, maybe even a hundred good reasons, for giving me a child that is my doppelganger. Maybe He wants me to see something every time I look at her.  Maybe He is trying to tell me something.

September 5, 2016 - Looking for Luz 

Luz will be presented the first weekend of December in Phoenix and Tucson.  
Though I wish I could give you this news with balloons and confetti and lots of exclamation points, I’m going to tell you that in all honesty, my first “flinch” is to run away. I’ve asked for this opportunity. I’ve taken steps to make it happen.  But the first thing that comes to mind when I think about presenting Luz (in just twelve weeks) is run away
I admit this reaction sounds like I don’t have any appreciation. It sounds cowardly. Lazy too. And those labels are pretty accurate.  Real dancers don’t act like this. They work hard. They make a million sacrifices.  They spend their whole lives in the studio. Blood, sweat, and tears…all of that. They dream and they strive. 
But I guess my first flinch reaction is to be the opposite of a dancer… to not dance, to not even move. 
My heart is missing something. I wish I could just invent the part that is gone – make it fit the hole. I’ve tried many times to do this, but the part never fits. There is no real or lasting replacement. 
Almost all summer long, I’ve done my first flinch reaction—I’ve done everything but dance. My shoes have slept in my closet. My body has retreated under the covers of my bed. I’ve been comfortable, not dancing.  Lately, I’ve been trying to force some motivation. I’ve rented a studio. I’ve had creative meetings. I’ve had plenty of coffee. I’ve considered watching some Rocky films. But when I get into the studio and try to move, my body gets stuck. Almost immobile.  My heart is missing something. 
I’ve come to understand that initial reactions are usually the opposite of what God has intended for me. I’ve come to understand that much of the time I am blind to my own purpose. Even when I know it is right there in front of me, I can’t really see it. It is distorted, and my eyes get tired of trying to make out the image. I forget that this act of dancing, this production of art, is not really about me. It is not about my body. It is not about my imperfections. Nor is it about anything I can do right. It is not about my abilities or even my performance. It is simply about shining a light. 
My heart maybe missing something, and my flinching may last for days or weeks or months, but I’m going to keep looking for Luz.