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There, here

A US/Mexico performance collaboration brings it all back home

Stephanie Garcia moves through a performance of “Ex is T(h)ere.”

Peter Hay

When artists connect, they find ways to keep making art together, whatever fortune might throw at them. Tulsa seems to cultivate these kinds of connections. It’s a small town, after all, where bonds made through art can last for decades.

For visual artist Peter Hay of Durango, Colorado, and dancer/choreographer Stephanie Garcia, of Mexico City, Tulsa was the soil that sprouted an artistic partnership that’s now growing across all kinds of borders.

There were murmurs of “Who are they? And what is this?” when Garcia’s dance collective Sur Oeste Arte Escenico arrived in Tulsa to perform their “Taxdermia” at the 2015 Dia de los Muertos festival at Living Arts. By the end of an evening that led the audience into every corner of the gallery (even the fridge in the kitchen)—and into a searing journey through the physicality of oppression (political, emotional, and then some)—viewers left wrecked and exultant, clamoring for more. It was one of the strongest performances that’s happened in Tulsa in the last decade.

It turned out that “Taxdermia” was transformative for Hay as well as for the festival.

“That show stands out in my mind as one of the most impactful on my ideas of what performance can be,” he said. “The ease and professionalism Sur Oeste carried through the entire engagement set a high standard. It was truly inspiring and I knew then that I wanted to work with Sur Oeste again someday.”

On Dec. 28, Garcia’s creative comet returns to Tulsa’s orbit in partnership with Hay and Steve Liggett, the same people who brought her company here for the first time three years ago. Then, Liggett was artistic director of Living Arts and Hay its director of development and public relations. Now, at the helm of the newly-resurrected Liggett Studio, Liggett presents “Ex is T(h)ere,” a collaboration between Garcia and Hay, who since 2016 has served as exhibits director at the Durango Arts Center.

Hay and Garcia have been discussing ideas for an ongoing US/Mexico exchange since their first encounter, way back at the National Performance Network annual meeting, held at Living Arts in 2014. But it took until last year for them to start creating work together.

For “Ex is T(h)ere”—whose title plays on the Latin word “existere,” which means “to exist”—they link their disciplines into a performance installation that was initially inspired by dreams in which Garcia saw images she wanted to recreate in real life. After inviting her to collaborate on a new piece, Hay mentioned that his mother, Barbara Hay, was a poet whose haikus might be another source of inspiration.

“I have been surrounded by my mother’s writing and poetry as long as I can remember,” Hay said. “She has been writing haiku every day for years now and suggested I create haiga (drawings that accompany haiku poems) from her work. Steph had an idea for a piece that she had not had the chance to make and we saw this as a chance to pull some of these ideas together.”

Liggett Studio—an open, affordable gallery space beloved by independent artists since Liggett acquired it in 2006—provides an intimate venue for a work that invites close focus on cycles of birth and death, departures and arrivals. The piece has given both artists a chance to push themselves: Garcia in what dance can mean outside of a theater, Hay in what visual art can mean outside of creating objects. Garcia is the potent sole performer, moving to a rich sound score within a visual environment Hay has filled with tactile, dream-like poetry.

A sketch of “Ex is T(h)ere” premiered in Durango earlier this year, but as with all site-specific work, it is evolving as it takes form in this new/old space that has itself come back to life under the encouragement of Liggett, now retired but somehow more energized than ever in support of emerging creators.

“I love how the space has a dialogue with the piece and with me,” Garcia said. “I find more connection with the audience in my site-specific work in alternative venues because in this way, the audience becomes part of the piece. This process is the one I love the most, so it is really gratifying to converge with Peter who has the same interest but comes from the visual arts field, which makes the ideas that we work in grow. We found an amazing artistic dialogue to make this happen.”

What leaves, returns; what ends, begins again. Place “Ex is T(h)ere” on top of the story of how and where its makers are making it, and you’ll see how process and product are bound to each other through the people who dream the dreams. Place your own self in there, too, and see what happens.

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