Herrera Bares Soul in Cookie’s Kid

 

Photo courtesy miamiartzine.com

Photo courtesy miamiartzine.com

While few like to talk about the mix of warmth, confusion, love and turmoil that can be found in families, choreographer and performer Rosie Herrera bared that complex relationship onstage in her first solo work, sharing a passionate homage to her mother.

In her latest piece commissioned by the Miami Light Project titled Cookie’s Kid, Herrera — the director of her own dance theater who rarely performs in her own work — allows herself to delve into her personal relationships and history using surrealism and symbolism. In a very real and raw performance piece, she speaks to her relationship with her family, specifically her mother Maria Seeling, nicknamed “Cookie,” which the audience learns, is a sweet name that juxtaposes her tough nature.

Thursday’s performance was the first of three, and opened the door to a moving tribute that featured original music and poetry by Rafael Del Pino, her maternal grandfather. The combination provided an antiquated mood, which enveloped the black box in a history that can be construed as something that molded and shaped Herrera.

A solo dance performance can seem challenging, but Herrera managed to intrigue and catch hold of the audience’s attention and curiosity. The hour-long journey incorporated unfamiliar, unexpected and out-of-place elements into a fragmented narrative.

It all begins with a serene, golden glow across stage that provides an ephemeral glimpse of Herrera just before she symbolically breaks through on stage and into a new depth of understanding. The work is full of dramatic silhouettes, crisp movements and sharp shadows. Her work, punctuated with what could be uncomfortable and sharp silences, serves to prod the audience into an ongoing reflection of their own histories.

The progression of the piece is a gentle escalation that ends up rocketing into a frenzy of emotion and passion. Herrera’s mascara smears as tears well in her eyes. Throughout there is a mix of well-known references that combine with scenes from her childhood.

For all the dramatic, often puzzling, moments, Herrera manages to sneak in surprising bits of humor. She employs expectant pauses, pop culture references and cheeky snark. One of the brighter moments in the otherwise dark abyss is a parody of the drama to which Spanish songs so often ascend.

At one point, the music halts completely, leaving the audience alone with Herrera and her movements­ – this propels her gestures, which punctuates the silence, bringing her passion to an emphatic height. This interlude of quiet contrasts with her vigorous movements, challenging the audience to redefine its set perceptions as she literally and symbolically gives of herself into the dance.

Herrera fills the performance with devices used to explore the influence of mothers, beginning with a song performed in Herrera’s mother tongue, Spanish. She continues in a narration of an audience member’s life that focuses on the role of the mother as comforter, and lastly as an image of a holy mother in the final scene.

Herrera wraps her entire being into Cookie’s Kid, which makes the performance pulsate with an intensity and overwhelming passion. This is a dance piece where the audience is brought in to share in Herrera’s soul baring. The dancer has created a hybrid dance-theater work in which artist and storyteller converge in a mix of strength and vulnerability that leaves an indelible imprint.

 

This article originally appeared in Miami ArtZine June 3, 2015.

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