Tropical Mérida, Mexico, was the connection point for Mexico City-born dancer and choreographer Tatiana Zugazagoitia and local institution Asheville Contemporary Dance Theatre. Zugazagoitia has lived in Mérida for more than 15 years; ACDT directors Susan and Giles Collard have maintained a house in that city for nearly 11. ACDT’s dance company also works for about a month each year in Mérida; the group just returned in January from performing its Death by Plastica production.
As part of its mission, the nonprofit ACDT seeks to explore and discover the intersection between cultures and communities. Each year, it hosts an international artist for a monthlong residency — a post which, this year, Zugazagoitia will hold through Sunday, March 17.
“I’m really looking forward to this residency,” she says. “When you teach other people and you have to learn how to reach them, you always get back something else, something new. So I’m much more excited about what this adventure will bring to everyone.”
As part of her time in Asheville, Zugazagoitia will present a lecture-demo that will include a performance of original solo pieces on Sunday, March 10, at the BeBe Theater. There, she plans to premiere a piece called “Wei Ji,” which takes its name from the last mutation of the I Ching and was inspired by the image of lava going into the sea during the explosion of Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano last year. She will also present part of “Arbolada,” a 50-minute work inspired by the trees in Mérida, for which she collaborated with a Japanese poet and investigated how to translate palindromes into movement.
Audience members will be treated to Zugazagoitia’s version of “The Dying Swan,” her original choreography to the music of Camille Saint-Saëns. The famed solo was choreographed by Mikhail Fokine and originally danced by Russian prima ballerina Anna Pavlova. Zugazagoitia’s interpretation is part of her latest work, Anna Pavlova e Isadora Duncan: Diálogos, in which she imagines a dialogue between Pavlova and Duncan, who was known as the Mother of Modern Dance.
Zugazagoitia’s performance, along with ACDT co-choreography, is part of the local dance company’s celebration of its 40th year and will be followed by a lasagna cook-off fundraiser. Attendees will select their favorite recipe after tasting the various types of lasagna (including vegan, gluten-free, veggie and Mexican options).
Susan Collard notes that Zugazagoitia is a good match for ACDT because she is trained in Limón (developed by Mexican dancer and choreographer José Limón), the technique used at the local dance company. But, more importantly, says Collard, “We’re working with each other because we love art.” Collard describes Zugazagoitia as an upbeat person: “She is just a true artist in the form of loving dance and music and theater. One of the things I was attracted to was her very positive attitude about life and putting that into her work.”
Zugazagoitia enjoys working with people who are not dancers, including parents and children, using her own version of Creative Movement, a technique that she studied during her time in Hawaii. Zugazagoitia says she loves seeing people forget socially imposed rigidity and reconnect with their own playful natures. “I consider myself a person who loves to make people know that their bodies are important,” she says. “When they’re in contact with their bodies, they can be in contact in the world.” According to Zugazagoitia, connecting people with their own bodies has the added, inadvertent benefit of enabling them to read and understand contemporary dance better.
Her background includes ballet and modern dance; Zugazagoitia studied both forms as a child in Mexico, and then, at age 16, traveled to the Soviet Union to study ballet for two years at the prestigious Vaganova school in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg, Russia). She then studied Limón dance in Hawaii with Betty Jones and performed in Jones’ modern dance company for two years. Zugazagoitia has danced as a soloist with other companies in Mexico and abroad, including Cuerpo Mutable, Teatro del Cuerpo, Onodanza and Ballet Hawaii. She began her career as a director-choreographer in 1998 and currently teaches at Escuela Superior de Artes de Yucatán. She also directs an arts center in Mérida called Fuera de Centro, which offers an intimate cultural space for performances, workshops and lectures.
During her residency at ACDT, Zugazagoitia will be leading Limón technique master classes for the dance company, teaching ACDT’s tweens and teenagers, and working with company members to create collaborative choreography. She will also offer a Vaganova ballet workshop to the community.
Zugazagoitia says although she is Mexican, what she will bring to this residency is not a specifically Mexican technique, commentary or perspective, but rather herself. “I’m Mexican, but I’m human first,” she says. “What I bring is myself, with my beliefs, with my honesty in my work. It’s not … important that it looks pretty, but that it’s truthful. And if it’s truthful, it will be beautiful, not pretty.”
WHAT: Tatiana Zugazagoitia’s solo dance performance and talk, and ACDT’s lasagna fundraiser
WHERE: BeBe Theater, 20 Commerce St., avl.mx/5pq
WHEN: Sunday, March 10, 6 p.m. $20