BWW Review: Carmen Aguirre Breaks Down Her Life Story Through Dance in BROKEN TAILBONE
In Nightswimming's BROKEN TAILBONE, presented by Factory Theatre, playwright and performer Carmen Aguirre does double duty as a dance and history instructor. A traditional seated theatre is swapped for a bare dancefloor, with a handful of chairs against the walls and a bar at the back of the room. Pulsating lights (lighting design by Michelle Ramsay) and steady beats (sound design by Pedro Chamale) are the final pieces that turn the space into a Latinx dancehall, where over the course of the 80-minute performance, Aguirre teaches the basics of salsa, meringue, and twerking-among other popular dance styles-while constantly connecting each type to an experience from her personal history.
Directed by Brian Quirt, BROKEN TAILBONE follows Aguirre from the first Latinx dancehall in Canada, started by her parents in British Columbia back in the 70s, through her experience as a revolutionary. Audiences are encouraged to keep moving for as long as they can, and it's this constant movement that compliments and contradicts her stories. It's fun to learn the meaning of a somewhat silly song about a man pursuing a woman at the beach while stepping back and forth. That fun turns grim quickly when Aguirre discusses the arrival of her uncle from a concentration camp, or the deaths of thousands of civilians at the hands of American forces, and many audience members (myself included) came to a slow stop during her powerful, emotionally heavy monologues.
Aguirre is like a lightning strike in the small theatre space. It's impossible to look away from her, and in the moments where she leaves the stage to instruct and speak from the crowd the sense of connection between her and the audience grows ten-fold. She leaps from humorous stories, nearly all based in dancehalls, clubs, and at parties around the world into descriptions of the difficulties she and others faced when going up against powerful military states in the name of equality, fair trade, and freedom. The stories are a lot like the dances; she has a personal connection between each tale and dance, and vice versa, that keeps everything connected.
BROKEN TAILBONE is Aguirre's story, but she receives great support from DJ Don Pedro (Chamale) who mans the onstage soundboard. The pair have a great back and forth and given that both come from different cultural backgrounds, his inclusion allows for another perspective into Aguirre's stories.
With a long-reaching list of personal accomplishments and experiences, retelling a life story for someone like Aguirre might seem daunting. In her own hands though, she's found a way to tie a dozen or so different stories together through one constant in her life-dance. It's her innate love for music and movement that centers BROKEN TAILBONE. Hearing about her time fighting Western ideals, dancing at Carnivale, coping with grief, or breaking her tailbone through music and dance is both an enriching experience and a great workout.
Nightswimming's BROKEN TAILBONE runs through Oct. 13 at Factory Theatre, 125 Bathurst St., Toronto, ON.
For more information or to purchase tickets, visit https://www.factorytheatre.ca/2019-20-season/broken-tailbone/
Photo credit: Javier Sotres