Ana Mendez at the Kampong
Miami-based choreographer Ana Mendez has been producing original and accomplished work in Miami for years. This December, she is closing out 2016 with a Grass Stains commissioned work set at David Fairchild’s exotic nine-acre botanical garden, The Kampong.
Grass Stains is a new initiative of the Pioneer Winter Collective, dedicated to producing new, site-specific dance work. A master of the genre, Stephan Koplowitz, has served as a mentor for the chosen artists and choreographers. Like all of the other Grass Stains commissions shown this year, Mendez’s piece was designed to engage integrally with the site. The process of creating the work, then, is not just about creating movement. It’s also a discovery of the place itself.
We spoke with Mendez a week before Transplants makes a one-day appearance among the Kampong’s foliage.
How is rehearsal going?
It’s going good! I’ve been rehearsing since September, and it’s been a lot of sketching and throwing away, up until Art Basel. And then it all sort of came together in my head. I was working with a core group of four people, and then I brought in the entire cast this week. It’s a little bit crazy. It’s like nothing I’ve ever done before.
I guess that’s part of the process, in site-specific projects you have to let go of certain things.
Yeah, there are a lot of variables, so it’s not going to be only one way. I guess it’s different for everybody, but for myself I feel like my process isn’t always exactly the same. And so approaching this, I felt a little bit lost sometimes. I’m glad I had a whole lot of time.
What is your general concept for the piece?
I have always been a little bit of a native plant freak. In the last four years, we moved into a house and I only wanted to plant native trees because I want to have what would be naturally here for the birds and everything. How it should be, right? And then I go to the Kampong and it’s all about non-native. [Fairchild] brought in a bunch of plants from all over the world and created what would be considered maybe the new native. He introduced a lot of plants to Miami that are now considered native, but people don’t know, they think the plants are from here because they are all over the place. So I wanted to focus in on that whole journey of these plants that came across the ocean to Miami. It’s a huge voyage. And how these transplants have thrived and become in some ways the new natives.
How does this idea translate into a dance piece?
I had been playing around with these fake mannequin hands. I have been playing around with mannequins for a little while. I want the performers to have fake hands and I didn’t really know why. And then I thought about the idea of transplanting organs or body parts. Because I’m working with people, how do I interpret that in the body, how do I create that concept visually? And also it creates a stiffness and this non-organic way of coming into contact with the site that I thought was interesting. It’s a little bit forced. And that’s how I imagine it probably was. It’s a very delicate procedure to bring in these plants. And as the piece goes on, these people-plants become more and more organic and they shed some of these parts.
In working on the site, is there anything that surprised you or gave you a new way of thinking about the piece?
When I first approached the piece, I was really focused on David Fairchild. And we were also focused on one part of the property. And then through feedback from Stephen [Koplowitz], the mentor for Grass Stains, I expanded a little bit. There are lots of plants and trees there. Obviously that’s what [Fairchild] was all about. But I refocused around the trees, and now we are among the trees for the most part, and not just around the house. That was a turning point for the piece. That changed everything.
How is the audience going to encounter the performance at the site?
It’s promenade style, so the audience follows the performance throughout the property. In some cases it’s like an installation because it’s so narrow. I can’t fit 100 people at once in the porch of the house, so people will experience it kind of like a haunted house where they walk through and see stuff. And then in other spots they actually stand and watch something happen in the field or in front of the trees, or they walk up to the tennis courts. In some cases they are actually entering the performance area, so there are performers doing things but the audience is invited to walk through it to get to the other side, to see something else. I’ve had to weave different kinds of situations because of the way the property is laid out.
‘Transplants’ by Ana Mendez at The Kampong, 4013 Douglas Rd., Saturday, Dec. 17, Performance #1: 11:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.; Performance #2: 1:00 p.m. – 2:00 p.m.; Performance #3: 3:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m.
Free Performance – This is free, open to the public, and family friendly.
As of publication, all performances are SOLD OUT.