Claudia Lavista’s Mexican dance company has created many new pieces since premiering Cuando los Disfraces se Cuelgan more than a decade ago. But performing arts presenters, especially in the U.S., keep asking for it.
That was the case when Dallas presenter TITAS/Dance Unbound booked Delfos Danza Contemporánea for its area debut Jan. 31. The 2009 work, which translates to When the Disguises Are Hung Up, is the evening’s program.
“Somehow it seems to really connect with the U.S. audience,” Lavista says in a phone interview from Mexico City, where she launched Delfos with fellow dancer-choreographer Victor Manuel Ruiz in 1992.
“It’s about disguises you use in a symbolic way in your everyday life. You may have one for your partner and maybe another at work. To survive in this world, we keep changing who we are or how we are. In the end, it doesn’t matter how many disguises you have inside, how many you invent, your true nature is going to come out… We have the capacity as human beings to look at each other without these disguises.”
Delfos attacks this idea of how we behave with one another with a multitude of strategies beyond dance movement.
Layered costumes underpin the theme as the performers peel back fabric to symbolize their unmasking. Disguises also uses computer animation to depict scenes of birds interacting with the dancers. Live video being shot onstage in real time provides yet another point of view. And the score, which ranges from Schumann, Bach and Vivaldi to more recent compositions by Meredith Monk and Lavista’s father, Mario Lavista, acts as stitching between scenes.
“It’s a visually striking piece,” she says. “We create a parallel reality, and the dancers play with that reality. We want to create these magical images, these magical sensations, a relationship between the real human beings on stage and something that’s being projected…. It’s very Mexican, not in a folkloric way but in the way we see the world as a culture.”
With this approach, Disguises reflects not just what’s happening to people in their personal relationships, but with the planet itself. Lavista cites the fires in Australia and the deforesting of the Amazon as real-life equivalents.
“One of the things we bring out is this need to connect with nature, how we don’t connect with our nature as human beings but also nature in general. Even though it’s an old piece, the thesis is still talking to what we’re seeing now, what we’re living now.”
For example, Lavista says, “It’s become harder to see someone as a real person. We live in this politics of being afraid.”
Delfos may be new to Dallas, but Lavista isn’t. And Disguises is not the first Delfos work to deal with social and political issues. In 2016, she and Ruiz choreographed a new version of Stravinsky’s The Firebird on the theme of migration for dance students at Southern Methodist University.
Migration, immigration, alienation and identity are also subjects of Proa, a collaboration with the Chicago contemporary classical-music group Ensemble Dal Niente that premiered at Steppenwolf Theater in 2017. It too has been a hit in the States at universities. Lavista says she has restaged it several times for student dancers.
“Many of these students, they have no idea what is migration and what is the reality right now with this huge phenomenon not only in Mexico and the U.S., but around the world. So my goal with this piece was to create some consciousness. Young people need to know.”
Lavista grew up around critical thinkers. Besides her composer father, her mother Rosamarta Fernandez is a documentary filmmaker who was a leading early feminist in Mexico. She now teaches theater to inmates of the women’s jail in Mexico City. Ruiz, on the other hand, is the product of a housewife and a truck driver, which Lavista points out to illustrate that people can arrive at similar destinies on different routes.
“It’s not only about your background,” she says. “It’s about something else that I can’t discover totally.”
In 1996, they relocated Delfos to the coastal working-class resort town of Mazatlán because they wanted to start a school. That was not possible in the chaos of a metropolis like Mexico City, Lavista says. “It was a hippie move. There was no dance there at all.”
She and Ruiz had shopped around until they were invited to be the resident company at Mazatlán’s historic 19th century Angela Peralta Theater and the city’s Municipal Center for the Arts. In 1998, Delfos started a bachelor of fine arts program that has graduated 250 students who have gone on to found 21 dance groups, she says. Students and company members teach dance to hundreds of underprivileged kids in the community.
“We are political. Dance is political,” Lavista explains. “We try to express our political views in a poetical way, in a sensitive way. My partner says we’re going down, so grab onto something. At the same time, I think there’s a huge part of humanity that’s going up into true consciousness. … That’s part of our work, to have faith that through art we can talk to the audience about these issues, that we can start a discussion. We don’t want Delfos to just be a pretty experience. ‘Oh these dancers are beautiful.’ ”
Jan. 31 at 8 p.m. at Winspear Opera House, 2403 Flora St. $12-135. 214-880-0202. attpac.org. delfosdanza.org.