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  • Writer's pictureJen Norris

Review: CounterPulse ARC Edge presents Diana Lara’s 'Savia~Sap flow' & 'auiga' by gizeh muñiz vengel with Ernesto Peart Falcón & grisel gg torres, San Francisco, June 6-15, 2024

Updated: Jun 17

Responding to the natural world, channeling ancestral customs, and imaging new ways of being in community, Diana Lara and gizeh muñiz vengel, two Latinx contemporary dancemakers working at the intersection of artistic practice and social change are presenting a shared bill in culmination of their separate 6-month Edge residencies at Counterpulse.

First up, Diana Lara’s Savia~Sap flow, a quartet for four women, uses the metaphor of tree sap to explore the interconnectedness between human fluids and nature.

The stage is dressed in a series of scrim panels, a fabric forest through which dancers weave.  Video images of tree limbs loom like calcified bones, red blood vessels branch, and jungle canopies tipped sideways run vertically up the drapes.  Recordings of chanting build slowly, as a lone woman sways within a pool of light whose textured contours mimic the layers of a tree’s trunk. Her hands rise above her head, fingers waving in conversation with each other, like leaves.  She wears wide-legged earth toned cotton pants with a colorful striped scarf tied at her waist to form a triangle over her posterior.

Program notes refer to a workshop Lara conducted with indigenous Lenca women in La Paz, Honduras, in March 2024, from which sounds, rituals, and movements have been re-interpreted and given form in Lara’s choreography, as well as the striking visual and video designs of collaborative artist Gabriel Vallecillo Márquez.

One evident manifestation of their visit is a series of dances featuring a bowl-like vessel, called a guacal, made from the fruit of a Jicara tree. Indigenous groups and the general population in Honduras and Central America commonly use the multi-purpose guacal musically and decoratively, as well as practically, for serving food, or carrying water. As dancers held the bowls between their lifted knees and pressing elbows, the angularity of their flexed hands and feet recalled, for me, the linear profiles of ancient peoples painted on the walls of distant civilizations.

Dancers in Diana Lara's Savia~Sap flow balance bowls on their knees; Photo: Robbie Sweeny

A ritualistic section finds dancers Diana Lara, Isadora Paz Taboada, Olivia Treviño, and Ronice Stratton standing side-by-side, their bowls held tightly between their closed thighs. In tandem they repeat a flowing sequence: drawing their hands inward to their chests then out to bloom in a sunburst before wiping their palms down the sides of their heads following their long hair. 

The crackling sounds of a forest fire augments crimson stage lighting, as a performer enters with a perilously long, vine-like braid of hair looped in her hands and attached to her head.   Unfurling its length, she swirls it along the floor.  A trio enters taking their places in a row to support a portion of the long braid, and in so doing helping to confine themselves behind it.  In turn, each individual strides purposely forward hoping to separate only to be drawn back by the others’ strong grip on the lengthy plait. This dance spoke to me about the ways in which societal beauty expectations constrict women’s freedoms across many if not all cultures.

Dancers in Diana Lara's Savia~Sap flow with a long braid draped on their forearms; Photo: Robbie Sweeny

Bird song is punctuated with foreign words the women call to one another from the corners of the space. They practice their enunciation as letter by letter, the words are written in video text upon the background.  

Despite its grounding in Honduran indigenous practices Savia~Sap flow remains an abstract contemporary dance. The sound and video images were the most accessible portions of this multidisciplinary work.  The piece closes with a gestural exchange of hands shimmering beside ears and fists beating palms, as the projected images the smiling faces of Lara’s Honduran workshop women flash by.  

The second act soars with gizeh muñiz vengel and collaborators’ auiga. Readmitted after intermission, we step past a pile of rich soil nestled within a pooled canvas tarp.  Center stage, two substantial rocks sit solidly, while two rectangular white slabs reside in a far corner.  Performer and sound creator grisel gg torres sits poised in the front row, her feet atop a ruddy block of clay, microphone at the ready.

A machine-hum churns under the dulcet notes of Torres’s tonal song. vengel and Ernesto Peart Falcón, stand hip-to-hip behind a foggy plastic curtain running the length of the back wall. The room is dark, their faces blurred as if trapped within a block of ice. Falcón turns on a flashlight hovering it behind their warped shapes. Moving awkwardly, the beam reveals skinny naked legs, the curve of a neck, and the shelf of a chin, while casting long ghostly shadows. Arms reach and a subtle struggle unfolds, until suddenly, knees and hips buckling, they fall, ripping the plastic.

gizeh muñiz vengel and Ernesto Peart Falcón in auiga; Photo: Robbie Sweeny

Light pours in revealing a stark white room. The pinging of a submarine replaces the vocalizing. Having cracked the surface, the pair become entangled in the plastic. They roll and plod laboriously, making bursts of progress as sections of the sheeting yield. Primeval, they climb over and around each other. From bended-knee, Falcón stands cocooned in plastic with vengel seated sidesaddle on his shoulder. Tumbling down his body, vengel scoops Falcón into their arms, cradling them briefly before collapsing.

The sticky sounds of packing tape being peeled away resonates as, finally free, the duo teeters uncertainly. Perhaps new to their bodies, their hands remain fisted and club-like.  They make no eye-contact, yet their bodies remain connected.  Awkard lifts and off-kilter mergers ensue.

Upstage, the white blocks turn out to be chest size slabs of ice upon which the performers swim and slide across the stage leaving paths of melted water in their wakes. We feel the chill of the ice against their nylon briefs and thin silk tops.

Leaving the ice behind, Falcón bellies over to the dirt. Clamping the canvas’s edge between his feet, he drags the heavy earth across the stage behind him in an ungainly and effortful army crawl, his toes forced to grasp like fingers.

Torres’s flashlight discovers the two hunched, perched atop the rocks. As the stage lights flare, vengel and Falcón tumble, clutching the boulders to their bellies. The heavy rocks’ thudding is a reminder of their ungainly weight and texture. As they navigate the space with this cumbersome burden, I think of the histories and expectations we each bear, all the more so for immigrants. The dancers do shoulder stands against their stones, with legs flailing skyward.  Then in a feat of abdominal strength, they crab walk with the rocks balanced on their stomachs.  

gizeh muñiz vengel and Ernesto Peart Falcón in auiga; Photo: Robbie Sweeny

The performances are raw, exposed, and oddly inhuman in the way they never look at us.   Cojoined twins connected at the forehead, blind moles scratching without fingers, vengel and Falcón enthrall us as the 45 minutes fly by with Torres scatting, and sampling a mixture of her vocals with industrial sounds to create an otherworldly soundscape worthy of their collaborators. 


Limbs sprout crookedly and butts are featured prominently above folded torsos in opposition to the concert dance norms of symmetry, elongation, grace, and unity. auiga is incongruous, visceral, and exquisite. vengel continues to be a powerful voice in the Bay Area dance scene.

grisel gg torres pours dirt into a canvas pool in auiga; Photo: Robbie Sweeny

Review of June 13 performance by Jen Norris, published June 16, 2024


Production Credits:

CounterPulse ARC Edge

June 6-7 & 13-14, 2024 at 8PM

June 8 & 15, 2024 at 2PM


Savia~Sap flow

 by Diana Lara

Collaborators: Gabriel Vallecillo Márquez, visual design  

Isadora Paz Taboada, Honduran-Argentinian dance artist, based in Tegucigalpa, Honduras.

Performers: Olivia Treviño & Ronice Stratton


by gizeh muñiz vengel in collaboration with Ernesto Peart Falcón and sounds by grisel gg torres



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