SPEAK By Jose Navarrete

By Jose Navarrete


In 2007 I went to India, and on that journey I experienced everything from horror to beauty: magnificent palaces and temples contrasting with the utmost human misery. Throughout it all, water was at the core of this gigantic human drama. On the one hand, there is a scarcity of the resource due to industrial overconsumption, and on the other, there is flooding due to the building of dams which, far from satisfying the thirst of millions of people, have forced complete displacement of thousands of towns around India.

For the past few years my dance work has shifted in terms of its context and actions. There is a strong need to use spoken words, theater, movement and visual installation to create work that speaks to our time. I feel that is necessary to address the ecological disasters we are creating, and water has been at the top of my interest and preoccupation.

The challenge I face is how explicitly I want to present those issues. What metaphors should I use or how many facts do I need to present? What do I want to communicate to the audience? Will I overwhelm them with data? Can pure entertainment accomplish my goal of “mobilizing” people? Can my imagination capture the horror of misery in a profound metaphor that will touch people’s fiber?

What is the political role of an artist? The truth is that more often water is becoming a big issue for all of us. Anywhere I go, I see this issue. I have seen people carrying buckets of water for almost five kilometers and thousands of empty plastic bottles floating in oceans, rivers or on the side of the roads. People are taking baths on the streets of Kolkata with a small bucket of probably highly contaminated water, while LA swimming pools are continuously sucking the waters of our Northern California rivers. Everywhere, in what are called developing countries, one sees long lines of people waiting to fill their containers with the precious liquid. One time in Mumbai, next to the Palace Hotel that was attacked by terrorists a few years after my visit, I witnessed a quarrel between people who were saving their spots in the line to fill their containers. They started screaming at each other while others tried to prevent a big fight. I saw the anger in their faces. I heard their screams. I saw their fists. Maybe that was the same anger of those who wanted to stop the absurdity of prioritizing the provision of water to the hotels rather than to the common people—that feeling that you want to destroy everything and everybody in reaction to a system that, at its best, ignores you, and at worst, is destroying you and your people.

The project that I am now embarking upon in collaboration with Mexican performing artist Violeta Luna, New Rituals for a Desperate Era, deals with the assault of multinational-corporations’ control of water. This is how I cope with the feelings of powerlessness and defeat. I do it by involving myself and others in the struggle for real change. I will use comedy in the work because if we do not laugh about the enemy and ourselves, we will die of melancholy.

I have studied water rituals based on the traditions of tiemperos and graniceros (Mexican shamans) who specialized in balancing water provisions for their agricultural needs. They are mediators between the humans and the God of Rain, represented by the Popocatepetl Volcano, located in the outskirts of Mexico City. The shamans’ rituals help manifest the right amount of water for their agricultural needs. These shamans remind us of the connection between humans and nature. I believe the more disconnected we are from nature, the more harm we produce in the world. This is the time to find the dances that once spoke of our interrelation with nature. Let’s bring them back with the language of the present. Let’s dance them. Let’s make the sun dance, the rain dance. Let’s dance until we are exhausted. Let’s remember that without Nature we are nothing; without Water we are nothing.

The first incarnation of New Rituals for a Desperate Era is generously supported by AIR (Artists in Residence) of CounterPulse with the dynamite forces of Violeta Luna and our great collaborators: Lauren Elder, Ricardo Rivera, Javier Maldonado, Debby Kajiyama, Roberto Varea and José Maria Francos. The big change we need to have can’t happen without the consensus and actions of most of us. Please join us for the ride on April 1-4 at 8 pm at CounterPULSE.

This article appeared in the April 2010 issue of In Dance.

Jose Navarrete is a Movement and Performance Artist living in the Great San Francisco Bay Area.