Borderlands Theater has always provided us a lot to think about, and not just about issues pertaining to our geographic border with Central America. The theater's work has investigated all sorts of borders, and border issues, including those between cultures, the sexes, families, individuals and identities. The idea has been to shine a light on these sometimes artificially imposed borders, perhaps softening the rigidity of the lines that separate us.
In their fourth presentation of the season, Borderlands takes over La Pilita Museum, a small property just south of the Tucson Convention Center, and brings us yet another way of contemplating borders. Shooting Columbus is a work devised by the Fifth World Collective, a small group of inventive individuals who came together in a three-year process of learning and creating and perhaps most importantly, healing, chiefly, one feels, for themselves. Most of them have ties, genetic and/or cultural, to the indigenous peoples who lost the most as a of indigenous peoples in the Americas, and particularly here in the Southwest, if Christopher Columbus had been "shot," or prevented from initiating what has been the subsequent cruel history of these lands and peoples.
Interestingly, however, we don't really get a re-imagining. What we do get is a look at what resulted from the colonization: the losses of lands and their destruction in the fueling of an altogether different kind of civilization; the carelessness with which cultures, including languages and spiritual practices, were destroyed, or at least grossly disrespected; disruption of families and the degradation of children. It is impossible, of course, to truly re-imagine time—and humans—standing still and staying put.
This is all presented in a pretty complex package. There's the show itself, performed outside, which is often abstract, but always sincere. But before being seated for that, we are asked to peruse the installations inside the La Pilita building. One room features multiple screens showing videos of a dancer, of folks being interviewed, while the accompanying audio can be heard through headphones available for our use. Sound is integral to this indoor experience, especially as we see projected a collection of spirit animals as we come into the building. We are also invited to use provided pen and paper to answer, where would you be now if Columbus been shot?—and then clip our answers to a clothesline sort of thing stretched across the room. It's fascinating to read what others have written, and to consider a personal response.
But the main feature is the presentation outside. The members of the collective include "lead artists" Adam Cooper-Terán, T Loving; Ryan Pinto; Rachel Bowditch and Denise Uyehara, and they along with a few additional performers, give us dance and choreographed movement, both with and without words; these moments are often quite abstract and sometimes puzzling. There are also scenes with dialogue, most of which are interesting but not always clear of purpose. Generally, we are given fragments that sometimes confuse, but which always contribute to a sense of genuine reverence about what we are considering with the guidance of the performers. And quite amazingly, there is no sense of anger, of the desire for retaliation, or hate or blame. We hear, this is, horrifyingly, what happened; this is what was lost. And we realize, it's what we all lost.
The most effective and unifying aspect of the performance is the powerful video projected onto a large white expanse wall of the building, from the beginning, even as we are invited to sit, to the end of the performance. This video is accompanied by a just as powerful soundtrack featuring music, sound effects, voices—all sorts of things. This is Adam Cooper-Terán's creation and it calls to us and immerses us in the moment. The presentation's real power is this immersion.
There are a few things that made the evening less than perhaps it could be. La Pilita is a small building with tiny rooms, and not conducive at all to a generous population of theater-goers trying to take in all of what is there. There's an awkwardness about where to go and when, and although there a few places to sit inside and in the courtyard, there really is no accommodation for differently-abled folks. Then there is the fickle weather. Although it was anticipated that audiences would gather on lovely, mild spring evenings, my fellow audience members and I shivered in a windy chill. Can't control that, of course, but be sure to check the weather before you go.
There is an inherent danger when artists like these take the considerable time and the investment of enormous personal energy in such a pursuit. Sometimes they can fall in love with the process—the many steps and stages of their work, the numerous layers of research, their commitment to each other and to experimentation as the work evolves. If this happens, the final step of making sure that the artists are communicating well the results of their diligence can be uncertain or unclear. There is evidence here of this, and it results at times in some fragmentation or lack of clarity. Some things may need to be reconsidered or reworked to make the experience as whole and powerful and healing as its potential here shows.
Shooting Columbus gives us much to take in and synthesize and respond to within ourselves and with each other. The members of the Fifth World Collective give us some unusual, thoughtful and affecting work.