Sounds of Cultura (SOC): La Pocha Nostra

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La Pocha Nostra performance methods seek to explore how social categories reinforce unequal social and political relationships by evoking the border as a physical, conceptual and spiritual terrain that must be challenged. ASU School of Film, Dance and Theatre Associate Professor Micha Espinosa and Michele Ceballos Michot, La Pocha Nosta core troupe member talk about the performance collective.

JOSE CARDENAS: In tonight's Sounds of Cultura SoC, La Pocha Nostra. This performance collective looks to explore how social categories reinforce unequal, social, and political relationships by using the border as a physical, conceptual and spiritual terrain that must be challenged. With me to talk about La Pocha Nostra is ASU School of Film, Dance, and Theatre associate professor Micha Espinosa and Michelle Ceballos Michot, La Pocha Nosta core troupe member. Thank you both for joining us on "Horizonte." Michelle, we mentioned a moment ago you're a core troupe member. What does that mean and give us a little bit of the history of La Pocha Nostra.

MICHELE MICHOT: Well, a core troupe member, we work in a horizontal model and so there's about a core of five that we do everything. So we're in charge of finding the projects, negotiating the projects, the whole thing.

JOSE CARDENAS: And this all started what, back in the mid'90s or so?

MICHELE MICHOT: It started about 20 years ago and it started with a man who he himself in a performance artist and activist, a writer, a poet, he's written about 12 books. They actually study his work and perform it in Latino studies as well and he was touring. And the way that I connected with him was when he brought a project here called the temple of confessions to the Scottsdale center for the arts. And a very great artist here recommended me to him. He was looking for a collaborator and another collaborator from Borderlands Theater in Tucson. So we met, connected, loved the project and got involved.

JOSE CARDENAS: What are the common themes? Because it's evolved over the years and one show is different from one performance to the next.

MICHELE MICHOT: The basic structure is the same. There's not a presidium. It's not like you sit down. The audience wanders and there's small stages. That kind of structure is different than the traditional. And the shows themselves, they're thematic. So we've done mexotica, the museum of fetishized identities. The one that we just did, the basic idea is about crossing all sorts of borders and about identity, borders and identity. It did start about Mexico and the United States because that was Guillermo's story and his quest, and it's morphed from the different artists that are involved to have to do with all sorts of borders, gender, race, identity, place, color.

JOSE CARDENAS: And Micha your work is also very reflective of those same kinds of themes. Tell us about that and your involvement with La Pocha Nostra.

MICHA ESPINOSA: I'm professor of voice and acting. And the work that I do is I'm a master teacher in voice work. In this work I help people embody their work, find vibration, and so it's not only singing and speaking, but one's right to speak. So when I studied La Pocha Nostra and then started working with them, there was a clear connection between freeing oneself and pure expression, so speak not to impress but to express. So there was a clear connection between the radical performer pedagogy of La Pocha Nostra and my voice work.

JOSE CARDENAS: Let's talk about the performance that was just last week.

MICHA ESPINOSA: On Saturday night.

JOSE CARDENAS: Give us a sense for that one.

MICHA ESPINOSA: Well, it was on Central and Roosevelt in that area and we had about 200 people there. And the show, imagine Pocha esthetics, with Pocha style and crazy techno toys. The professors and students of the engineering program at Arizona State University created some amazing toys for us to play with so we used voice as a site of identity and we manipulated the voice in all sorts of wonderful ways.

JOSE CARDENAS: We've got some pictures we're going to show of that performance but before we do that we've got pictures of the two of you in other performances and the first one, Micha, we're going to put up on the screen right now, this is one that you were involved in. Tell us about it.

MICHA ESPINOSA: That was in the Sudad de Carmen in Mexico and I went down there to work on a show and that was the song of violence and that doesn't seem like a border town but it is --

JOSE CARDENAS: It's Yucatan. Southern Mexico.

MICHA ESPINOSA: The oil rigs have created a whole other city so the men would come off the oil rigs, and now, an entire industry was created with table dancing and all sorts of things and the artists were thrilled that we were there creating this work because a lot of the theater departments had been decimated because all the money is going towards building in oil and technology and the arts have been left. So when we arrived, everybody was really happy and it was an amazing show.

JOSE CARDENAS: Now, Michelle, the picture we have of you that we're going to put on the screen, most people wouldn't expect to see a dancer and you look like you're in ballet shoes and tutu, on a motorcycle.

