Go Deeper

Les Rivera is a Platypus

Posted July 13th, 2011

“I had this fear before about being different, being a platypus, and thought I should move on,” said dancer, choreographer, and musician Les Rivera.

The platypus is an unlikely creature: a beaked mammal, it lays eggs, has webbed feet and a tail like a beaver. The males are venomous, and the species finds food through a form of electrolocation. When we’ve talked about identity issues in the past, Les identified with the platypus, feeling that “it’s like I’m little pieces of everything.”

Since the summer of 2009, Les has been pulling those pieces together. As a 2010-2011 Live Arts Brewery Fellow, Les continued his work on a performance piece called Platypus. As el malito, he’s working with the Grammy Award-winning producer Aaron Luis Levinson and the street bass DJ/producer Starkey, and is in the midst of a weekly Thursday-night residency at the Rogues Gallery (next show: Thursday, July 14 at 9:00 pm, 11 S. 21st Street).

The LAB provides a nine-month paid residency to selected performing artists, who also present work at Live Arts Second Thursdays events and participate in workshops with other Fellows and visiting artists. The program gives artists room for free creative development, with minimal demands other than the expectation that they will work.

When Les began the LAB Fellowship, he started with about eight minutes of Platypus, most of which he showed last summer at a private showing and at a Second Thursdays event. He said that he now has about 35 minutes of material and about 10 minutes of ideas, approaching a full evening-length work.

“I want to create a good 60 minutes of material, then whittle down to a strong 45 minutes,” Les said.

Part of Les’s takeaway from the LAB was developing an increased ability to receive and to filter criticism from other artists.

“We don’t have to listen to everything. It was picking constructive criticism about moving my work forward,” said Les. He also said that he didn’t feel pressured by criticism to take his work in directions that felt unnatural.

“I felt that, perhaps, my intention for a part was not as clear as I could have made it. It’s good to get that [feedback] because it makes you look back over that section and do a rewrite of it,” Les said.

After the jump: the value of workshops, and for the first time ever on the Festival Blog . . . a SEX TAPE!!! (Sort of. But you’ll click through now for sure.)

Les said he appreciated the wide array of artists who provided Fellows with feedback, from Tere O’Connor, “who I consider as somebody who does really abstract work,” to Noemie LaFrance, who Les found particularly inspiring.

“She said she knows the kind of audience and the kind of gigs she wants to do, so she knows the kind of work she needs to make. She does more commercial work, so she can’t get too weird. You think you can go in a studio and slap some shit together. But if you know who you want to reach you need to focus. It’s good to have some restrictions. Some creative stuff comes out of that,” Les said.

“Most times, everybody talks about, ‘We want more audience for dance,’ but then they make dance that only their friends want to see. The theater artists—I felt a closer kinship with them than the dancers,” Les said. “The theater artists seemed concerned with connecting with their audience.”

Les is also feeding that connection to his audience through el malito, his musical incarnation.

“Aaron is calling it Puerto Rican grime. It allows me to be the king of Puerto Rican grime because I’m the only one doing it,” Les laughed

Les thinks that the mixture of dub, grime, and Latin influences he’s come up with will be productive vein, and a synthesis that the music world hasn’t seen yet. el malito performs in English and Spanish, and Les is branching out to other languages.

“We’re gonna do a track with Portuguese. We’re making something about money, and Aaron encouraged me to research the language of money. We want to throw global parties. All this is preparation for bigger shows we’re planning on doing. We feel like once it hits Latin countries it’s gonna be big.”

Les performed at last month’s Summer Solstice event at the Kimmel.

“I feel like people were shocked with my performance, but shocked in a good way,” Les said.

‘Patrick Henry’ is kind of like punk rock to me. They cleared the dance floor, because I was all over it. Every show I’ve been doing, something’s infecting me more and more. Aaron knew it from the beginning. He was like, ‘This is next,'” referring to Les’s style.

Even though he’s been attending to his music career this summer, Les said he’s excited about Platypus.

“This dance is gonna happen! It’s the one dance I really want to make. When it’s finished, I want to stand completely behind this product. I’m figuring out how to put it into song form. It’s all coming full circle. I feel like something has clicked and is continuing to click. You can be a certain kind of artist interested in a few things to explore the rest of your life,” Les said.

“I feel that way about all things related to the platypus—there’s a lot of meat there. I think Platypus will be with me for a long time.”

el malito performs Thursday night at Rogues Gallery Bar, 11 S. 21st Street, Philadelphia. 9:00 pm, free! el malito’s also at the Lingerie Party on Saturday night at the Troc, 1003 Arch Street, Philadelphia. Doors at 10:30 pm, show starts at 11:00, $10.

–Nicholas Gilewicz

Photo by Stefan Kraft, via Wikimedia Commons under the GNU Free Documentation License.