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Modern dance explores the American melting pot

By Daily Bruin Staff

Oct. 16, 1996 9:00 p.m.

Thursday, October 17, 1996

DANCE:

The Davalos Dance Company straddles the line of ethnic identity,
mixed cultureBy Kathleen Rhames

Daily Bruin Contributor

Tradition. Heritage. Culture.

They are supposed to define us, make us individuals and give us
a sense of pride in knowing where we are from.

America is said to be a melting pot of nationalities and races
where things like tradition, heritage and culture are mixed
together to become one gigantic way of life that we label
"America." We become African-American, Asian-American,
Mexican-American. In essence, we become "American But
Hyphenated."

Beginning tonight, the Davalos Dance Company will explore some
of these issues through an evening of modern dance. Appropriately
entitled "American But Hyphenated," the performance is based on the
poem "Legal Alien" by Pat Mora which details the struggle of
Mexican-Americans to be part of two cultures in the United States
and their inability to fit into one or the other. For choreographer
and company founder Catherine Davalos, "American But Hyphenated"
illustrates this struggle.

"There’s a line in the poem where the author says how she’s a
Mexican to Americans and an American to Mexicans and she’s caught
between the two cultures, trying to find a place to fit," Davalos
says. "Although you’re living here and supposed to feel a part of
American life, you don’t in the same way that an immigrant feels
unwelcome and looked down upon."

In choreographing the performance, Davalos found herself working
from her own experience and feelings toward being a Mexican woman
living in California. She feels that current political issues,
including affirmative action, have made Mexican-Americans feel out
of place in American society.

"It’s so funny because my family are all citizens and have been
living here all of their lives," she says. "Mexicans inhabited this
area of Southern California prior to the Europeans coming to this
country and yet there are so many that live here and feel like
they’re not a part of something."

Belonging is a feeling Davalos attempts to create through her
choreography. Although the six pieces in the performance are not
directly related, they seem to play off each other in how they each
reflect the influence of Davalos’ experiences.

One piece in particular, "Órale," is a Latino dance set to
1970s pop music performed by Latin artists like Los Lobos. It
consists of a series of vignettes of Chicano boys and girls as they
compete for each other’s affections.

The choreography is dynamic and physical as the female roles
perform cartwheels and jump around the men, who are trying their
best to impress them with their "tough-guy" stunts.

For Davalos, "Órale" reveals a piece of her own past.

"The music in ‘Órale’ is stuff that I would hear on the
radio as a kid that my dad used to listen to," she says. "My work
stems from my identity. Because I’m Mexican and Italian and I grew
up with all of these family traditions, it’s just going to be a
part of my work no matter what. You can’t erase something that you
are."

Longtime friend and dancer Dyan Yoshikawa agrees it is this
personal side to the performance that makes it unique. "She really
does bring in the variety of characters and emotions, things that
challenge us as dancers and make us research things in order to
perform them with the quality that she intends," Yoshikawa
says.

Perhaps this acquired maturity she speaks of springs from the
research Davalos does herself. For "American But Hyphenated," she
took much of her inspiration from a trip around the western United
States.

"I visited all of these cities and small towns where people have
been in the same place for generations ­ even European people
who came across the Oregon Trail and are still living in Oregon and
have settled there," Davalos says.

One of the pieces that Davalos modeled after these people is
"Population 345," a dance that covers not only the relationships
between a small town population but deals with serious topics like
physical abuse as well.

Yoshikawa, who has a role in the piece, enjoys the way Davalos
weaves a variety of issues into the performance, enabling the
dancers to play a number of different roles.

"Her choice of characters and the cultures she addresses are a
little bit of everything in America," Yoshikawa says. "I hope that
people might be able to see a different perspective on how some of
these issues address them. Hopefully it will give their minds
something to chew on."

Overall, "American But Hyphenated" deals with people who want to
be recognized as American without giving up their cultural
heritage. From music to relationships to abuse, the six dance
pieces revolve around being Mexican-American in today’s
society.

"I think the common element is that all these people are trying
to find a place that they can call home," Davalos says. "The way an
immigrant from any country is looking for stability and prosperity
and a place to make an honest living is the way that these people
are trying to fit in."

Davalos finds it humorous that many of her dance students always
need to hear the "right" answer when interpreting a dance piece.
According to her, there is never a single right way to define
dance. It is what the person watching gets out of it that
matters.

"I just want the audience to enjoy seeing a dance concert," she
says. "I want them to know that art forms come in different styles
and formats. I want my audience to know that there’s never a wrong
answer. Whatever they get out of it is fine because at least I know
I’ve sparked some idea in their minds."

DANCE: "American But Hyphenated" Thursday through Saturday Oct.
17-19 at Highways Performance Space. TIX $12.

Davalos Dance Company

Dancers from the Davalos Dance Company perform "Legal Alien"
from "American But Hyphenated," beginning tonight at the Highways
Performance Space.

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