MICHELE MICHOT: Yes, well, that's one of my personas, which is kind of like a psychotic ballerina, that was one of my first personas based on my own life, I was a professional ballerina, I danced in Russia and Europe and all over. This is our studio, La Pocha Nostra studio in Mexico City and we did a photo shoot based on using some of our personas and what we do is we mix that persona, it's very baroque-ish, so you wouldn't see a ballerina on a motorcycle.

JOSE CARDENAS: We haven't had very many on our show but we have had ballerinas. We have three pictures of the last performance. The first one is a D.J. character? Tell me about this one.

MICHELE MICHOT: That's Logan Phillips. He's a poet, amazing poet, performer.

MICHA ESPINOSA: He's called Sonoran strange, the name of his book, and he's out of Tucson and he recently did a show here with performance in the borderlands and he is an associate like myself with La Pocha Nostra.

JOSE CARDENAS: And what was he doing in this show last week?

MICHA ESPINOSA: Well, we had an improvisation between sometimes Guillermo's poetry, my poetry, his music, and the artists of the arts media and engineering and their sound toys and so sometimes, the voice would go very high, sometimes, the voice would go very fast and then sometimes there would be music underneath it. So it was a live improvisation during the performance between sometimes all three of us.

JOSE CARDENAS: And we've got two more pictures, very interesting characters, I think they've been in the shows before. This one, tell us about this one, Michelle.

MICHELE MICHOT: This one, this is 10 ways of how to kill a Mexican. And 10 ways how to kill a woman. And then the audience participation and you would be surprised how many people pick up that weapon and very confidential will point it at a body. So it's really creating that -- putting you in a position of that choice.

JOSE CARDENAS: And I want to talk more about audience participation but we have one more picture I want to make sure we get to, a mariachi, but not the mariachi you would normally see.

MICHELE MICHOT: A phantom mariachi and this symbol actually is appearing a lot in San Francisco at all the -- you know what's happening with San Francisco, like every other city, it's going through this gentrification where the mission district now from all the families that have been there for centuries with their stores are now these very chic tortas, the people are being pushed out.

JOSE CARDENAS: Because of the tech workers, Google and Apple.

MICHELE MICHOT: Evicted, it's awful what's going on so the phantom mariachi appears at all the events as this symbol, this symbol of the repression really of the identity of the individual in this context -- [ Speaking Spanish ]

JOSE CARDENAS: So we don't have translation but you said the majority of the people there are Mexicans and they were the original inhabitants. Micha, we mentioned audience participation, there was audience participation the last performance. Some of it related to what happened in Paris?

MICHA ESPINOSA: The entire show and we as a troupe, we talked about this, we were all very moved that evening, and then we had a show the next day. So we couldn't ignore that. We had already planned a battle between nationals and internationalists and the way we separate ourselves, so all types of identities and people were hitting each other with these playful bats, it was a really fun moment with fun music and dancing and people hitting each other with bats but then Guillermo Gomez Penez did one of his pieces, a very poignant piece, je suis Charlie.

JOSE CARDENAS: Referring to the shootings at the beginning of the year.

MICHA ESPINOSA: Charlie Hebdo. And the audience took the bats and put them down and it was a very symbolic moment and a very strong cathartic moment for everyone there at the show.

MICHELE MICHOT: And not just the victims of what happened in France but he names all of them. All the shootings that have been going on here.

MICHA ESPINOSA: So it's really goes against the violence in our world. And so the symbols, each one of the characters, each one of these personas that are created in the actions said something about against the violence in our world, 500 years of machismo. We had the border puta.

JOSE CARDENAS: Border prostitute.

MICHA ESPINOSA: My persona, the tamer of the wild tongue.

JOSE CARDENAS: That's all very fascinating, very powerful, evocative performances. Thank you for joining us on "Horizonte."

MICHELE MICHOT: Thank you!

MICHA ESPINOSA: It's been a pleasure.

JOSE CARDENAS: That is our show for tonight. From all of us here at "Horizonte" and your Arizona PBS station, thank you for watching. I'm Jose Cardenas. Have a good evening.

VIDEO: Funding for "Horizonte" is made possible by contributions by the Friends of Eight, members of your Arizona PBS station.

Professor Micha Espinosa:ASU School of Film, Dance and Theatre Associate ,Michele Ceballos Michot:ASU School of Film, Dance and Theatre Associate, La Pocha Nosta :core troupe member talk

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