Go Deeper

Making Ajiaco with Marianela Boán

Posted June 8th, 2010

This morning I woke up with sore muscles. That’s because yesterday afternoon I spent an hour and a half making ajiaco with Marianela Boán.

Ajiaco is a traditional Cuban stew, but those of us who came to the Live Arts Studio yesterday afternoon weren’t there to eat. Boán, the Cuban-born choreographer whose new dance Decadere will be performed at the Live Arts Festival, led a free dance improvisation workshop for dancers and non-dancers ages 18-25.

I took tap lessons for nine sequin-spangled years of my childhood and was on the dance team in middle school–I coveted the monogrammed team sweatshirt–but I’ve never done any kind of dance that doesn’t involve A LOT of smiling and a bouquet from mom after the recital. So when I heard the words “dance improvisation” I got a picture in my head of myself, alone on stage . . . peeing my pants.

But when the tiny-but-punchy Boán began to lead the nine dancers and non-dancers in a series of movement exercises, my perceived need for a diaper vanished. At first, all we did was walk around in a circle–how could I mess that up? Then Boán layered more elements onto our basic movements, like linking arms to follow other dancers and then spinning off to join another group. We were soon moving freely throughout the space, feeling something like interlocking strains of bacteria, or as one participant described it, “like animals in a chase, ducking through the jungle.”

Throughout the workshop, we added facial expressions and vocalizations to our dance that would have had my tap teacher in a fit. By the end, I felt silly for worrying about the “all eyes on me” effect. Boán emphasized listening to the group rather than inserting out own will into our improvised movements, and in this way what could have been individual and chaotic transformed into a cohesive dance that someone watching from the sideline said almost put her into a trance. That’s where the ajiaco that Boán compared our dancing to came in–somehow all of our flavors blended together to make one remarkable, albeit sweaty, stew. Yum.

–Ellen Freeman

Photos by Sudi Green, ajiaco image courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.