Half-consciously, though, there is the more indigenous dream that the adventure is everything…

— Kaprow, Happenings in the New York Scene

Last month Agitprop presented Coatlicue mi Amor, a performance by The Border Corps, a group of San Diego artists, musicians, and performers. In its density of information and feeling, Coatlicue was by far the most ambitious and successful event I’ve witnessed to date at Agitprop, and not by coincidence it’s taken me a month to figure out how to write about it.

Billed as a happening, Coatlicue felt more closely positioned between traditional performance art and current trends in interactive theatre. Its hybrid nature made for a wild ride: rather than simply disappearing, the fourth wall seemed to be in constant motion throughout the Agitprop space, flying up, down, or inverting polarity as various scenes unfolded.

Throughout the fourth-wall gymnastics, backstage remained overhead and crucial, as Border Corpsmen Armando de la Torre and Anthony Vasquez worked full-time through the performance spinning a dense web of real-time audio and video around performers Endy, Perry Vasquez, and Shondra Dawson.

The work was structured in three parts: the dreams of two vividly REM-state dreamers; a satirical review of recent and ongoing commercial crypto-genocides (the gods are more subtle these days); and a traditional Catholic liturgy recounting in lurid detail the historical genocide of the Island Carib people at the hands of conquistadores.

At this point I’d normally attempt a detailed description of these parts, but doing so would require more pages than could fit on this blog, and would only lead the reader further and further away from the intense theatricality engendered by the performance. Words fail me — you had to be there.

Never overplaying its hand (except perhaps in the topical Haiti references), the entire production displayed subtle signs of being well-thought-out to the n’th degree:

  • The audience was materially encouraged (via an admission discount) to attend the performance with sketchbooks and pencils. The presence of sketchers sketching throughout the performance mere feet from the performers seemed to insert them into the story itself, as complicit documenters of historical phenomena.
  • The climactic genocide liturgy was delivered directly to the artist-heavy audience, reframing them as members of the Church and so complicit participants in the recounted genocide. And so we are: you and I live where we live and how we live on the bones of a destroyed people. It’s an old story, and not an uncommon one, but some old stories deserve regular retelling.
  • Post-performance some remarkably good food was made available to the audience for free. Perhaps not by coincidence, most of it seemed to be round.

I know of several people who missed this event and regret it. Word is that a repeat performance may occur at Agitprop in the indefinite future — watch for it.