The evening was centered around a quote from Preston Sturges’ iconic 1941 film “Sullivan’s Travels” in which a Hollywood filmmaker sets out to make a “serious” film about poverty in America during the Depression. After a series of mishaps, the hero is believed to be dead and he ends up in jail, where he truly learns the dehumanizing oppression of poor people. The only light in the whole experience comes when he watches a movie with his fellow inmates, and he finds himself laughing tears of joy at the antics of Disney characters (just the sort of trite entertainment he was critical of when he set out on his journey). At the end of the film he tells his producers he wants to make a comedy, and leaves us with this unforgettable last line: “There’s a lot to be said for making people laugh! Did you know that’s all some people have? It isn’t much, but it’s better than nothing in this cockeyed caravan! Boy!”
For filmmaker and choreographer Marta Renzi, this sentiment can be seen throughout her thirty years of art making, in which she has worked with people of all ages, classes, and races, both professional and amateur. Her mandate is to bridge art with real life, and she has done it in laundromats (The Welcome Table), auto mechanic’s garages (Year, Make, Model), neighborhoods (Porch Stories), and rust belt towns (Little Wild Heart) to name a few. In the mini-retrospective she showed at Kinetic Cinema we could clearly see her love for common people. Regardless of technique, budget size, or production elements above all else, Renzi wants to show the virtues of ordinary people in their daily lives, and the acts of celebration, joy, pain and pride that are there if only someone will shine a light on it. Interestingly, Renzi has approached this not as a gritty documentarian, but as an entertainer and a dancer.
In many ways, it is the archetypes of the working person that interest Renzi rather than the specific stories of individuals. In her films dance is a means of turning everyday tasks into ritualized sacred acts that defy normal space and time. In “The Welcome Table” working class black women look like high priestesses of the laundromat. As if by magic, the little white girls whose clothes they are washing appear in a procession through the laundromat and then disappear again, only to reappear in a hidden garden of a crumbling mansion. In Porch Stories the neighborhood characters evoke fairy tale counterparts including a “Pied Piper” old musician being followed by mischievous children, and a “Rapunzel”-like author trapped by her own writer’s block on her porch high on a hill.
Opening the evening was a short improvisatory solo and a video work by Arthur Aviles, a long time friend and performer of Renzi’s. Arthur’s video, “To Be Real” tells the story of a pheasant that was trapped in the Hunts’ Point neighborhood of the Bronx, and how the bird’s release inspired a dance (performed by the beautiful Althea Pace outdoors on the Bronx waterfront). Aviles is also concerned with bridging art with community and creating an atmosphere of inclusion. He is the founder of BAAD! (The Bronx Academy of Arts and Dance), in an old factory space in Hunts Point that has become a beacon for creative talent in this notoriously poor and underserved part of the city.
In a world that is polarized by words such as entertainment vs. art, socialism vs. capitalism, liberal vs. conservative, it is so refreshing to see Renzi and Aviles’ work which seems to bridge these dualities and show us how we are all in this “cockeyed caravan” together. That is the beauty of art, especially poetic forms like dance. We can go beyond the either/or’s and see how we are connected in divine and beautiful ways.