Dance, Theater, and Activism Collide in Lemi Ponifasio’s Amor a la Muerte

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Pioneering Samoan director, designer, and choreographer Lemi Ponifasio brings dance, theater, and activism to the stage with Amor a la muerte (Love to Death), an experimental performance running Friday, April 7 through Sunday, April 9 at REDCAT in downtown Los Angeles. 

The work, conceived and created by Ponifasio, was sparked by the events following the 2018 murder of an indigenous farmer and activist by local police in Temucuicui, Chile. More about the performance from REDCAT

Amor a la muerte (Love to Death) is a traditional yet radical work conceived and directed by internationally renowned Samoan artist Lemi Ponifasio, a champion of both the avant-garde and Indigenous people. This new work brings together Mapuche artist, singer, and composer Elisa Avendaño Curaqueo and Chilean contemporary flamenco dancer Natalia Garcia-Huidobro. The work was sparked by events detonated after the Chilean police murdered Camilo Catrillanca, a Mapuche former student, activist, and farmer. Catrillanca worked on the movement of reclamation of Mapuche lands. Voices and bodies weave together in a ceremony revealing their own stories: two lives that reflect both Chile’s history and the search for its future. Touching on questions of identity, destiny, and nature, the work transcends conventional ideas of theater, dance, and activism.

Ponifasio was named the Arts Foundation Laureate in 2011, and was the recipient of the Creative New Zealand Arts Pasifika Awards’ 2012 Senior Pacific Artist Award. He founded his platform MAU, a Samoan word meaning “the declaration to the truth of a matter as an effort to transform,” in 1995. He was invited to Chile to perform his piece Birds with Sky Mirrors, and while traveling in the South immersed himself in the culture of the Mapuche, the indigenous peoples of south-central Chile and other parts of Patagonia. Ponifasio established MAU Mapuche in 2013 in Chile, where he met Amor a la muerte performers Curaqueo and Garcia-Huidobro. The latter previously worked with Ponifasio on two productions—I am Mapuche (2015) and Ceremonia Performance MAU mapuche (2016)—for the Santiago a Mil International Theater Festival. 

Ponifasio shared what he strives to deliver on the stage with his works in a recent interview with Stage Raw

What I want from the theater is a sense of silence, a sense of stillness. Our eyes open in the dark room to another dimension of who we are, another dimension of ourselves that is not a repeat of what’s on the news or what people are fighting. The theater needs a bigger goal than everyday life struggle, because everyday life struggle is a survival mentality. What makes us human is not survival mentality. That’s where the art creates the human being. We have to find a way to care, to understand each other.

Amor a la muerte is presented in Mapudungun and Spanish without subtitles.

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PUBLISHED BY Taya Zoormandan

As digital content and social media producer, Taya enjoys lifting up the stories and accomplishments of CalArts' students, alums, and faculty. She fancies herself a visual artist but is really more of an overzealous collector of art supplies.

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