SoMos is a Branch Dance performance spectacle bridging nature and the urban landscape, to be presented in a parking lot in the North Philadelphia barrio on October 12, 2012, at 8pm as part of Taller Puertorriqueño’s performance series, Café Under the Stars: Spotlighting the Arts in El Barrio. In contrast to the urban landscape, the parking lot at 5th and Huntingdon Streets will be transformed into a quiet carnival of nature images, sounds and movement invoking the four seasons. This is a free event.
Interview with SoMos choreographer Merián Soto by Josh McIlvain, July 29, 2012.
Photos: Lindsay Browning
Photos: Lindsay Browning
Q: Why is the show named SoMoS?
Merián Soto: Somos means we are. It is inclusive. It brings us together as a community or as a whole. I want to create a work that reminds us that we are nature. SoMoS is also a palindrome, it contains its own reflection. How appropriate for this work which reflects back to us our being-ness.
Q: Can you describe your jumping off point, and the history of your work that has led up to this show?
Merián Soto: I’ve been working with branches for seven years or so. Throughout this time I have imagined ways of bringing the work to urban spaces and specifically the Puerto Rican community of North Philadelphia. When Carmen Febo, director of Taller Puertorriqueño, asked me to present work as part of their series, Café Under the Stars, I accepted immediately. They are presenting work under a large tent in the parking lot on Huntingdon Ave and 5th Street where they will be constructing their new building. As I started thinking what I would present in this context I imagined the tent as projection surface. I loved the vastness of the parking lot, a place to work with giant branches. I imagined large projections that would attract audiences from afar. I imagined a series of water-globe like spaces where audiences could enter. Taller said yes to every idea. They have been completely supportive of my vision.
Merián Soto: The basic task is to connect with the branch through touch. The touch establishes a feedback circuit. You sense the shape, weight, and flow of the branch and respond physically; the response triggers a new awareness. It's all about awareness of shifting energies, including images and feelings. You know a dancer has “got it” when they can hook in quickly into a “zone”—they move seamlessly, the balance is impeccable, they move through “impossible” places, their dance is poetic, evocative.
Q: What are the performance areas for the show? How will the audience experience the show?
Merián Soto: The audience is invited to engage with the work in their own way. They will be free to move from space to space or linger. There are several tents representing the seasons placed around a central space. One tent will be a playroom for the audience.
Merián Soto: This is very much a collaborative project. I am working with an extraordinary group of dancers who have been branch dancing with me for several years. Each is a choreographer in her/his own right and is on top of her/his game. What a pleasure to work with Olive Prince, Jumatatu Poe, Marion Ramírez, Beau Hancock, and Jung Woong Kim! SoMoS is providing an opportunity to expand branch dance choreography. There is new hot duet work, work with balancing multiple branches at the same time, and much more.
Other collaborators include the wonderful, sensitive, world class designer Christine Darch who has collaborated with me on several projects as well as Leigh Mumford who is designing the lights and directing production aspects (a mammoth job), Cicada Dennis, sound design, and Lauren Mandilian, projection artist. The creative process has been very fluid, with everyone coming together to create a magical space.
Q: The show is very much a large public event yet also a lot of the experience is very intimate. What is compelling for you in creating that relationship? And what are some of the challenges of maintaining that balance?
Merián Soto: Nature is a vast, complex, interrelated whole. We each connect with it in our own ways. I want to create a space for people to chill, to experience their body’s imagination in relation to other bodies and beautiful nature imagery, a place of reverie. I want us to remember that we are nature.
Perhaps most challenging is finding the structures that can support freedom–for the artists/performers, and for the audience, and at the same time allow for compelling art and a safe experience for everyone. I am trying to create is a giant playground. There will be several performances going on simultaneously. How will audiences respond?
Merián Soto: It's been an absolute pleasure playing with the materials, imagining and discovering what is possible and collaborating with such extraordinary artists. Working in the parking lot has been challenging but super interesting to meet the neighbors and to observe them observing us. Like I mentioned before, it has been great working with Taller. Often when you work with a presenter you get used to people saying no to every request. Its been a breath of fresh air to hear yes, yes, yes. I also want to mention that it's been very rewarding to teach the practice to an extended cast of dancers.