Performance in the Borderlands

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Performance in the Borderlands is a community partnership in the ASU Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts in the School of Film, Dance and Theatre. Performance in the Borderlands producing director and ASU School of Film, Dance and Theatre lecturer Mary Stephens, and ASU School of Humanities, Arts and Cultural Studies assistant professor and Entre Nosotras co-founder Michelle Tellez talk about this project.

José Cárdenas: "Performance in the Borderlands" is a community partnership in the ASU Herberger School of Design and the Arts and the school of Film, Dance and Theatre. Hear to talk about this project and an event coming up dedicated to music and dialogue is Mary Stephens, a producing director for "Performance in the Borderlands," and a lecturer for the ASU school of Film, Dance and Theatre. Here also is Dr. Michelle Tellez, co-founder of the "Entre Nosotros" group. She's an assistant professor in the ASU School for Humanities, Arts and Culture Studies. We just finished talking to John J. Valadez, part of a PBS series that tells the story of Mexican-Americans. It just seems so appropriate to have you guys on to talk about how that story is still going on. Michelle, give us a little bit of a sense of "Performance in the Borderlands." I'm sorry, Dr. Philips -- Stephens, rather. There's a Mary Phillips that I have in my head, Mary Stephens. But a sense of "Performance in the Borderlands" and what you're trying to accomplish with that.

Mary Stephens: So "Performance in the Borderlands" is a tiny initiative in the School of Film, Dance and Theatre. We focus on bringing performance and politics or social themes together out in communities in Phoenix, as a way to really address what's happening here, not only in Phoenix and Arizona broadly but looking at the rest of the nation and globally, what's happening around Borders. A lot of our programming has to do with curating international, national and local artists who come together to talk about and to show work addressing political themes in some way.

José Cárdenas: And when you say out in the communities that's a key component of change, from where the program was focused before. It's been in existence since 2004 but more recently you really are going out into the community.

Mary Stephens: In the last two years we've moved the programming off of campus and brought it into different communities in Arizona and Tucson. That was really an initiative and gesture toward believing there are other cultural producers of knowledge that we need to be working with. It isn't just one way. It isn't just come to the University to experience these great artists and knowledge producers. But what local people do we have that are already doing this work that we can work with and learn from as University professors, students and faculty in some way. Bringing national and international artists into critical proximity with local artists to talk about these issues and work together has been a major part of this kind of difference in the last two years. What we've found that is our audiences; we can't get them not to come. I can't tell you, sometimes I hope only 20 people will come, I'm a little tired, and we have 100 people coming to events Tuesday nights, to talk about these issues. I think the reason performance is important is because, you know, in general -- and I don't know how you feel, Michelle about this, but art is about destabilizing the family or making the familiar strange to us.

José Cárdenas: We will talk about some of those events where you have done exactly that, Mary. Before we do that, Dr. Tellez tells us a little about "Entre Nosotras." It's relatively new.

Michelle Tellez: Absolutely, thank you. "Entre Nosotras" is a collaboration between students -

José Cárdenas: Literally meaning between us, between women.

Michelle Tellez: Yes, absolutely. It's between students, faculty members across the campuses, sort of embodying that idea; one university in many places. And we created this; it was born out a little bit by one of my classes, Gender in the Borderlands. We decided we really wanted to speak that pertained to the Chicano-Latino transnational community. Talk about issues but bring them into conversation in different mediums. To have the lectures but to bring films, bring artists and musicians, and in that way talk about the same issues that maybe you'll read in a text, but instead create dialogue, listen to music, talk about stories through a song. So that's been the idea. Over a year I think we've been pretty successful. We're barely starting, we're autonomous in some ways, we're part of the University and work on the campuses. But really the idea is to bridge the academy with the community.

José Cárdenas: You've got a really neat event coming up we're going to talk about in that some detail. Before we do that, Mary, some of the events you've done, we've got some pictures of them. One of them is this Desierto Remix; we'll have that on the screen in a second. Tell us about this; it's a very striking photo.

Mary Stephens: It is a beautiful photo, it was an amazing event. The Desierto Remix was a collaboration with Cassandra Hernandez and The Deer Valley Rock Art Center. It was in the North valley, about 25 miles north of Phoenix. We were working with a group of Columbian street artists, a group of 14 still the-walkers that use performance to get into this conversation around people that have died before us through things like genocide, and bringing them here and placing them on a Native American psyched site of migration. So there's rock art all over the Deer Valley. Seeing this work as they are walking through the desert following a group called Nemcatacoa on stilts. You can see from the image they are in this white, kind of ghostly costume. On the sacred site, which in some ways has a lot of resonance with people that have come before us, genocide, where do we go next? And then as we're walking through, remembering we are in this desert place, and what does it mean to be desert dwellers in 2013. How are we sustainable now, how do we treat the past, the present, where is our future going. Showing almost 250 people came out to a fairly unknown place to see this work.

José Cárdenas: We've got a couple of other pictures to get up quickly; one is "Breaking Boundaries."

Mary Stephens: Yeah, this is "Breaking Boundaries." Again, coproduced with a dear friend and colleague, Cassandra Hernandez. This was a panel discussion about arts and social engagement, again 250 people at Phoenix Center for the Arts, again bringing it off of campus into communities to have an interesting and dynamic conversation. One of the things about "Performance in the Borderlands" that's very important, we really take diversity at all levels of our curation very, very serious. We look at race and sexuality and gender and class in terms of who participates.

José Cárdenas: We have another series that focuses on a very local issue in one sense; band, "Plays."

Mary Stephens: This is the band, "Plays," and it's at the Phoenix Hospital and Cultural Center where it's usually housed, and that's right in downtown Phoenix, not too far from this building. We decided that we needed a response to what was happening in Tucson, and not necessarily to protest what was happening but how can we come together around bannings of some kind. And we curated a series called, "The Band Plays." We work with local artists and leaders, nonreaders, to come together to read plays. And again we have 100 people at play readings on Tuesdays nights.

José Cárdenas: And Dr. Tellez, you're hoping to have a good crowd for something that's coming up the weekend of the 15th or so, tell us about that. It's three nights of program.

Michelle Tellez: Yes, we are very excited about this. It's the week of Chicana artivism, so we're going to be having a lecture Thursday evening at the West campus by Dr. Micaela Díaz-Sanchez. She's going to be really thinking through the historiography, gender dynamics around performance. And then on Friday evening we will be bringing out the band, "Entre Mujeres." Dr. Martha Gonzalez, she just actually finished her Ph.D. as well at the University of Washington. She created this project out of I think trance-local dialogues is what she calls it. Out of conversation and musical engagement --

José Cárdenas: We're almost out of time. Tell us about the third day.

Michelle Tellez: On Saturday morning there will be a workshop at Tonatierra and it's going to be a community workshop where we engage in Fandango practices in music and collective song-writing. We're very excited to bring out ideas where community members will participate in this three-day series.

José Cárdenas: These are all very exciting events; a very impressive series for "Performance in the Borderlands." We'll have you both back to talk greater length about both of these. Thank you so much for joining us.

Mary Stephens & Michelle Tellez: Thank you.

Mary Stephens:Producing Director, Performance in the Borderlands;Michelle Tellez:Co-founder, Entre Nosotras

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