Ritual: Cristian Amigo Scores Performance Video for Environmental Justice Platform

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School of Theater faculty Cristian Amigo recently created a sound score for a video titled Ritual for Renewable Rikers, an environmental justice project for Rikers Island. 

The project seeks to convert the island, which houses New York City’s current main prison complex and landfill sitting between Queens and the Bronx, into a source of renewable energy when it closes. Renewable Rikers also encapsulates a set of three local laws passed in 2021 by the New York City Council, which aims to transfer control of the island from the Department of Corrections to the Department of Citywide Administrative Services, and to commission a series of feasibility studies for “situating wastewater treatment, composting, and renewable energy generation on the island.”

More about the Renewable Rikers’ goals

It will allow for the closure of New York City’s toxic peaker power plants and aging wastewater treatment facilities in overburdened, frontline communities, those most impacted by environmental racism and mass incarceration, and will mandate that the island’s new uses benefit and involve the communities that have been harmed.

Performers from choreographer Jill Sigman’s dance company jill sigman/thinkdance pondered Renewable Rikers’ goals of restorative justice and renewability, creating works exploring themes of ritual, remediation, renewability, and confinement. The performances were originally scheduled for live performance, but the COVID-19 pandemic drove the dances to a virtual space and ultimately resulted in four longer-form video triptychs. 

Amigo’s score for Ritual was inspired by field recordings from Liberty State Park and a Las Vegas playground with a western theme. The video, by Sigman and Milan Eldridge, offers three different viewpoints, and features thinkdance performers Kayva Yang and Stacy Lynn Smith. Ritual explores the senses that come up when thinking about the island through dance and gesture.

On the left side of the screen, questions in movement are posed by Yang: “What senses come up when tracing the island in its smaller size, before the waste landfill, before the military operations, before the prison complex, before energy extraction? What gestures come up when remembering the gardeners who tended to the land from inside of the prison building?” On the right, Smith describes what they feel when thinking of Kalief Browder, a former Rikers inmate who was held in solitary confinement for 700 days for allegedly stealing a backpack: “A heart-opening, ripping feeling the confines of space holding space … beautiful bright young light you never should have known Rikers, an innocent boy’s innocence, ripped my heart holds you always.” The center depicts a patch of water filmed on Rikers Island. 

Amigo is a Latinx composer-improviser, theater sound designer, and music/audio producer. In the past, his music performance works have been presented and supported by the Flea Theater, La Jolla Playhouse, PUBLIC Theater, Rattlestick Theater, CalArts Center for New Performance, Ma-Yi Theater Company, LAByrinth Theater Company, Cherry Lane Theater. Among his awards is a 2006 John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship in music composition.

Watch Ritual and the other dance performances on the Renewable Rikers website.

PUBLISHED BY Ness Boom

Ness is a CalArts Film/Video Alumni from 2019 and now she serves as a digital content and social media producer for the communications team at CalArts. In her free time, she enjoys watching movies and various TV series while hanging out with her two cats, Cleo and Freya, and her Australian shepherd pup named Dutch.

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