Tag Archives: Zarco Guerrero

You had me at “cherry tree”

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There’s a small parking lot at the Peoria Center for the Performing Arts that’s covered with yellow blossoms these days — dropped from the Palo Verde trees that bring a splash of color to the desert each spring. I’ve taken to imagining these trees are cherry blossoms, picturing them in pink instead of yellow, because I’m still learning to love the Arizona landscape — but cherry blossoms have always tugged at my heart.

I saw the season’s first cherry tree blossom inside the Brooklyn Botanic Garden earlier this month and get wistful for Washington, D.C. each time the cherry blossoms emerge. So when I learned that a new theater work titled “Sakura no Ne” (“Root of the Cherry Tree”) included footage of trees in bloom, I knew I had to see it. Folks who feel the same have just one more opportunity (April 22 at 2pm) to see the family-friendly production being performed at Theater Works in Peoria.

“Sakura no Ne” is part multi-media production, part performance art, part morality tale and part homage to the Japanese Friendship Garden in Phoenix (along with sister city Himeji in Japan). At times it has the feel of a fine work of theater for children. Other times it reads like a Japan-inspired version of “Riverdance” or “Stomp.” Everything about it is lovely, but it may need a bit more pruning as it evolves to reach wider audiences.

Children in the audience Saturday afternoon clearly loved the humor, drumming, martial arts component and digital projections. The 80-minute show also features diverse dance elements rarely scene on Valley stages. I chatted with a couple after the show, eager to see whether a storm scene filled with lightning and a fire-breathing serpent had scared their preschool-age son. “This is the first time he’s sat through an entire show,” they told me.

“Sakura no No” is the work of playwright Soji Kashiwagi (of Grateful Crane Ensemble) and music composer Scott Nagatani.  It’s directed by Dominik Rebilas. “Sakura no Ne” is produced by Yoshi Kumagai (who also serves as art director and fight choreographer) and Ken Koshio (who also serves as music director), sponsored by the Japanese Friendship Garden in Phoenix and funded by a Sundome Performing Arts Association grant. Kumagai shared with me after the show that they’re hoping to present the work in additional Valley venues.

The show’s most dramatic element is drumming by Ken Koshio in the role of Ikazuchi (Thunder God). The cast also includes John Tang (Taro “Tama” Yamazajura), Urashima Taro, Old Man), Dale Nakagawa (Justin, Sea Turtle) and Sandy Harris (Haley, Sea Princess, Crane). Most delicate is Koshio’s title song, sung in Japanese and English with harmonica and guitar. I also enjoyed creations by Zarko Guerrero (mask and turtle outfit) and Derrick Suwaima Davis (crane feather outfit).

“Sakura no Ne” follows the adventures of two tween-age siblings — a boy rarely parted from his Nintendo and a girl attached to her cell phone. Think “I’m so bored” and “O-M-G.” They’re left one day at the Japanese Friendship Garden by parents hoping they’ll find a bit of bliss. But the pair finds something more — a renewed appreciation for nature, family and community. Even each other.

The simple storyline is punctuated by music, dance and martial arts performance. There’s traditional Japanese dance featuring Mari Kaneta (whose choreography and dance I enjoyed with daughter Lizabeth during the 1996 Arizona Opera production of “Madama Butterfly”), taiko drumming by Fushicho Daiko and Jakara, martial arts by a trio from Arizona Aikiko and dance by the ASU Japanese Student Association’s Soran Bushi Dancers. It all comes together in the service of a single message.

Only the cherry tree’s strong roots make its beautiful blossoms possible.

— Lynn

Note: Click here to learn more about “Strolling in Yukata” (taking place April 28 at the Japanese Friendship Garden) and here to learn about a new musical titled “Allegiance” (which explores the World War II experiences of a Japanese-American family).

Coming up: Another tree tale, Don’t cry for me Shakespeare?


“The Sun Serpent”

An early rendering of "The Sun Serpent" set design

For two years, a unique collaboration of Valley artists and arts organizations have worked together to bring “The Sun Serpent” by José Cruz González to Valley  audiences. It’s being performed through Nov. 13 by Childsplay, a Tempe-based theater company specializing in works for young audiences and families.

“The Sun Serpent” is an adventure tale on a grand scale. It depicts the collision of worlds old and new as a boy struggles to save his family and preserve the memory of his Aztec culture, bringing the conquest of Mexico to life through captivating media, masks, music and more.

Entering the studio theater at Tempe Center for the Arts Saturday evening, I felt transported to another world. Lush rainforest scenes, the work of projection designer Adam Larsen, were projected onto three giant panels layered on each side of the stage.

Lights with a beautiful blend of blue and green, the work of lighting designer Tim Monson, shown down onto large Aztec images painted on the stage — the work of scenic designer Carey Wong. A gentle cloud of mist hovered over the stage as sounds of birds and other rainforest creatures, the work of sound designer Christopher Neumeyer, floated through the air. It was breathtaking.

“The Sun Serpent” marries the best of traditional storytelling with technology. As its three main characters — a young boy, his widowed grandmother and his older brother — face cultural shifts with diverse motivations and dreams, projections reflect their changing world.

We see foreign ships approaching the shore, villages consumed by fire, and journeys trekked over mountaintops — all part of a visual feast best suited for audience members ages 8 & above. There’s greed, death and betrayal. But also hope and courage. “The Sun Serpent,” says director Rachel Bowditch, “portrays the strength of the human spirit.”

