During a break in rehearsals for "Danzan con los Desaparecidos," which translates literally "dancing with the disappeared," actress Rebecca Joseph remarks that in Latin America, where this performance piece takes place, "many of us would have disappeared, too."
The unexplained disappearance of not only the politically active, but also of artists, teachers and anyone else deemed subversive in many South and Central American countries, is the subject of one of three works-in-progress premiering at the Theatre Project this weekend under the auspices of Maryland Art Place's Diverse Works 1991. Now in its seventh year, the program brings in three guest directors to collaborate with area performers on original pieces.
The intensity with which Ms. Joseph and her seven fellow cast members approach their work reflects the empathy they feel for their Latin American counterparts. Watching the rehearsal of a stylized rape scene, the faces of a chorus of four actresses register pain, anguish, disgust and grief.
Although the topics of most Diverse Works' presentations are determined collaboratively, the idea for "Danzan con los Desaparecidos" was suggested by its director, Kaia Calhoun. A Washington-based actress and director who has spent much of the summer teaching at the Kennedy Center Theater for Young People, Ms. Calhoun also has taught at the Baltimore School for the Arts, Towson State and Morgan State universities. She became interested in "the disappeared" after watching a documentary on public television two years ago.
In this and subsequent documentaries -- several of which she screened for her Diverse Works company -- the protests led by the relatives and friends of the missing displayed a decidedly theatrical flavor. In one case, women danced with a missing partner; in another, they marched in silence; in a third, they tied white scarves around their heads and gathered at a public square.
All of these protests are represented in "Danzan con los Desaparecidos," as well as various contributions from the performers. "I would call it a montage that includes text taken from the actual testimonies of victims, as well as pieces that were created by the participants, interlaced with movement and music," Ms. Calhoun explains.
Luis Flores, a visual artist making his acting debut, came to one rehearsal carrying a length of fabric. In a technique reminiscent of Oriental stagecraft, a swathe of red fabric is now utilized to represent blood. It is the same type of symbolism that surfaces in Mr. Flores' visual artwork, and stems, he believes, from the 18 months he spent in the Orient with the U.S. Army.
Despite the apparent political nature of "Danzan con los Desaparecidos," Ms. Calhoun insists, "My interest isn't to make a political statement, it's to explore the humanity, the spirit of these people.
"Given the context of this project, Diverse Works, I can say that we probably won't succeed in fully telling their story. But what we hope to do is provoke people to care about the missing everywhere, because it could be you. Even though we've put it in the context of South America, it could extend to MIAs or just family -- the fact that someone was ripped from you and your response to it."
In addition to "Danzan con los Desaparecidos," Diverse Works 1991 also will include "Vital Signs," a piece about emotional and physical healing directed by Marta Renzi, a New York dancer and choreographer; and "A Ritual for the Collective Unity," directed by Jonas dos Santos, a Philadelphia-based performance and visual artist, who has dedicated this symbolic, ritualistic work to "Lucy, the skull," the oldest known human skull. All three pieces will be performed at each of the three Diverse Works presentations.
Featuring: "Danzan con los Desaparecidos," directed by Kaia Calhoun; "Vital Signs," by New York dancer and choreographer Marta Renzi; "A Ritual for the Collective Unity," directed by performance and visual artist Jonas dos Santos.
When: Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m.; Sunday at 3 p.m.
Where: Theatre Project, 45 W. Preston St.