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Bringing the Living Room From Mexico City to Westchester County

Gina Chavez (photo credit: Jacob Weber)
Gina Chavez (photo credit: Jacob Weber)
Gina Chavez (photo credit: Jacob Weber)

Color, enthusiasm and culture. That’s what Seth Soloway, Director at The Performing Arts Center at Purchase College (PAC), experienced during his recent trip to Mexico – and that’s just what he has brought back home to Westchester.

Citing his artistic vision for the Center, Soloway’s goal is to help represent the diverse communities of Westchester County. To be sure that PAC’s new “Spotlight on Mexico” series would ring true with audiences, he went straight to the source. In Mexico City, Soloway found inspiration at the Enartes Festival, a conference designed for performing arts professionals.

“When I curate this type of programming, I want to make sure that the artistic quality is really high, but also that it’s as authentic as possible,” he explains. He adds: “There is no replacement for seeing an audience’s reactions during a live performance. You can’t get that with a video…I want the series to represent what the audience actually wants to see, as opposed to what I think they’ll want to see.”

Of course, Soloway didn’t just stay within the walls of the conference venue. In his search for unique artistic visions, he traveled throughout Mexico City. There, he witnessed an abundance of public art, its colors contributing to the composition of the city streets. He ate at local restaurants, and explored the City.  In turn, he was able to experience the heart of the local community, its people and their values.

The bold colors and the vibrant living that he experienced are evident within the performances in this series. Cultural differences are subtly reflected as well.  For example, during one day of Soloway’s trip, his hotel advised everyone not to use the water. What was bothersome to some of the guests was second nature to the local residents.  During Tania Pérez-Salas Compañía de Danza’s 5/5 performance, the company will perform Waters of Forgetfulness, a dance piece that explores the symbolic role of water as a life-giving force.

The resulting lineup for the new series offers a more detailed look at the country’s overall culture – a balance ranging from folkloric music and dance traditions to performers who are currently popular in Mexico.  In turn, the series facilitates a broader conversation about society and culture. It includes a Latin pop star, Gina Chavez, whose bilingual songs blend bossa nova, reggaeton, folk and more (11/8); a contemporary company, Limón Dance Company, which addresses struggles, triumphs and community (1/30); the Ballet Folclórico Nacional de México Silvia Lozano, who bring the traditional dance and music of Mexico to the stage (3/14); and more.

Soloway hopes this series will appeal to a broader audience in addition to the local Mexican population.  He believes that it is important to get people from varying walks of life into one room for a shared experience in a comfortable setting… and he wants PAC to serve as that space. So, he is offering up the PAC as a “living room” for its community and campus, for audiences of differing backgrounds to have an open dialog. “In society, we’re in our own boxes and we stay there.  We’re not having important conversations. What happens in the living room of a home is that you’re going to have great conversations, and you’re going to have a discourse.” In a small way, this series is helping to bring a souvenir from Mexico home to us all. We’ll keep our souvenir in the living room.

Mary Alice Franklin is ArtsWestchester’s Communications Manager and ArtsNews Editor. She has also written about art for The Huffington Post, Paste Magazine, Art Zealous, Skinnygirl Daily, Art Times Journal and more.

A version of this article first appeared in the November issue of ArtsNews, ArtsWestchester’s monthly publication. ArtsNews is distributed throughout Westchester County. A digital copy is also available at artsw.org/artsnews.

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