Multimedia artist Yara Travieso returns to her native Miami for the debut of her latest performance piece, El Ciclón, at YoungArts’ Outside the Box series — for one night only, May 12.
Travieso’s provocative, kaleidoscopic work defies easy definitions, edging its way into the intersection of dance, theatre, opera, and cinema. For this show, she will transform YoungArts’ urban plaza into a magical, Mylar-covered Floridian swamp, alive with alligators, food trucks, a live camera, and an eclectic soundscape designed by Sam Crawford.
At the center of El Ciclón is Ava (Alanna Morris-Van Tassel), the newest multifaceted shero in Travieso’s growing canon of badass feministas. Ava is transported to a wild, minimalist wetland where she faces a moral dilemma of thunderous proportions.
Travieso’s narratives are layered with mythology and neofeminist theory, as well as questions of morality, empathy, and gender, across time and space. By subverting the traditional heroic narrative, she wants audiences to envision a new outcome.
“I would love for Ava to ultimately be this figure that men want to be,” says Travieso, who segued into a male-dominated arena when she began producing and directing her work when she was 16. “What if we created the infinite empathy that we all want? In that sense, I’m hoping to reframe the whole game.”
The desire to create unseen narratives began early for Travieso, who was raised in a family of Miami artists. She studied dance at 13, attended New World School of the Arts, and was awarded a YoungArts Award for dance and choreography in 2005. She earned a degree at New York City’s Juilliard School after dance legend Mikhail Baryshnikov spotted her and suggested she audition.
Though dance remains at the core of her journey, she has integrated theater and film and considers her work a pastiche, “a conversation between the large-scale visual installations and the narrative.” Her process often begins with an image — in El Ciclón, a white alligator. After “sitting with it,” she creates a storyboard from which the story itself emerges.
Next comes the script, which acts as the road map for her collaborators. By returning to the page and continuing a dialogue about intention, Travieso harnesses the grand-scale artistic chaos unique to each of her productions.
She says her personal experience with Hurricane Irma informs this upcoming work. A shortwave radio her family relied on during the storm became a narrative voice in El Ciclón. The emotions surrounding Irma lent gravitas and new perspectives to the piece.
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“A ciclón brings with it a lot of force and destructive energy, but it also lifts and reveals everything,” Travieso says.
Based in Brooklyn for the past 13 years, Travieso has danced for the Metropolitan Opera, directed films for high-profile brands, and cofounded Miami’s Borscht Film Festival. She has held numerous artist residencies around the world, and her 2017 performance and feature film, La Medea, premiered at the Film Society of Lincoln Center and was presented at festivals, including South by Southwest.
She says staging El Ciclón in Miami has special meaning. “I have this painful but loving relationship with this city. It’s my city, and I’m forever someone from Miami... but I have my frustrations. I like the Miami that’s having a conversation with the rest of the world.”
El Ciclón. 8 p.m. Saturday, May 12, at YoungArts Plaza, 2100 Biscayne Blvd., Miami; 305-377-1140; youngarts.org. Admission is free.