Belén – A Book of Hours

BELEN COPY

Premiere: March, 1999
XV Festival del Centro Historico (Mexico City)
At El Claustro de Sor Juana

Directed by Ruth Maleczech

“…entrancing, stunningly original theater.
Ms. Sasanov’s poetry has a jarring loveliness…
expertly directed by Ruth Maleczech.”
-Anita Gates, New York Times

“Belén unfolds through a spell-binding synthesis of words, music, movements, light, shadows, and images. An “illuminated” book of hours, the English texts appear as slides projected on a “screen” of white rebozos. Designed by Julie Archer, the lighting and visual setting are as potent as apparitions: bars of brilliant light define an intangible but inescapable prison; a niche is crammed with the broken hands of plaster saints; an overhead projector casts an image of puddling water, blue light spreading inexorably across the backdrop. Against a makeshift wall assembled from flattened tins, corrugated cardboard, and broken-down crates, a woman – wearing a muslin shift, her hair braided in the Frida Kahloesque style of Tehuantepec – appears like a beseeching figure in an ex-voto painting.”
-Susan Morgan – ArtForum

“The song texts, originally written in English by the American poet Catherine Sasanov are sung in Spanish, while the English words scroll along a wall above. Meanwhile, images drawn by the artist Julie Archer from such sources as old photographs and saint paintings are projected from time to time on various available surfaces—walls, curtains, Rodriguez’s body. In the clash and confluence of these events, Belén creates a complete, disquieting universe. More associative than narrative… it summons Belén’s ghosts—and their cousins from all the places women have been tormented—for a ghoulish yet gorgeous encounter.”
-Alisa Solomon – The Village Voice

Poems/Outbursts: Catherine Sasanov
Music: Liliana Felipe
Visual Artist: Julie Archer
Choreography: Jesusa Rodriguez
Sound Design: Miles Green
Translated into Spanish by: Luz Aurora Pimentel, Alberto Blanco

WITH

Jesusa Rodriguez (Performer)
Liliana Felipe (Musician)
Monica Dionne/Mariana Carreño (Outbursts)
Julie Archer, Joe Stackell, Kevin Taylor, Lute Ramblin’ (Projections)

DESCRIPTION

The production traces the history of Mexico’s Belén, first created in 1683 as a Roman Catholic “sanctuary” for single, indigent women, who were forced to stay until they died once they entered. By the 19th century, it had degenerated from a place of harsh, regimented living to the most infamous and dangerous prison in Mexico City. Told bilingually, Belén features the poetry of American writer Catherine Sasanov, the songs of Liliana Felipe and a silent movement piece by Mexican performance artist Jesusa Rodriquez, who embodies the modern woman, imprisoned by her routines of ironing, shopping, cooking, dancing, sleeping and fighting.

PRODUCTION HISTORY

Residency: Sundance Theatre Institute – Provo, UT (July, 1998)
Residency: Rockefeller Foundation Study Center – Bellagio, Italy (October, 1998)
Premiere: Festival Centro Historico in Mexico City – Mexico (March, 1999)
U.S. Premiere: Mabou Mines’ ToRoNaDa Theater – NYC (April-May, 1999)
Mexican Fine Arts Center – Chicago (November, 2000)
Brava! For Women in the Arts – San Francisco (December 6-17, 2000)
PS122 – NYC (March 9-26, 2000)
La Capilla – Mexico City
University of California at Northridge (March 30 & 31, 2000)

AWARDS

Village Voice OBIE Special Citation to Liliana Felipe and Jesusa Rodriguez for Performance
Julie Archer nominated for 1999 American Theatre Wing Henry Hewes Design Award

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