Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Kahlo in Motion: A Conversation with Choreographer Nadia Dosal

Second Generation Dance Company is about to premiere The Self Portrait, a new work based on the life of the legendary artist Frida Kahlo in celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month. Choreographer Nadia Dosal fills us in on her process.

Tell me about your background.

Nadia Dosal: I started dancing at five with my mother, she taught me my Latin culture, which is Puerto Rican. I started dancing seriously in high school, and I also trained at Cookie Joe's in Sugarland.

How long have you been dancing in Second Generation?

ND: I started in 2003, so I am in my fourth season now. I have learned so much there. The artistic director, Lori Amare Bujung has really pounded technique into me, especially ballet and modern. It's been great to work and learn from her. I've also performed in Second Generation's Black Dance Festivals, where artists come from all over the U.S. It's a wonderful event.

Is this your first full length piece?

ND: Yes it is. I have been choreographing shorter works for the past four years.

Where do you teach?

ND: I teach ballet and modern at MECCA where I am the contemporary dance director.

What drew you to Kahlo's story?

ND: I was drawn in by her pain and struggle that she went through and her will to survive. She never gave up. She conquered all the devastating things in her life through her painting. I started researching her life about three years ago. The movies helped, the one by Selma Hayak, and the movie, Frida: Naturalez Viva, which is excellent because it shows a Mexican point a view. It was an eye-opener for me to see how she was able to survive her many tragedies.

How is Kahlo's work integrated into the piece?

ND: I actually try to re-enact some of her paintings. For example, “Las Dos Fridas,” is one of her most famous self-portraits. She always felt like she had a double life within herself. In the painting there is a European Frida and a Mexican Frida. She painted it after she divorced Diego Rivera. I am trying to bring the painting to life. I am not just re-enacting paintings but also actual events in her life.

Is the painting actually projected?

ND: Yes, it is projected before the dance begins.

You dance the role of Kahlo in addition to your role as the choreographer. What's it been like to dance this role?

ND: To fill the shoes of such an emotionally powerful person has been a humbling and honorable experience. She went through pain that I never experienced such as miscarriages and an unfaithful husband. And of course, she was a communist.

How would you describe the style of the piece?

ND: It's a modern dance piece and it's also prop heavy, so I guess it could be called Dance Theater.

What kind of props?

ND: We have a bed that she lived in for a long time towards the end of her life, and an easel. I tried to be historically correct to the period of the 20s and 30s.

With a cast of about 15 what were some of the challenges?

ND: Coordinating everyone's schedules was always a task. I had to improvise to make it all work.

Tell us about the music?

ND: I used Lila Downs, a Mexican American contemporary singer and Lydia Mendoza, a Mexican singer from the 1920s. I also mixed in one of my favorite American composers, Tori Amos. Other selections include traditional Mexican folkloric ballads such as the beloved “Paloma Negra,” music from the Number 23, Los Lobos, and Antonio Vivaldi.

Kahlo was in pain most of her life due to the accident she had when she was young. How does that information factor into the piece?

ND: Yes, her physical pain is made clear throughout the ballet. There will be scenes where I am bedridden. Towards the end she is in a wheelchair.

Where do you best connect in your own life to Kahlo's life?

ND: As a painter myself, I connect to her work as an artist. She inspired me to put more emotion into my paintings. She is my idol.

What do you want the audience to experience?

ND: I want the audience to see my point of view, to feel what I felt when I saw Kahlo's work, not just her paintings, but her life.

Any last thoughts?

ND: I hope to go to Mexico and see the La Casa Azul, the house where Kahlo was born and died. It's a museum now and houses many of the paintings that were inspired by her environment. I want to be immersed in her world.

What's next for you?

ND: We will be doing more shows together as a company, but to be honest after this show I will be ready for a mini vacation.

Second Generation Dance Company presents The Self Portrait on Oct 12 & 13 at Barnevelder. Call 713-298-7091 or visit www.secondgenerationdance.org/