When you think of Hamlet, Argentina probably doesn't come to mind. That's why the folks who include it as part of Inroads: The Americas believe you'll be surprised when you see the moody, grief-stricken prince transformed, courtesy of the Argentine troupe Teatro del Sur, into the son of a suburban crime boss in 1930s Buenos Aires. That's right. In Un Hamlet de Suburbios (A Hamlet of the Suburbs), Shakespeare's portrait of a young Dane mixes it up with tangos and milongas, leaving far behind those musty velvet jerkins.
But Un Hamlet de Suburbios is not your usual updating of a classic. "We are trying to present work that will challenge stereotypes of what is being created around the Americas," says Olga Garay, erstwhile executive director of cultural affairs for Miami-Dade Community College. She organized the six-day festival and conference that begins September 14 under the auspices of Arts International and which features eleven performing arts companies from six countries. (Garay, who recently left Miami-Dade to take a post at the Doris Duke Foundation in New York, will return to participate in the festival.)
"When you think of Mexico, you think of mariachi," she says. "Instead we got Mono Blanco, which is an Afro-Mexican band. When you think of American dance, you might think of Mark Morris or Twyla Tharp, so instead we got Eiko and Koma," a troupe of Asian Americans whose work, Land, a collaboration with Native American composer Robert Mirabal, incorporates Southwestern imagery.
Garay says that aside from shaking up audience expectations, the other aim of the festival is to "present culturally specific and contemporary work side by side so people can get a feel for the depth and breadth of what's going on."
What is going on? Anything but the ordinary in Quinceanera, a dance work by Paul Bonin-Rodriguez, Michael Marinez, and Alberto Antonio Araiza. Named after the coming-of-age celebration for fifteen-year-old Hispanic girls, the piece also marks the fifteenth year of the AIDS epidemic. Explains Susan Caraballo, who stepped in as project director after Garay left: "The work touches on AIDS and homosexuality. That's such an untouchable subject in the Hispanic community; it's a fascinating combination."
"Inroads: The Americas" is the third and last Inroads event, although it's the only one hosted by Miami-Dade Community College. The first, "Inroads: Africa," held in New York in 1996, and the second, "Inroads: Asia," last year in Los Angeles, were strictly conferences with no performance component open to the public.
Garay explains that the earlier events were less performance-oriented because the host organizations behind them didn't have as much experience with presentation as MDCC does. Caraballo, however, credits Garay for taking the festival to the inevitable next step. "It was a main focus for Olga," she says. "The whole conference itself focuses on the work. A lot of the post-performance discussion addresses how aesthetics change across the Americas. Given the great diversity of work in the hemisphere, [the discussions will ask], 'Is there an aesthetic of the Americas?'"
Caraballo also thinks the festival talks directly to Miami. "The whole initiative set by the Ford Foundation [which provided the funding] is called 'internationalizing the arts.' The idea is getting the artists to meet presenters from different areas and getting presenters to meet artists, and to allow for exchange to take place."
As for Miami's role in all this: "It's an appropriate place for an 'Inroads,'" Caraballo notes. "Who we're representing in this festival is reflective of Miami. The international aspect of it is very Miami. All these changes that are taking place, people coming and going -- on a grander scheme and on a daily basis -- we're at an inroads."
-- Robin Dougherty
Inroads: The Americas performances take place at several Miami venues. See "Calendar Events," page 34, for specific details or call 305-237-3372.