Trump’s hateful attitude toward the Mexican people is no secret. Miami, with its cultural ties to Central and South America, has been significantly affected by this racism. The artistic directors of the contemporary dance company Dance Now! Miami — Diego Salterini and Hannah Baumgarten — are extending a hand of friendship to our Mexican neighbors through dance in their performance Bridges Not Walls/Puentes No Muros at the Colony Theatre in Miami Beach Saturday, May 19.
“The ultimate message is that through dance, we are united," Salterini says. "We are the same, even with our differences, through this sense of humanity... When art is created, there are no differences between us.”
Bridges Not Walls/Puentes No Muros is a collaboration between Dance Now! and the Mexico City Ballet/Compañia de Danza Clásica Quintana Roo. Salterini explains, “The project was started two years ago when these issues were brewing with the first Trump announcement of a big wall before he was elected and even before that with ideas of the supposed problems related to immigration. I am an immigrant from Italy, and it touched a chord with me specifically and with Hannah, my partner [at Dance Now!].”
The performance is funded by the International Cultural Exchange Grant Program through the Miami-Dade County Department of Cultural Affairs. In the 2016-17 season, Dance Now! choreographed Bridges Not Walls and took the performance to Mexico, where it was performed by dancers from the Mexico City Ballet. Salterini recalls the initial tension when he and his team arrived in Mexico for the collaboration.
“The first thing that happened when we got into Mexico was that we said, ‘We are so sorry. This is not who we are,’” says Salterini, referencing Trump’s bigoted rhetoric toward Mexico during and after the 2016 election. “We were going there as ambassadors of the goodwill of the American people because we are better than this... At a certain point after we said we are sorry, we didn’t have to talk about it anymore. We are at the barre together taking class, sweating together, and we understood that at a human level, we share more than what's in the news."
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After a year of preparation and rehearsal, choreographers Yazmin Barragán and Jasmany Hernández from Mexico City Ballet/Compañia de Danza Clásica Quintana Roo have created their own version of the original performance, titled Puentes No Muros. At its world premiere at the Colony Theatre this Saturday, dancers from Dance Now! will perform with the Mexican company in the first act. Audience members will also see an updated version of the original Bridges Not Walls during the second act.
Salterini says that the two pieces are fundamentally different in style and technique but that they both explore the experience of immigration, though through different lenses. “[The two performances] are completely different pieces: The Mexico City Ballet is more contemporary ballet, where [Dance Now!] is a modern contemporary company... Also, Hannah and I created [Bridges Not Walls] as a collaboration with our voices. [In Puentes No Muros], Yazmin and Jasmany will bring their voices.”
Salterini reveals that the essence of the joint performance is unity through diversity. He describes a closing moment in Bridges Not Walls when the dancers move in front of a video projection of an EKG reading. “We all look different. Fortunately, we have different experiences. Fortunately, we are from different cultures. Fortunately, we are colored differently. But if we go deep inside a heartbeat, that’s the base of dance. Everybody dances because everyone has a heartbeat.”