The audience is invited to sing and dance along with the performers in an actual fandango, which is a lively, spontaneous, communal musical celebration. But that’s only after the 100 minutes of “Fandango for Butterflies (and Coyotes),” a play that depicts a fandango as practiced by immigrants from Latin America who have brought the tradition to New York.
Commissioned by En Garde Arts, Andrea Thome’s script is based on interviews she conducted with actual immigrants – some with “papers,” most without. The characters talk of their hardships, and express their fears. But what’s freshest about “Fandango” is their joy. Under the direction of José Zayas, with a superb cast of performers and musicians, the show is only really thrilling when the seven characters recreate the tradition of son jarocho — when they strum jaranas (Mexican stringed instruments that resemble a ukulele) dance two by two on the tarima (a small wooden that turns the foot tapping into rich percussion), and sing the beautiful original songs by Sinuhé Padilla Isunza in Spanish (while two monitors present English translations, not really necessary since the emotions come through clearly in the music.)
Click on any photo by Maria Baranova to see it enlarged
As the characters gather in a church in the neighborhood, bringing food they’ve prepared, calling friends or family, we glimpse some of their stories.
Mariposa (Jen Anaya), who is organizing the gathering, takes time out to talk on the phone with her mother back home. Her mother is sick but Mariposa cannot visit because of her immigration status. In the 18 years since she has lived in the U.S, she has sent her mother enough money to buy a house, a phone and a TV – things Mariposa herself never had growing up.
Rogelio (Carlo Albán) was a teacher back home in Honduras. He works now as a horse groomer on a ranch in New York. He hasn’t seen his wife or children for ten years. With his cousin Elvin (Andrés Quintero) he awaits the arrival of their cousin Johan (Roberto Tolentino.) The cousins worry because they’ve heard that ICE raids are under way. A banging on the church door at one point causes panic.
Eventually we learn that Rogelio and Mariposa had a fling. This leads to the two of them, separately but simultaneously, singing a sad and gorgeous song of their loneliness and the impossibility of their love.
To these immigrants, life in New York is…complicated.
Pili (Frances Ines Rodriguez, making an assured performance debut after 15 years as a stage manager) repeats in song what her grandmother back in Puebla told her when she wanted to go on to seventh grade in Puebla: “No money” and “Remember you’re a girl.”
So she moved to New York with her Dad, who let her finish junior high school. But he didn’t want her to go any further in her education. So she left at age 14, and moved in with her dad’s boss to further her education – and now fixes air conditioners and cars.
Newcomer Rafaela (Silvia Dionicio) said her art teacher told her to come to this fandango. “it’s like another kind of protest.”
“I’m not protesting nothing, ok?” Elvin replies. “I got enough to worry about without causing trouble.”
While the songs are all in Spanish with English subtitles, all of their conversations are in English with Spanish subtitles. Since all the performers are evidently Spanish speakers, this could easily have been in reverse – spoken Spanish, English subtitles – and probably should have been. This is not least because the show will travel to venues in all five boroughs, with the obvious hope of attracting immigrant audiences: En Garde arts has partnered with the NYC Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs “who will have a booth at select performances.”
Fandango for Butterflies (and Coyotes).
Written by Andrea Thome
Johnny Moreno Scenic and Projection Design, Lucrecia Briceno Lighting Design, Marcelo Añez Sound Design, Fabian Fidel Aguilar Costume Design, Alexandra Beller Choreography
Cast; Carlo Albán as Rogelio, Jen Anaya as Mariposa, Silvia Dionicio as Rafaela, Sinuhé Padilla as Sinuhé lead musician, Andrés Quintero as Elvin, Frances Ines Rodriguez as Pili, Roberto Tolentino as Johan
Tickets: $10 to $25 – or free if you bring along a jarana
Running time: 100 minutes with no intermission (plus the real fandango afterwards)
now through February 15
Presented by La MaMa
La MaMa (66 East 4th Street, btw Bowery & 2nd Ave, Manhattan)
February 19 – 20
In Association with LaGuardia Performing Arts Center
LaGuardia Performing Arts Center (31-10 Thomson Ave, Long Island City, Queens)
Snug Harbor Cultural Center and Botanic Garden (1000 Richmond Terrace, Staten Island)
In Partnership with Lehman Stages
Lehman Stages (250 Bedford Blvd. W. Bronx
March 20 – 21
In Association with Open Hydrant at The Point
The Point (940 Garrison Ave, Bronx)
March 26 – March 28
In Association with Irondale Ensemble Project
Irondale Center (85 S Oxford St, Brooklyn)