The creative team also includes composer Daniel Valdez, costume designer Connie Furr-Soloman, mask designer Zarco Guerrero and puppet designer Jim Luther. Amy Gilbert, who recently made the move from Atlanta to Arizona, serves as stage manager.

David Saar has directed and taught for Childsplay since it began in 1977. Managing director Steve Martin, also president of the board for Arizona Citizens Action for the Arts, is enjoying his 11th season with Childsplay.

Just three actors peform 30 roles in the Childsplay production of “The Sun Serpent.” Andrés Alcalá (Tlememe), an associate artist with Childsplay since 2007, has also performed with Actors Theatre of Phoenix, the Southwest Shakespeare Company, Nearly Naked Theatre and Phoenix Theatre.

Ricky Araiza (Young/Elder Anáhuac), an Arizona native who attended Brophy College Preparatory, graduated from ASU in 2004 with a B.A. in theatre before pursuing additional training in ensemble-based physical theater. Araiza is a freelance acting and movement teacher studying mask-making with Zarco Guerrero.

Andréa Morales (Anci) previously spent five seasons as a Childsplay company member, but now lives in Chicago, where she is a company member of Halcyon Theatre and an artistic associate of Polarity Ensemble Theatre.

As I chatted with cast members after the show, I marveled at the amazing depth and breadth of Childsplay offerings. It seems only yesterday that I was watching Childsplay associate artists D. Scott Withers and Jon Gentry bounce, run, bark and drive around in circles during a theater-in-the-round performance of “Go, Dog. Go!” You never know where the artistry of Childsplay might take you.

— Lynn

Note: Click here for additonal show and ticket information, and here to learn about other works being presented as part of the CALA Festival.

Coming up: Border tales

Update: Playwright José Cruz Gonzaléz writes about developing “The Sun Serpent” and his experiences with Childsplay in an article titled “Chasing the Sun” published in the January 2012 issue of “American Theatre” magazine. 1/4/12

Celebrating “Day of the Dead”

When I stopped by the Arizona Latino Arts and Culture Center in downtown Phoenix last weekend, artist José Andrés Girón eagerly told me about an exhibit of works by visual and performance artist Zarco Guerrero opening this week — just in time for “First Friday” on Oct 8.

Guerrero’s one-man, multi-media exhibit titled “Calacas y Mas” runs through Nov 30. It features photos, masks, large puppets, ofrendas and a special Dia de los Muertos art installation. ALAC credits Guerrero with making the celebration of Dia de los Muertos as popular in Arizona as the celebration of Cinco de Mayo.

This work in the ALAC gift shop got me thinking about The Day of the Dead

The Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix is celebrating Dia de los Muertos with “ongoing festivities, classes and exhibits” — plus entertainment to include song, dance and storytelling. The garden will present an interactive altar and a display honoring Dia de los Muertos.

Viewing of an “Ofrenda Offering” featuring installations by ten “local and renowned” artists is included with garden admission Oct 21-Nov 2. An event titled “Cuisine and Culture of Dia de los Muertos” takes place Thurs, Oct 27. And a traditional La Procesión blending symbolism and pageantry with music and dance begins at 5pm on Sat, Oct 30.

A work by Juan Chawuck of Chiapas Mexico exhibited at ALAC in Phoenix

Xico presents its 32nd annual “Dia de los Muertos: A Celebration of Life Festival” in Chandler Sat, Nov 5. The event features traditional music and dance by local performers, storytelling from the South Mountain Community College Storyteling Institute and children’s activities. Also folk arts and crafts and ethnic foods.

The Xico event also includes a community altar, a candlelight procession and their first ever “El Katrin/La Katrina Contest.” Their “El Dia de los Muertos” art exhibit featuring the works of more than 20 artists recently opened at their Chandler gallery. It’s part of their overall mission to “promote indigenous heritage and culture through the Arts.”

Works by Ruben Galicia on exhibit at ALAC in downtown Phoenix

Works by Ruben Galicia on exhibit at ALAC in downtown Phoenix

The Mesa Arts Center presents a “Dia le los Muertos Celebration” Oct 31-Nov 1. The event features a community altar, live music and performances, and food. Also a mercado complete with Day of the Dead merchandise, arts and crafts, children’s activities and more.

On Saturday, more than 150 students from various Mesa public schools will play mariachi-style music from 11am to noon. Altars created by local children and families will be on display, and one of several workshops (from noon-3pm) offers participants the opportunity to create an altar for a loved one, pet or event they wish to remember. Sunday events include a traditional procession starting at 4:30pm.

Detail of an Oliverio Balcells work titled Ometeotl exhibited at ALAC

The Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix presents “Dia de los Muertos at MIM: A Celebration of Life through Music” Nov 5 & 6. The event features a community altar, a music-inspired activity for all ages, a display of student-made altars and live performance by various solo artists and bands.

The MIM celebration also features a traditional mercado filled with unique crafts and art, Mexican-inspired food and drinks, and a “cemetary” honoring famous American and Mexican musicians.

One of many colorful displays at the ALAC gift shop in Phoenix

For complete event details, visit organization and venue websites. If you know of another “Day of the Dead” celebration in the Valley, please comment below to let our readers know.

— Lynn

Note: Art featured in this post was photographed during my recent visit to ALAC (prior to the installation of their “Day of the Dead” exhibit).

Coming up: More festivals with multicultural flair, A musical about second chances