Choreotopias: Assaulted Desires in Asaltodiario’s Street Choreographies in Mexico City, 1985–1994
Lecture by Juan Manuel Aldape Muñoz for Fall 2018 Colloquium The City and its People.
Fall 2018 GUH Colloquium student Nolan Boomer wrote the following reflection on the September 11th lecture given by Juan Manuel Aldape Muñoz, PhD Candidate in Performance Studies.
Following the aftermath of the devastating 1985 Mexico City earthquake, choreographers Miguel Ángel Díaz and Jaime Leyva founded the performance group Asaltodiario in 1987. The group’s first choreographies raised money for local earthquake relief efforts (as well as for those persecuted by the Nicaraguan dictatorship). Following these early performances, the group developed ambitious programming that spanned nearly a decade. In the spirit of the Theatre of the Oppressed, each performance was unannounced by the group, was performed spontaneously in public space, and was cleaned up without a trace. Each was created in collaboration with the local community, often using actors from the neighborhood itself.
Performance studies scholar Juan Manuel Aldape Muñoz positions this history through the framework of choreotopia, a term he defines as art-political assemblies created by bodies and ideologies that circulate to describe the past, present, and future of marginalized peoples. Muñoz adapts the idea of “utopia” and Foucault’s term heterotopia to a framework that centers on the politics of exchange and circumstance rather than place. By focusing on the city as a site of circulation and movement, the city is no longer a static location.
Movement and change underpin Asaltodiario’s work in Mexico City. Muñoz points out that the term asaltodiario can be translated to either “by the daily jump” or “daily assault,” indicating the daily impact of movement and its violence. Each performance was called an asalto (assault)—part theater, part dance, and part performance art. In one piece called All who are surprised, all who are under arrested, two boys tussle with one another, alternating the roles of friend and enemy. This dance of masculinity looked at the local community’s own issues, invoking site-specific concerns and histories. The actors even used street-side objects in their performance like trash cans, a feature common throughout Asaltodiario’s oeuvre. This allowed the group to use the city’s material surplus and explore what Muñoz calls the city’s “corporeal dimensions.”
Each of their performances blends the roles of audience and performer to reveal the power imbalances in public spaces. In a later performance, actors in a public park played an affluent couple, a homeless person, and a police officer. Before the scene could be acted out, a real police officer interrupted the scene and began harassing the actor playing a homeless person. Passersby viewing the scene stepped in to mediate the conflict and protect the actor from the real police. It brought to light the community’s fraught relationship with state power and raised questions as to what it means to perform in earnest.
While there were other guerrilla performance groups at the time, such as Barro Rojo, Muñoz argues that Asaltodiario is worth paying attention to because this group in particular formed its own voice and remained dedicated to working with disenfranchised communities throughout its practice. While Muñoz spells out Asaltodiario’s grassroots practice, there are other questions of ethics at play. In what ways are neighborhoods benefited and harmed by public performance? Is it ethical to play the part of a disenfranchised person in public space? Who benefits from performative play and humor, and who does not? Muñoz’s lecture convincingly positions performance as an invaluable framework for understanding the city, and further research may begin to answer these questions.
Image caption: Jaime Leyva performing in All who are surprised, all who are under arrested. 1992. Photo: Salvatore Salerno. Source: Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota