Scenes from an ‘activist opera’ at the House of Yes: Bushwick Daily
Last month, the House of Yes was home to a dance company called House of Glitter, which presented a show called “The Historical Fantasy of Esek Hopkins,” a self-proclaimed “activist dance opera.”
The company had assembled the piece following a residence in Providence, Rhode Island, at the former home of Esek Hopkins, a historically well-known figure known for his many slave-trading voyages in the 18th century.
On the phone, Matthew Garza, one of the show’s co-producers, told me he believed in “the power of choreography for justice and social change”.
“We like to think that the world needs a choreography to move forward together in unison,” he added.
The first night of the show had been a confirmation of the transformative and healing powers of art; debate, resignify and transform the past.
“The show was a vehicle for inviting people to question historic spaces and to intervene in historic spaces,” Garza told me.
“Some parts, you could say, we’ve prepared all our lives. A lot of our culture is part of it, songs we sang with our grandmothers, our aunts, dances we learned as children in our cultural communities in which we grew up.
The show reimagines the life of one of the victims of Hopkins’ slave trade voyages, among the many who had been thrown overboard from his ship, the Exiton his many long and brutal journeys across the Atlantic.
In their opera, she stays alive. Guided by strange goddesses, she becomes a mermaid who dives into the depths of the ocean to found what is called the “Mermaid Femme Empire”. There, she gives birth to a generation of strange creatures, whose ancestry, according to the play, we all share.
Garza said their goal was to use opera history to preserve this woman’s story, filling in the missing pieces in imaginative, creative and magical ways.
“We felt truly called to honor her as part of our mission to honor all people on the planet. Exitand to honor our lineages and the people who are suffering all around us in our communities, still from the impacts and continuation of colonization and slavery,” he told me.
In addition to co-directing the opera, Garza plays a character called “La Llorona”.
In full drag and singing along to Chavela Vargas’ song of the same name, Garza reinterprets the song myth of a grieving ghost, as a way to both honor and make amends with his Texas origins.
“La Llorona has been a space for me to heal my relationship with my mother and with my parents, and to reflect on how I can offer them a softer energy,” he adds.
Beyond song and dance, the opera guides the audience through short sessions of collective breathing and pop in a Spanish lesson as well. The idea? That patience can be revolutionary in the accelerated times we live in. “Se hace el camino al andar” takes up the refrain of one of the closing songs of the opera, to which the public is invited to sing. (the line translates to: you make the road by walking.)
It was no surprise that House of Glitter performances last month all turned into a party, followed by drag shows featuring performances by “RuPaul’s Drag Race” contestants Yvie Oddly and Aja LaBeija.
“’House of Glitter’ is the world we are building. This is the world we fantasize about leaving to our children,” Garza told me. “It comes from a place of imagining what liberation looks like, feels like [and] sounds like to us today and tomorrow.
All images were taken by Juan de Dios Sanchez Jurado.
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