Piedra y planta [Stone and Plant]

Cuarto Fractal
Tijuana, Mexico

Artistic Director: Gabriel Ledón
Tijuana Cultural Center (CECUT)
Tijuana, Mexico
April 23, 2018

Gabriel Ledón is Artistic Director of the contemporary dance company Cuarto Fractal, and has also been Executive Director of Brazeros Dance Company in Los Angeles, Calif. Ledón is a trained visual artist as well as a dancer and choreographer. On April 23, 2018, I saw Cuarto Fractal’s two-man show, “Piedra y planta” [Stone and Plant] at the Tijuana Cultural Center (CECUT). It was a contact improv-based multi-media performance, where the two dancers drew their own sets as the libretto called for them. (If they needed a bicyle, one of them drew it on a blank panel, and the other climbed onto the panel and rode it.) They used a cell-phone to initiate a spoken-word dialogue with an audience member, and tendered the best in the comedic traditions of European and South American Dance Theater, reminiscent of Denmark’s Victor Borge or Argentina’s Les Luthiers (minus the racism), to draw out ironies in the political, social and cultural expressions of today’s chaos-driven world. They see these represented in alternating static and dynamic (stone and plant) force fields. I was able to interview Ledón and Valencia via email in the days following the show.

Toba Singer: What brought you together?
Gabriel Ledón: As a choreographer I am interested in exploring different stage narratives and aesthetics, using creative tools from a transdiciplinary approach to achieve a dialogue within the diversity of disciplines. In the case of Piedra y planta, the disciplines are written word, dance, theater, and the plastic arts. What leads us to work together is precisely that, and our concepts of “scenic action” are not circumscribed by just one discipline.
Ruben Valencia: The confidence and freedom we have to work. Coming from different disciplines (dance, theater, and visual arts) has given our works the company’s distinctive stamp.

TS: How long have you been working together and what have your previous projects been?
GL: Our company Cuarto Fractal began in Tijuana, in 2014. From that time on, we have worked at investigating our own artistic experimentation. Stone and Plant is our second large-format piece for theater. Our repertoire includes different works with a variety of themes, for example; “Brief History of Cats” (2014) a choreographic work that is danced on a 4 x 4 foot platform. “Helio” (2015) is a work for unconventional spaces. “Who’s there?” (2016) is a large-format show aimed at children.
TS: How did you develop the concept that became “Stone and Plant”?
GL: The “Stone and Plant” concept involves two states of matter: on the one hand the stone, which represents the static, the concrete, the immovable, and the plant, which represents the organic, that which moves and grows . Which side are we on? How can we describe the days when we feel like stone and those when we feel like a plant?
I’d say that Piedra y planta is a staged work of reflection and dialogue, which, from our personal experiences, suggests the way in which we approach our creative process, how we put forth an idea and the path we take in developing it.

RV: Gabo conceived of it as a process within another process, where during certain moments of the piece, the story breaks the fourth wall, and arches in the direction of the spectator.

TS: Where does the inspiration for your comedy come from?
GL: As a choreographer I consider it important to break that imaginary wall that divides the dancer from the viewer. So I asked myself: “How can I generate an empathy that has an impact on both an audience accustomed to seeing dance and one seeing dance for the first time? How can I achieve a dialogue with spectators of different cultures and ages?” My inspiration comes from the feeling of satisfaction when smiling. Smiling is a beautiful act because it shows us the genuine part of the human being, an act that can break boundaries and bring us closer as people, an act of human solidarity, joy and hope.
RV: Comedy comes very naturally to Gabo. It arrives written in his DNA. It is reflected in his pieces that are rich with fresh and simple humor. Or it just comes as part and parcel of how he executes language.

