Zorongo brings Gabriela Mistral's poetry to life

Zorongo brings Gabriela Mistral's poetry to life
Photo by Eric Saulitis

For their show this weekend at the Cowles Center for Performing Arts, Zorongo Flamenco Dance Theatre and School takes on the work of Chilean Nobel Laureate Gabriel Mistral in a piece that explores the poet's "mad woman" poems. It's one of two world premieres in an evening of three works that concludes the company's 30th anniversary season. 

Susana di Palma, the company's artistic director, says she was having "a rather mad-woman day," and did what she typically does when she feels like that: she hunted down a bookstore. In this case, she went to Louise Erdrich's Birchbark Books, in the Kenwood neighborhood, and came upon a collection of poems by Gabriela Mistral.

She took the book home and started reading, feeling herself warmed by them. She wasn't amused by the poems, nor did she find them dark or depressing. Rather, she found the work empowering.

Zorongo brings Gabriela Mistral's poetry to life
Photo by Eric Saulitis

Some of the strong images that the poetry evokes include paths, dust, and burning. The pieces also have a "sense of redemption or revelation," she says. Plus, they are all about strong women.

The poems are all about survival. Mistral was a very spiritual person, di Palma says, and wrote about overcoming struggles so that we can reach a different place of hope, "shedding the pain of being human." 

After reading the collection, di Palma began working on a short piece, at first just for herself. She read the poems in Spanish, and found that they all have a strong sense of rhythm. Before she knew it, the work was going to be a major piece for Zorongo's next season. 

Working with poetry can be tricky, because you don't want to be interpretive. Rather, it's important to find ways to evoke the images through movement, says to di Palma.

For "Locas Mujeres/Madwomen," di Palma worked differently than she normally does. Instead of finding the music first and creating movement from that, this time she started with movement that came out of the images, and added music later. As a result, the work is less rhythmically driven. "I'm breaking the flamenco form in many ways," she says.

Zorongo brings Gabriela Mistral's poetry to life
Photo by Eric Saulitis

Instead of working with a clear narrative, as she often does, di Palma wanted the piece to be less linear. "I wanted this to be like a collection of poems," she says. It was a challenge for her to not have a central story, but she made a pact with herself to create something different than what she's ever done. 

She also relied more heavily on dancers Colette Illarde and Deborah Elias to create their own movement around the images, which Di Palma would then form and direct it into the final shape. Di Palma wanted to give the dancers a chance to further develop as artists. "I trust them more now," she says. 

Elias has been working with di Palma since 1995, and now has her own company. Elias "is probably the dancer who I have influenced the most," di Palma says. Sometimes, di Palma will have an idea, and Elias will finish it, though she has her own identity too, and is very musical in her movement. 

Elias has co-choreographed with di Palma for "Ida y Vuelta/Departure and Return," another world premiere, with original music composed by Pedro Cortés Jr., di Palma's longtime collaborator. This suite of four pieces showcases Latino musical influences, including la guajira from Cuba, la milonga from Argentine folklore, colombianas from Colombia, and rhumbas. 

The evening also includes "Pure Flamenco," an original piece that will have a lot of give-and-take between the musicians and dancers, and features more traditional flamenco dancing. 

In addiction to Cortés Jr., musicians featured include vocalists Jesús Montoya and Barbara Martinez, violinist Gary Schulte, percussionist and vocalist El Yiyi (Francisco Orozco), and guitar player Tony Hauser. Guest dancer Antonio Granjero from Jarez, Spain, is also performing. 


"Locas Mujeres y Más/Madwomen + More"
8 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday
The Cowles Center for Dance and the Performing Arts
528 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis
Call 612.206.3600 or visit online for tickets

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The Cowles Center for Dance & the Performing Arts

528 Hennepin Ave.
Minneapolis, MN 55403


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