“Garden of Names” at The Cowles Center: A Flamenco Opera

Zorongo Flamenco Dance Theatre’s Susana di Palma is inspired by human connection. Her concern for victims of torture and violence is the result of this inspiration. 

Photo by Bill Cameron

Dr. Barbara Chester, who was instrumental in the development of Minneapolis’ Center for Victims of Torture, gave her Lawrence Thornton’s novel Imagining Argentina in 1994. At that time, di Palma volunteered at Minneapolis’ Center for Victims of Torture and the Sexual Violence Center. She heard stories from those she served as a volunteer as well as from those she considered close friends. Two years later, she was moved to create and present Garden of Names in collaboration with Joe Chvala of Flying Foot Forum. The piece, which di Palma sees as a way of demonstrating “the power of Art to see beyond Evil,” was originally presented at The Southern Theater.

More than two decades later, Garden of Names returns to The Cowles Center, April 6th through 15th, dedicated to Dr. Chester’s memory. The work revolves around Argentina’s Desaparecidos ( Disappeared) – the thousands of activists, students, journalists and others killed during the Dirty War, a period of state terrorism during the 1970s.

Though this piece centers on Argentine history and culture, Spain’s flamenco is the primary medium of expression in Garden of Names. Audiences will experience all three main components of flamenco –  the cante (flamenco singing), toque (flamenco guitar and, for this piece, violin) and baile (flamenco dance) –  blended with tap dance and some tango rhythms.

Photo by Bill Cameron

{ DIYdancer }, Alejandra Iannone: How did the opportunity to revisit this piece surface?

Susana di Palma: I took matters into my own hands. One day, I thought  – no, I didn’t think, I went – I went to The Cowles Center and said I wanted to do this.

AI: How do you describe the piece?

SdP: Well, it’s very beautiful.There is hand-drawn animation and verses like poetry…it’s like a flamenco opera. There are scenes of rape, gestures that reflect hanging tortures and electric shock…it’s horrible, but it’s beautiful.

AI: Will audiences be prepared for this kind of imagery? Are there trigger warnings in the plan?

SdP: There are. I’ve experienced first-hand Garden of Names’ emotional impact. When I danced the female lead in the original production, that it took me six months to recuperate after dancing one solo (created with guidance from an Advisory Committee including representatives from Amnesty International) that tracks the psychological progression of a person who experienced sexual violence person.

AI: Have others been deeply affected as well?

SdP: At past performances of the Garden of Names, some had to leave at moments when acts of sexual and other violence were depicted, but later contacted me to say “I couldn’t be there, but thank you.” And, years after the original production, I was often stopped by those who had attended so they could tell me how much the performance had affected them.

AI: So why depict images of sexual and other violence at all?

SdP: Because they are powerful. And some might not watch a newsreel, but they will watch this.

AI: What it’s like to collaborate with Joe Chvala?

SdP: I trust him. We have been friends for so long…and when working with a collaborator, your work is only as good as theirs.

AI: The ensemble is from Minnesota, while lead performers hail from Los Angeles, Spain, Marseilles, Egypt, NYC, Puerto Rico, and El Salvador. There are no Argentine dancers or musicians involved in this project. Why?

SdP: That was not a conscious choice. It would be nice to have Argentine dancers in the piece, but we couldn’t find any in Minnesota.

AI: What is it like to present Garden of Names in 2018?

SdP: It’s a different time. The memory of the Desaparecidos continues. There are other disappearances that happen in our times. And there are others that could happen in the future. There is beauty in the human spirit and light in the world – but, beware.

AI: Will the 2018 production will acknowledge concerns that now surround activist groups like the Asociación Madres de Plaza de Mayo?

SdP: No. We are not addressing that. It would be another piece. This is a work of art, not a documentary. It would be a distraction. Let people do their own research.

For tickets: www.thecowlescenter.org or (612) 206-3600.

Leave a Comment


Start typing and press Enter to search