from Marisa Martin
One thing that really struck me this year was the incredible difference in the day-to-day reality of the people in Guatemala compared to mine. In Guatemala so much more effort and focus goes into the fundamentals of everyday life, of making each household and community function. I don’t know if this is better, and it’s definitely not easy, but it does bring a grounded ness to the community that leaves space for smaller things to have greater significance. Both times I’ve been to Guatemala I felt that time slowed down- things just seem very much more focused on the present (but not without a profound respect for the past). This, that there is more than one way to live and experience the present, became absolutely clear to me this year.
There’s a unique relationship between the dancers and the audience in Guatemala that I haven’t experienced anywhere else. When I see performances in New York or anywhere else, a particular dancer might fascinate me, but I don’t usually feel a personal connection to the performers, the way the children and most adults seem to in Guatemala. Maureen said something that speaks to this: putting ourselves out there in a vulnerable way allowed us to connect in a more immediate and direct way to our audiences in Guatemala, who were equally vulnerable. In occupying foreign spaces to share something of ourselves we were vulnerable, and our audiences in Guatemala were vulnerable for allowing us to do so. The mutual trust that was necessary for this to happen created a really special energy during our performances, void of expectations, simply willingness and engagement on both sides. Ali talked about this- how she started off the trip in “performer” mode, but gradually realized that she was just there to be a part of it, to share as oppose to “perform,” and I think we all felt that. To me, this awareness of the rare space we were apart of brought an incredible freedom from judgment and simultaneous responsibility to bring my whole self every moment I was dancing, because I felt the audience so strongly listening with their whole selves. And I was reminded that if you express yourself with intention, in whatever form your communication takes, people who are listening will hear you. Our audiences in Guatemala listened with open hearts and minds, and it was incredibly humbling to share with them.
It’s hard to release yourself from expectations, especially from an experience that was as powerful as my first trip to Guatemala was last year. This trip didn’t have last year’s thrill of jumping into the unknown, but it moved me in different, subtler ways, and the lessons ran deeper. It was so exciting to see the foundations of some of what we created last year still intact, and Sussan and Cristian did an amazing job of building off of that to give us a different and better place to start from. It was so exciting to see so many familiar faces again. I saw how much some of our students from last year had grown up, and I realized JUNTOS was growing up too. One thing that particularly struck me was when we returned to a public school in Zunil where we had performed the year before. There was a calendar hanging in the school office, and the only thing written on it was a huge X on the day that we were coming. Unfortunately, there had been a misunderstanding about the dates, and we showed up a day earlier than they were expecting us. We offered to come back the next day, but instead they dropped everything and assembled all of the kids in courtyard to watch us dance, all the while apologizing that the students weren’t in their best clothes. After the performance we were talking with some of the faculty and staff and when we told them how nice it was to be back at the school, they smiled and answered, “we’ve been waiting for you.” To me this just reaffirmed exactly why we were there. Dance gives us this incredible point of entry, to communicate across language barriers and borders and political rifts. Now I’m waiting to go back too- there’s an urgency to do so much more, to share art everywhere to bring people together.