TS: Where does support come from to continue your work together?
GL: Cuarto Fractal is an independent company, operating with resources we generate. We are motivated by self-support. We foster alliances and creative collaborations with other artists and independent projects such as the Conservatorio de Danza México. (Mexico Dance Conservatory is a premier Tijuana-based dance academy, whose faculty includes Ledón.)
RV: Economic support comes from many sources, some linked to personal connections and interests. For example, my father taught me a little carpentry, plumbing, electricity, construction, and house painting. Moral support often comes from our families, friends, and the artistic community here in Tijuana.

TS: Do you plan to take the touring performance, if so, where?

GL: Since the premiere of “Piedra y planta”, we have toured within Mexico, presenting work at dance festivals, such as the Colima Festival de Danza, the Festival Internacional de Pitic in Hermosillo, and in Sonora and Culiacán, and Sinaloa, and the Festival Internacional de la Fería de Aguascalientes, among others. Having the opportunity to present Stone and Plant in the International Exhibition of Bodies in Transit, in Tijuana, has served as a showcase to start conversations and take it to other countries, such as the United States and Canada.

RV: We plan to bring our work to several festivals in Mexico and abroad. We hope to make versions in languages other than Spanish to take to the US, Canada and Europe.

TS: What do you enjoy most about the work? Tell me a story about it.
GL: What I enjoy most is the opportunity to share and generate a dialogue based on our artistic concerns, and how experiencing the reality we live is enriched. I enjoy sharing our vision of the world and of life in an honest and responsible way that encourages experimentation in the narrative aesthetics that come from the body and dance itself.
The simplest story I can tell is about something that has filled us with satisfaction and continues to inspire us to create. It was the night we premiered the company’s first choreographic work in 2014. It was a piece entitled “Everything is blue” in a forum in downtown Tijuana. We borrowed the production resources (scenery, props, costumes, and lighting equipment.) We had no money to pay for the original music, and Martín L. Marte (our current music producer) generously gave us his music, his work. Ten tickets were sold and we gave away four comps, so there were 14 people in total. We were happy because fourteen people were kind enough to share their time with our form of expression. At the end of the performance we felt that we were the luckiest dancers in the world.

RV: We dedicate ourselves to sharing our experiences and how we conceive of the arts with the public and with the family that is the artistic community here and in other locales.

TS: What do you find most difficult or challenging?
GL: Our history as a professional company is a story of resistance, constant challenges and satisfactions. To take a look at the past is to remember that in our earliest days, we did have a place to rehearse, and that our first productions were largely thanks to the support of people who believed as we do in our work. We overcame all kinds of obstacles. Staying active and continuing to develop increasingly larger projects is the greatest reward that dance has given us.

RV: Among the challenges are getting sponsorship or support to advance our work, in order to have dance seasons so that our work grows and can be enjoyed by more people.

TS: What is your next project?
GL: This summer we will have a series of presentations in the municipalities of Baja California, with the second edition of the dance program “Part-Time,” an international collaboration with companies from Switzerland and Japan (Fourth Fractal and T42 Dance Projects.) In Part Time, we will premiere a work entitled “Dream” and we are in the process of creating a new fall 2018 program, entitled “Horse Latitude,” generated by a conjugation of poetry, photography and dance.
RV: The score for “Dream” was written by our own Tijuana musician, Martyn Lord, inspired by a mix of texts from Martin Luther King’s eponymous speech, with original music of the same name. And we are preparing our second long installation, “Latitud Caballo” (Horse Latitude), to premiere in the autumn of this year.

Toba Singer
(translation from Spanish by Toba Singer)

Toba Singer, author of “Fernando Alonso, the Father of Cuban Ballet” (University Press of Florida 2013), and “First Position: a Century of Ballet Artists” (Praeger 2007), writes for international dance journals and websites, and has served as an advisor to the San Francisco Museum of Performance and Design. She was the University Press of Florida author representative at the 2013 Miami International Book Fair. “Fernando Alonso, the Father of Cuban Ballet” was nominated for the Latin American Student Association Bryce Award, the de la Torre Research and Dance Scholars Award, and the Commonwealth Club California Book Award.