'Bridges Not Walls' is a dance performance with a message

The dancer looks distressed, fearful, intense, as he moves through the steps of his solo.

He rehearses his performance with the words of the poem, “Home,” by Kenyan-born Somali poet Warsan Shire, recited in the background. The verses describe the struggles of a refugee fleeing her home country.

“No one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark. You only run for the border when you see the whole city running as well.”

The solo, by dancer Luke Stockton, will be part of a 40-minute contemporary dance work, “Bridges Not Walls,” depicting the experiences of refugees and immigrants. It will debut March 24 at the Aventura Arts and Cultural Center as part of the Dance Now! Miami’s “Contemporanea” show.

The new piece is a response to the remarks and policies of President Donald Trump toward immigration, including the promise of building a border wall with Mexico. However, the potential controversy surrounding this topic doesn’t scare the Dance Now! founders and choreographers, Hannah Baumgarten and Diego Salterini.

“Not approaching this subject scares me. I think that if we didn’t speak about this, it would bother me terribly,” said Baumgarten, who was born in Santa Cruz, Calif., but grew up going back and forth between Jerusalem and the United States. “We have a responsibility to respond to what’s going on in the community around us, in the country around us, in the world around us, and we’re obliged to bring that up even if it’s uncomfortable, and sometimes it is.”

“Contemporanea” will also include “Ritmo Jondo,” which features choreography inspired by flamenco.

About two years ago, Baumgarten and Salterini were seeking a grant for a cultural exchange program with a dance company in Mexico City. At the time, Trump was running for president promising to build a border wall.

“The project was about how dance creates a commonality between two different countries, in this case specifically Mexico and the United States,” Baumgarten said. “It was about the language of dance building the bridges, and bypassing these walls that do exist. And [these walls] exist in all our borders and they keep our country safe. But we could pass that through art, and through art, we would bring two communities together.”

“I’m an American citizen and all of the drama that is happening right now really does not affect me much, but it does affect me as a human being,” added Salterini, who immigrated from Italy in 1997. “Art is my way off sending the messages that I want to send.”

As the project evolved, it went beyond Mexico. The stories of Syrian refugees resonated strongly with the choreographers, too. The piece also has movements dedicated to the men and women who survive wars and to forbidden love. Parts of the show will be accompanied by images from videographer Francisco Javier Moraga Escalona.

The company is scheduled to travel to Mexico in April, when they will incorporate dancers from Ballet de Camara de Quintana Roo in a performance of “Bridges Not Walls.”

“Each of us can only play the part that we have power to play, and for Diego and I, it’s trying to open people’s eyes through dance,” Baumgarten said. “This is unfinished business for us all, and if we were not brought here as slaves, and if we’re not Native Americans, then we are all immigrants in this country.”

Dance Now! Miami’s “Contemporanea” is set for 8:30 p.m. March 24 at the Aventura Arts and Cultural Center, 3385 NE 188th St. Tickets cost $35. Call 305-466-8002, or go to AventuraCenter.org.

bduarte@sunsentinel.com, @babicorb

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