By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca
“Take off that coat! You’ll be too hot otherwise!”
There is nothing usual about Broken Tailbone, the highly original Carmen Aguirre creation that occasions her first-ever visit to Edmonton, courtesy of Workshop West’s Canoe Festival, and the Chinook Series.
It is the only piece of theatre you’re likely ever to see that’s also a Latinx dance lesson. And as this happens, with you up on your feet, moving, it’s interwoven with stories, funny and startling, from Aguirre’s uniquely rich and tumultuous personal history. “It’s also a history of Latin American dance, Latinx dance halls, geo-political history.…”
Even on the phone, there is something entirely irresistible about the prolific writer/ playwright/ actor who arrived in Vancouver in 1974, age eight, with her parents, as political refugees from the Pinochet coup in Chile. She went back as a teenager with her mother and sister to join the underground resistance opposing the dictator. “Being a political refugee is a huge part of my identity,” says Aguirre, whose two spirited memoirs — Something Fierce: Memoirs of a Revolutionary Daughter and Mexican Hooker #1 And My Other Roles Since The Revolution — are harrowing and tense.
Her parents opened Canada’s first Latinx (the gender-neutral alternative to Latino/Latina) dance hall in Vancouver in 1974, with monthly dance fund-raisers for political prisoners. “Aguirre grew up dancing the cumbia (from Colombia) or the merengue… “ she says. “Salsa is an umbrella term; people assume wrong about that!”
Aguirre’s play Blue Box, like Broken Tailbone a production from Toronto’s Nightswimming Theatre, had her “literally standing there, talking to the audience,” as she says. Broken Tailbone is a “thrilling and exhilarating” departure: “why don’t we get the audience up and dancing?”
“I worked on the content for a couple of years,” Vancouver-based Aguirre says of the song list she shares with DJ Pedro Chamale, who interacts with her, and with the audience, in the course of Broken Tailbone. “I curated the song list, from hundreds (of possibilities)…. Each song has a story attached to it.”
Broken Tailbone has played — maybe happened is the better term — at “a couple of Toronto festivals, and most recently, a three-week run in Los Angeles at the L.A. Theatre Centre. As Aguirre points out, “it’s very hard to workshop without an actual audience.”
L.A., where Broken Tailbone was bilingual, was “an experience!” she says of a majority Latinx audience. “So I’m not telling them anything they don’t know….” So the dynamic from the start was strikingly different than Aguirre’s Canadian audiences. And this: “I’m unabashedly left-wing and Cuban-Americans for the most part are not left-wing. There were hecklers, people walking out….”
Aguirre, who’s fierce and funny onstage, isn’t fazed by this, apparently; she’s interested. “The other thing is that in the current climate, it’s refreshing, I think, to see a woman of a certain age talking about her sexuality. Really owning it, and not casting herself as a victim.”
“I don’t identify as a survivor,” she declares, of a personal history that includes a horrifying attack, at 13, by Vancouver’s Paperbag Rapist. “I find that a precious term…. Holocaust survivors, that’s one thing, And I think that’s where the term should stop. And genocides like the Indigenous one. And slavery.”
“Otherwise words become devalued.” Needless to say, in the current sexually polarized environment, Aguirre’s are views that can raise hackles.”I don’t mind!” she says energetically. “I know who my friends are!”
Broken Tailbone runs tonight at 7 and 10:45 p.m. in the Studio Theatre at the ATB Financial Arts Barns. Check out chinookseries.ca for tickets and a full schedule.