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Dark Humor 

The works of Francisco Goya are converted into dance and theater—with decidedly modern twists

Francisco Goya was a favored court artist in late-18th-century Spain, painting portraits of the royal family and courtiers.

But that privileged position didn't stop him from skewering the foibles of the day in his personal work. (Even some of his oils of the royals were less than flattering.) In 1799, he published Los Caprichos (The Caprices), a set of 80 aquatint prints that were a devastating critique, not only of Spanish society, but of universal human vice.

Sheep-like subjects, drunken priests and monstrous goblins stagger through these beautifully rendered etchings. A priest stands in judgment of a man in a dunce's cap. Asses dress as humans. Three men, one in a clerical collar, wallow in drunkenness.

A set of Los Caprichos was exhibited at the University of Arizona Museum of Art four years ago. Now, the Latina Dance Project is bringing the works to life on the ZUZI! Stage—in a piece of dance theater called The Slumber of Reason (El Sueño de la Razon).

"We thought Los Caprichos were something we could base a work on," says Eva Tessler, a Tucson choreographer, dancer and director who's a member of the national performance group. "I had seen them. They're very interesting. The idea was: If we could connect contemporary events with what was happening in 1799, that would be pretty cool."

Latina Dance Project, now 9 years old, is a collective dedicated to expanding the definition of dance. The Slumber of Reason, like the company's earlier works, is "much more theatrical than dance," Tessler says. "It tells a story" using video, voiceover spoken word, dancing, singing and acting.

The 10 short pieces in the show, presented locally by Borderlands Theater, tackle war, environmental degradation, government corruption and technology. Three pieces are about immigration—no surprise for an edgy troupe of Latinas who hail originally from Mexico, Brazil and the United States.

Though their topics are taken from today's headlines, most of the themes are eternal—and Goya appears as a character in every piece. Company member José Garcia Davis of Los Angeles is a "Goya presence," Tessler explains. "He's dressed in an 1800s costume, and he speaks as Goya." Garcia Davis also created the videos that are a "substantial" component of the show.

Most of the sketches are collaboratively conceived and performed, but Tessler gets credit as creator of "Riverbend." Zeroing in on the war in Iraq, "Riverbend" is inspired by a later suite of Goya etchings, The Disasters of War, published beginning in 1810. This series, sometimes called the caprichos enfáticos (emphatic caprices), is an anguished lamentation that veers into surrealism; it conjures up the horrors of Napoleon's bloody war on Spain in the early years of the 19th century.

"Riverbend" takes its name from a blog "written by a young woman who was in Baghdad at the time of the (U.S.) invasion," Tessler says. "She depicted her experience in the middle of the bombs."

Tessler adds: "I'm interested in the voice of people who don't have a voice," not the Saddam Husseins or other leaders, but the ordinary people of Iraq. "I did it for my 14-year-old daughter."

Tessler cast her daughter, Gabriela Nugent, a company intern, in the lead part of the young blogger. (Nugent is a regular in A Tucson Pastorela, staged each Christmastime by Borderlands Theater, where Tessler is associate artistic director.)

All of the LDP members perform in "Riverbend." They include Garcia Davis as Goya, as well as the company's four founders: Tessler herself, a dance teacher at Tucson High School and a native of Mexico; Eluza Santos, a dancer and choreographer who recently returned to her home country of Brazil; Juanita Suarez, a professor at the State University of New York at Brockport in upstate New York; and Licia Perea, a choreographer in Los Angeles. It was Perea, Tessler says, who first had the idea to base a show on Goya's work.

The collaborative troupe periodically gets together to perform around the country. Twice before, they've put together full-evening productions in Tucson, but the last full show here was five years ago. Last spring, Perea appeared in Tucson with Tessler in the ZUZI! Dance production Crossing Boundaries. The pair performed a devastating dance-theater piece about the murders of women in Juarez.

The Latina Dance Project performed in Albuquerque, N.M., last month, and The Slumber of Reason debuted in Los Angeles last June.

Directed by Tim Perez, each of the 10 pieces is a full-company work, and each one targets a separate human vice. Perea contributes a work about environmental problems, and Suarez looks at the transformations wrought by technology. Some are relatively lighthearted, others dark, including one about a "torture salon."

A piece about immigration is inspired by the Inquisition that tormented Goya's countrymen and women. The performers alternate between Department of Homeland Security agents and inquisitors straight out of the Spanish Inquisition.

Half of the questions are straight out of the playbook used by U.S. agents when they interrogate foreign residents applying for visas. One ludicrous query, Tessler says, is, "Were you a member of the Nazi Party in 1932?" The others are questions the troupe dredged up from the Spanish Inquisition, such as, "Do you eat pork?" designed to root out Jews and other infidels.

The Latina Dance Project follows Goya's lead, Tessler says, by presenting these difficult subjects with a sense of horror leavened by humor.

"It's sarcastic, black humor," she says. "Dark humor."

Dancers from around Tucson come together this weekend to raise money for breast-cancer patients and their caregivers.

The concert, La Vie en Rose—or Life Is Rosy, a nod to the color pink, emblematic of hope for women with breast cancer—showcases a variety of dance styles. The dancers do the sashays of ballroom dance, the leaps of modern and the pirouettes of ballet. They belong to Dance for a Cause, the concert presenter, and include dance teachers, college dance students and young pros and semi-pros.

Founded by Patte Lazarus and Mika Deslongchamps, the troupe is led by Deslongchamps, a choreographer who directs her own company, On the Mark! All proceeds from the show go to the Hope Has a Name Fund, Inc., and the Arizona Cancer Center's Patient Assistance Fund.

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