Gilded Serpent presents...

Joweh’s “Call to Dance” in Guatemala

Susu drums for dancer

Part 2 of Dream Trip to Guatemala

by Chloe Villarreal
posted March 27, 2011
Part 1: Arrival here

Saturday evening would be our first performance of the trip to Guatemala. That afternoon, we stepped onto the stage of the Instituto Guatemalteco Americano (IGA) Theater to begin our formal dress rehearsal and last minute lighting and staging issues, not to mention costume changes that were timed down to the second! The rehearsal ended all too abruptly as we rushed back to the hotel to eat, complete last-minute wardrobe reinforcements, and begin our transformation into our fabulous stage personae (Read: apply layers upon layers of complicated stage makeup!).

Just before showtime, we stood in a tight circle, gripping each other’s hands, while TerriAnne led us in our grounding ritual. We were dressed for our opening number that swung back and forth between sections of modern Egyptian and Tribal Fusion styles. Our Tribal dancers, Jodi and Teresa, were decked out in dark, rich colors, dripping with coins and chains, while the rest of us wore bright, glittering bedlahs and sleek, form-fitting skirts. Everyone looked gorgeous, ready, and just a bit terrified!  (Well, maybe the last bit was just me.)

Waiting in the wings of the nearly completely darkened stage, holding fire-colored fan-veils aloft, listening to the first strains of Egyptian orchestral music, I couldn’t help thinking that this experience was both familiar and foreign, in the literal and figurative sense.

Along with all the usual worries about any large production, I wondered how well we would connect and communicate with an audience that was wholly new to us. These concerns began to dissipate soon after we spun, one by one, into the swirls of stage smoke. Our audience was modest and a bit more reserved, but number after number was met with increasingly heartfelt applause. Audience appreciation kept our energy high through the two-hour show. Our finale, a rousing drum and zill collaboration with Susu and some wonderful guest players, ended to satisfyingly loud cheers and even some zaghareets! We skipped back to our hotel grinning, too giddy to sleep for hours.

Admittedly, we were tired the next day but felt bolstered enough by our success to do it all over again gladly. Sunday’s performance went even more smoothly–leaving some of us to wish we could stay longer, since now, we had hit our stride! After our finale, we came back onto the stage to sign posters and take pictures with members of the audience.

My favorites were a couple of awestruck little girls who were lifted onto the stage by their parents; I now have an inkling of what portraying a Disney princess must be like! We also reunited with some of the wonderful students from our workshops and were once again moved by their warmth and appreciation.

Now that the “work” part of our adventure was finished, we could enjoy our designated vacation day. We rose early on Monday morning to pile into a tour van to Antigua, the historic, former capital city. Our lingering “performance high” and sense of adventure kept us from feeling our exhaustion as we eagerly explored the city’s cobblestone streets on foot. Our first stop was the amazing Santo Domingo Monastery, which was fascinating in its beauty and history. We could have spent several hours exploring the ruins, the shops, and the museums full of colonial, indigenous, and modern art, but there was so much more to see in our day of freedom!

After Santo Domingo, we visited the home of our friend, Kati, a gracious hostess who lives with quite a menagerie of animals! Kati led us to several more points of interest around Antigua, including the markets (We had become old pros at haggling by now.), the Catalina Arch, beyond which we could see one of the famous volcanoes, the Central Plaza and its beautiful cathedral, looking like a great, majestic cake with its bright yellow and white paint.

Listening to a solemn hymn sung by the congregation of the cathedral, we ventured out into the waning light of the Central Plaza. As our last evening in Guatemala began, the air cooled and the sky darkened with rain clouds–a fitting end to our adventure. The shelves under the windows of our shuttle van served as pillows and the sound of the engine lulled several of us to sleep as we headed back to Guatemala City. That night, we packed our bags sleepily, and a bit regretfully, not wanting it all to be over quite yet.

Tuesday was a day of good-byes: to Juan and Silvia, to the hotel and its staff, and temporarily, to Jodi, TerriAnne, and Susu, who would be staying for another week of workshops and small performances. While we were glad to be going home to our families and all the familiar comforts of California, we couldn’t help feeling a little sad to leave the place we had all come to love in such a short period of time. On the plane, we watched distant thunderstorms out the window and comforted each other in our mutual plans to return one day, to perform (or even just to visit) and explore. Personally, I’ve already made several trips back to Guatemala–if only in some delightful, lovely dreams.

Troupe on stage

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MaryEllen Donald