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Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Fiery Flamenco Highlights SCSU Women's Studies Program

Fiery Flamenco Highlights SCSU Women’s Studies Program
By Mike Lauterborn
© 2010. All Rights Reserved.

New Haven, CT -- “FLAMENCO PERFORMANCE” the Southern Connecticut State University ad boldly announced. The capital letters foretold what would be an exclamation point of a dance event highlighting an exciting term of Women’s Studies programs at the New Haven-based center for higher learning.

A tribute to women freedom fighters Minerva, Patria and Maria Teresa Mirabal, sisters that led a rebellion against Dominican Republic dictator Jose Trujillo and were mysteriously murdered November 25, 1960, “Canto” was choreographed by noted Artistic Director/Choreographer Melinda Bronson. The free performance, held Wednesday, March 31st on the sprawling SCSU campus, included a panel discussion on women as freedom fighters.

Yi-Chun Tricia Lin, Ph.D., the petite, well-spoken director of the Women’s Studies Program and Vice President of the National Women’s Studies Association, introduced the event, explaining that it was Minerva Mirabal who co-founded the rebellion. She dubbed it the 14th of June Movement and her sisters joined her in the fight. They were collectively known as the “Butterflies”.

SCSU Professor Hector Mirabal (no relation), who added to the short pre-performance intro, said the atmosphere that Trujillo had created was “oppressive and controlling” and the Mirabal sisters’ opposition was fueled by acts of violence and torture against their own family members and fellow countrymen. Trujillo had also prevented Minerva’s efforts to become a lawyer, denying her diploma. The latter was granted posthumously and a law school named after her. The date of her death, November 25th, has also been dedicated as an international day to recognize violence against women.

The performance intro included a few words from Professor Sobeira Latorre, who quoted passages from a book titled, “In the Time of the Butterflies” by Julia Alvarez. Exiled from the D.R. in 1960 during the time when the overthrow of Trujillo was attempted, Alvarez focused her work on gender differences and the roles of men and women in D.R. society, and what it was like to grow up in that time. Women were supposed to be dutiful wives/mothers and barred from politics.

Melinda Bronson, a tall, elegant woman dressed in an Asian influenced sari, provided the final pre-performance word. She emphasized “the strength of women and importance of dance as a medium to address issues of social/gender justice.” Bronson’s goal was to position the women dancers featured in “Canto” in stations of strength, mirroring the fierce stand of the Mirabal sisters.

Bronson herself literally set this tone beginning the performance by hammering out a rhythm on a section of sheet metal. This summoned the performers – 11 women in all, of varying nationalities, sizes and faces dressed in white linen outfits -- who marched out in a defiant beat, stomping, thundering and making themselves heard, as if declaring, “We will not be hushed!”

Professor and Coordinator of Spanish Luisa Piemontese provided the taped voiceover, which helped tell the Mirabal sisters’ story as the dance segments continued in a similar vein as they had begun. A Spanish guitar track with accompaniment, provided by musical duo Loli y Manuel, supported. The simple and yet poignant set that served as the backdrop was crafted by veteran set designer Tony Kosloski. Technical direction was supplied by Bill Schaffner, who has enjoyed a 15-year association with Bronson.

“Wow! And wow again!” Tricia Lin aptly summed up as the dance concluded, echoing the feelings of attendees visibly moved by the event. Lin then opened up a Q&A session between the performers, choreographer and audience.

Regarding the choice of white linen outfits for the performance, Bronson explained, “It was important to erase pre-conceptions of traditional flamenco. I wanted each dancer to come out as an individual.”

The choice had the desired effect on the audience. “I was deeply moved by the expression of power in the choreography… of female strength, resistance, especially when harmonizing. It aptly captured the mysterious power and spirit of the Mirabal sisters,” Dr. Roslyn Amenta contributed.

As for the dancers, it was a journey and bonding experience for them all. “We’ve grown together… it was extra emotional,” said Mary Baird, 21, a New York City resident who has been dancing flamenco since the age of eight. “It’s about doing what you feel,” added Vanity David, 22, who began dancing at age nine and under Bronson at 12. Carolina Santos-Read, 23, an accomplished professional who was born in London and raised in Madrid, noted that her Brazilian mother had danced under Bronson. Midori Larsen, 32, admitted to being a pianist first and dance student second pursuing a PhD at NYU and dissertation about learning Spanish classical music through movement. “Dancers are also musicians,” Larsen observed.

Choreographer Bronson perhaps best summed up the performance, which closed the Women’s Studies “Herstory” Month, as a “ritual of solidarity.” To see these very different women working as one dance unit and their determined “Stomp”-meets-Flamenco exhibition, one can only agree.

For information about the Women’s Studies Program at Southern Connecticut State University, contact program director Yi-Chun Tricia Lin at 203-392-6133 or via email at   

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