October 04, 2013

Performance artists to make Deer Valley Rock Art Center their desert stage

Posted: October 04, 2013
Colombia's Nemcatacoa Teatro will join with Verbo*bala, a performance group from Tucson, to present "Desierto Remix: Performance in the Desert" at ASU's Deer Valley Rock Art Center. The unique, outdoor event is a joint production of the center and Performance in the Borderlands.
Photo by: Nemcatacoa Teatro
October 12, 2013
5 p.m. - 8 p.m.

Desierto Remix: Performance in the Desert” promises to be unlike anything regular visitors to Arizona State University’s Deer Valley Rock Art Center have encountered.

Typically, people trek to the center to walk its 1/4-mile trail and view the 1,500-plus petroglyphs etched into the Hedgpeth Hills’ stones or to catch sight of native wildlife, or perhaps to encounter the Will Bruder-designed museum.

But on the evening of Oct. 12, the 47-acre Sonoran Desert preserve and archaeological park will be transformed into a vast, interactive stage.

Two troupes of performers, Nemcatacoa Teatro, from Colombia, and Tucson’s Verbo*bala, will join forces to create one integrated experience from their respective performances: “Landscape Re-invention Society” and “Sonoran Strange.”

The event is a joint production of Performance in the Borderlands and Deer Valley Rock Art Center, brought to ASU by Borderlands’ producing director Mary Stephens and Casandra Hernandez, the center’s coordinator of interpretation and programs.

Stephens and Hernandez saw both groups perform at Arcosanti in May and were intrigued by their use of space and their ability to reframe the familiar.

The groups have been touring the U.S. as part of “the Bi-Cultural Roadshow.” Though the tour is ongoing, the Oct. 12 performance will be customized to highlight the unique characteristics of the desert site.

Nemcatacoa Teatro performers are otherworldly figures outfitted in white costumes and makeup that move slowly and acrobatically on stilts to the soft sound of panpipes. Verbo*bala offers a multimedia exploration of border identity and the varied histories of Arizona, touching on subjects as diverse as snowbirds and the banshee-like La Llorona.

“Our work is about creating spaces for people to reimagine the possibilities in their lives through performance,” Stephens says. “'Desierto Remix,’ for example, brings people to a desert preserve, a place of meeting for many ancient peoples, and has them walking through the desert following performers on stilts as they explore the landscape and the many petroglyphs. I feel pretty certain that people have not experienced this before and the use of Butoh – an avant-garde Japanese performance that focuses on death in a very profound way – is a way for audiences to think about who came before us; what are the ghosts of the past that we live with. This event, in particular, takes seriously our desert environment and questions of identity and history.”

The Verbo*bala segment of the evening promises to be equally engaging and thought-provoking.

“I’m a bicultural woman who’s spent her entire life on both sides of the Sonoran Desert border,” shares Hernandez. “The first time I saw Verbo*bala I felt as if I had heard, for the first time outside of my head, a language that I had only spoken to myself. Verbo*bala’s ‘Sonoran Strange’ is a story about a generation of Arizonans, like me, for whom our mixed cultural heritage demands us to understand history in new ways.”

She calls the bilingual performance a visual, verbal and musical poem that samples authors, photographs and video the way a DJ samples records.

The evening is an example of Deer Valley Rock Art Center’s expanding focus on the site in a contemporary context. Hernandez hopes that programming like “Desierto Remix” will help modern audiences connect with the ancient setting while understanding that they are part of its continuing legacy.

Tickets for “Desierto Remix: Performance in the Desert” can be reserved through the Deer Valley Rock Art Center’s website. A limited number is available. Audience members should wear comfortable shoes and be prepared to walk the 1/4-mile petroglyph trail for the 5 to 8 p.m. event.

Rebecca Howe, rebecca.howe@asu.edu
School of Human Evolution and Social Change