Latinx Culture and Hip Hop Take Centre Stage in the Vancouver Premiere of Anywhere But Here

Image of Alexandra Lainfiesta by Emily Cooper

Vancouver’s PuSh International Performing Arts Festival embraces and showcases work that is original, boldly provocative, and genre defying.

One such upcoming show promises to be exactly that in its melding of Canadian hip hop, Latinx theatre, and social/political commentary on the current border crisis in North America.

Running until February 15, 2020 at the Vancouver Playhouse (600 Hamilton Street), Anywhere But Here is co-presented by Electric Theatre Company and PuSh, in association with Playwrights Theatre Centre.

Written by Carmen Aguirre, a playwright, actor, and writer originally from Santiaga, Chile, the production will take audiences on an extraordinary journey that traverses places, temporal periods, and genres of music. It’s a fascinating and incredibly ambitious work.

Image of Carmen Aguirre, photo by Emily Cooper.

The nine actors on stage (Augusto Bitter, Alen Dominguez, Alexandra Lainfiesta, Shawn Lall, Nadeem Phillip, Christine Quintana, Michelle Rios, AJ Simmons, and Manuela Sosa) represent a diversity of cultures: Mexican, Guatemalan, Colombian, El Salvadorian, Venezuelan, Puerto Rican, and Pakistani. The story of their and/or their parents’ travel to and arrival in Canada makes their participation in Anywhere But Here particularly fitting and poignant.

Alexandra Lainfiesta

Aguirre’s work focuses on a car ride in 1979 from Canada to Chile by a family: a father and his two daughters, twelve and eleven years old. They are on a quest to change their refugee status, a quest that will shape their understandings of their cultural/national identities, of their sense of place, and the political climate that dislocates them.

The play is about migration and citizenship, but also is compelling in its treatment of family, love, and ties of dis/connection. Should the two daughters pledge allegiance to their mother, or should they align themselves with their father? Are they emotionally connected to Canada or to a place that they can barely remember? The mother of the family functions as a defiant feminist figure who has taught her daughters the power of refusing to accept the threats pointed at them. The fraught interactions between the members of the family are some of the most humorous and “real” elements of the production.

Image of AJ Simmons and Alexandra Lainfiesta by Emily Cooper

In the tradition of Latin American magic realism, the narrative provides a commentary on the real world, in this case, current immigration policy and border surveillance, while also containing elements of magic that open up other possibilities and other worlds.

Image of Augusto Bitter by Emily Cooper

The family finds themselves in collision with the 1800s as well as a dystopic 2020, forcing them to consider the past, present, and future of Latinx borderlessness. Can the family envision a different future for themselves and find a home despite the turmoil that surrounds them? Can they hold onto a sense of self when they are being negatively named and categorized by others?

The most striking component of the production is its set, with compelling imagery projected as a backdrop with a striking dotted borderline crossing through it. The stage itself is divided into various sections, a wall cutting across the stage floor horizontally, and a ladder breaking up the vertical space. The play visually plays with the boundaries that keep various people apart, but also the blurring of these boundaries as Aguirre forces collisions between times and various racial/cultural/language groups.

Music will play a significant role within the production, energetically propelling the characters to different places and times. Shad, a Juno Award-winning hip hop artist, collaborated with Aguirre to write rap pieces. Blues, butacada, and disco music will also appear within the show in order to signal a shift in time and place, but also freeing performance.

Shad

Tickets start at $19.99. Further info can be found on-line.

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