The results were texts and phrases of movement charged with meaning, intensity and complexity that reflected the life experiences and visions of women in these communities. At the end of each workshop, we invited participants to contribute their writing, stories or movement phrases, if they wished, to the creative process of developing a script and movement score for the performance. Every single participant chose to donate his or her work to the project. Through a process of multiple translations,17 from Spanish to English and back again, Assaf then edited the texts into collective poems, rich with abstraction, symbolism and metaphor, layered with double meanings and the women’s surprising encounters with atrocity. These voices were often contradictory, and yet we felt it was important to keep the multiplicity. The following is an excerpt of the “Soy Mujer Cuando” series that illustrates this aesthetic of overlapping realities, which privileges the bilingual listener/reader:
Soy mujer cuando me lanzo como colibrí,
y entiendo cuan corta la distancia a la muerte.
I am a woman when I spin infinity
Soy mujer cuando giro al infinito
y me desvío . . . and deviate . . .
Soy mujer cuando cruzo las piernas. I am a woman when I cross my legs.
Soy mujer cuando atravieso el miedo. I am a woman when I confront desire.
I am a woman when I cannot speak,
Soy mujer cuando siento mis sueños and my reflection brings me to myself
Soy mujer cuando siento mis sueños once and once again.
I am a woman when I am hit.
I am a woman when I attend a man.
I am a woman of breasts and vagina
fucking and washing, cooking and cleaning
cogiendo y lavando, cocinando y limpiando
fucking and washing, cooking and cleaning
Soy mujer . . . when I pass through fear
Soy mujer. . . when I feel my dreams
Soy mujer . . . when I vibrate with joy
for nothing more than being alive18
In tandem with the community-based process, I began studio explorations to develop a movement vocabulary for the piece. My challenge was to uncover the appropriate aesthetic forms, as if they were sleeping, or waiting for a means of expression to emerge. As the director, I chose to focus on popular rituals that women are expected to pass through, from birth to death—such as quinceañeras, weddings and funerals—which gave us a structure for the journey of the play.
Ritual is a complicated source. Rituals can be oppressive or transformative. They can be male-centered, and function in society to reinforce patriarchy; or they can invert social roles, gender norms, and so-called “morality.” On the other hand, ritual is also a form of performance that is pre-colonial, often circular, and highly symbolic. It can create an open, holistic, participatory space, or even a radical separatist space. With Mujeres en Ritual, we identify and deconstruct rituals that perpetuate the oppression of women, and explore inversions, such as casting women in traditionally male roles.19 This creative interrogation, subversion, and embracing of ritual—this process of deconstruction and (re)invention—is central to our aesthetic.
I decided to create these ritual representations as independent vignettes, without trying to tell a story, utilizing celebrations well-known in Mexican culture but transposing them to the socially deviant contexts of exploitation, prostitution and feminicide. The most certain choice was to select vignettes that could link the three themes of the writing—what it means to be a woman, deviance, and what is on “the other side”—with the history of Tijuana. The workshops gave me many images and metaphors to draw from: transformation (transition, passing); rites of passage, journeys; doors, borders, thresholds; trespassing, transgression; and death. Although there was no explicit narrative, I took as a base concept the journey of a woman who travels from South to North, with the intent of crossing to the United States; but when she must find work in Tijuana, she is drawn into this liminal zone of the border, the Zona Norte. The actions and choreographies, developed with the company, sustained the metaphors of transgression and transformation throughout the play. The poems were then layered in to the movement composition, as live and recorded text.