Regio: Dance, Storytelling & Puppetry gives voice to Social Issues.
Posted July 30, 2021
Local artist Juan Manuel Aldape Muñoz is a recent recipent of CAP's 2021 Artist in Community Grant for Regio, a production of contemporary dance, storytelling, and puppetry that addresses the issues of safety that Latinx migrant workers, specifically in meat supply factories, had to face during the COVID-19 pandemic.
About Juan Manuel
Juan Manuel specializes in mediums of dance and visual media to give voice to social issues. He has taken part in several international artist residency programs and his award-winning choreography has been presented all around the world. He is currently teaching at Cornell University and working on a book about the role of choreography and performance during anti-immigrant periods in the United States.
Juan Manuel says that his goal as an artist is to create less oppressive environments in the world we live in. Much of his work touches on topics of race, ethnicity, sexuality, and gender. He strives toward his goal with performance art that “offers the potential [for audiences] to listen intently, witness [social issues] with care, and find ways of critically identifying systemic injustices.”
Telling stories about the experiences and struggles of Mexican and Central American immigrant communities is also a goal of Juan Manuel’s, coming from a migrant family himself. He believes it is important to represent the complexities and specific details of these Latinx people’s lives as opposed to how they are often represented: in characters and generalizations.
In July 2020, Juan Manuel traveled across the country for his postdoctoral fellowship at Cornell University. During his journey, he listened to the podcast Latino USA. It was there that he first heard about the Children of Smithfield, a group of children who protested the unsafe conditions of the meatpacking factories their parents worked in. Though the story was focused on the kids, Juan Manuel considered the position of the parents. He considered the powerful choice of having to decide between one’s safety or livelihood and the livelihoods of their families.
“Whether you show up to work, knowing the precarity of the conditions, reveals something very powerful about the people who choose to make this decision,” Juan Manuel says. “[They work] despite being aware of the dangers to themselves and their body.”
One of the most eye-catching elements of Regio is the puppetry. While Juan Manuel was inspired to include puppets in his project from taking his toddler to a children’s show organized by Lilypad Puppet Theatre, the ones in Regio are no hand puppets. Juan Manuel had seen the giant 11-foot tall Mojigangas years prior when he visited Mexico in 2012. He was struck by their “other-worldly and magical” qualities but wondered how they would function with more dynamic movement.
His experimentation of combining the Mojigangas with movement and dance was the perfect way to merge his long-held desire to work with the puppets and the challenge of following social distancing guidelines in a dance performance.
CAP's “Artist in Community” Grant helped cover the costs of materials for the puppets and to compensate the artists who collaborated with him on this project. Being in a new area and building these new relationships with fellow artists, he believes it was especially important to pay them for their time. Juan Manuel is grateful to CAP for giving him the ability to honor those values and support all the moving parts of Regio.
Since arriving in Tompkins County, Juan Manuel has received a warm welcome from the Latino Civic Association and the Ithaca Puppet Pod. Both organizations helped Juan Manuel gain his footing in this new environment and provide support for the development and production of Regio. For more information on Juan Manuel Aldape Muñoz and his work, visit his website: http://www.juanmaldape.com/.