Reconstruction of a Choreographic Script

The backdrop of the project is the uncertain and fragmented space of my family history through the figure of my great aunt, Elfriede Mahler, an American dancer and choreographer. Accused of being a communist during the McCarthy era in the Untitled States, she fled and sought asylum in Cuba immediately following the revolution in 1959. In Cuba she became one of the founding members of the modern dance school in Havana and then relocated to Guantánamo City dedicating the rest of her life to founding and directing the dance company Danza Libre, which merges modern dance with Afro-Cuban dance traditions developed in the region.

The film Time Dead Time Alive presented in the exhibition concerns notions of time, memory, embodiment and absence. Through recollections by Elfriede’s former students, interwoven with choreographed dance and historical landscapes an impression is crafted around her absence. Concurrently her voice emerges thorough an archive audio interview in a fragmented and disjointed manner, punctuated and interrupted at times by the scratching sounds of a tape recorder. This collective act reconstitutes a woman that is gone but not missing and in the process illuminates the active continuum between life and death.

In the single channel video Submersion two young dancers perform individual movements in repetition from a choreography that was created by Elfriede Mahler titled Fuente. This choreography is considered the most technically difficult in Danza Libre’s repertoire and after mastering its movement the dancers have a foundation that can be applied to all other dances. In addition it functions as a means of memorial transfer between bodies where the dancers become fully engrossed in the historical trajectories that are informing their movement. Over the course of this repetition the dancers persist until they attain a full state of submersion.

Reconstruction of a Choreographic Script consists of a series of paper cut out collages and a multi channel video. The script created by Elfriede Mahler was originally outlined in the mid 1960s at the school of modern dance in Havana and developed through the 1990s in Guantanamo. The choreography was broken up into six acts, which told the story of European colonization and American imperialism from the perspective of labor rights in the combined styles of modernist dance, folkloric traditions and soviet inspired socialist realism. This original script no longer exists and instead the present script presented in the exhibition is built on remaining archival fragments, labanotation, oral narratives and gaps in collective memory.