Rosie Herrera and ‘The Donkey Show’
At the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, visiting and local collaborators are polishing the glitter for a decadent performance party called “The Donkey Show.” A loose interpretation of the Shakespearian drama, “The Donkey Show” reimagines “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at legendary nightclub Studio 54. Flashback to the 1970s… the king and queen of the Fairies, Titania and Oberon, have left the forest to rule the dance floor. And Puck’s love potions — we can imagine what that might be. “The Donkey Show” premiered Off-Broadway in New York in 1999, and has since been staged in other U.S. and in European cities. For the Miami version, “The Donkey Show” creative team along with Arsht Center organizers decided to recast most of the characters with local talent. Rosie Herrera, one of Miami’s Miami star choreographers and performing artists, was brought in as artistic adviser. Herrera was born for this project. Raised by a father whom she calls “the Cuban John Travolta,” Herrera’s been learning the hustle since she was a kid. She also grew up in Miami’s nightclub scene, and is now running her own critically acclaimed dance company. When it comes to “The Donkey Show,” she’s not telling all — the show’s best secrets are still hush-hush. But she did give us some inside stories. What is “The Donkey Show” all about? Love! I think it’s all about love, and there’s many layers to that. And the reason that’s so clear is because disco music is so much about celebrating freedom and love. That comes through the lyrics and the rhythms. I was a high school thespian, and so I’m familiar with the story. Somehow putting it in a disco seemed to elevate that aspect. As a regular Shakespeare play, the story doesn’t quite resonate with me in that way. What was your involvement in the show? I came in as a creative consultant to help contextualize the play within the Miami nightclub scene — having my specific experience in the nightclub industry. I was also there to help them with the casting — the majority of the cast is from my company [Rosie Herrera Dance Theatre]. In terms of choreography, basically for Miami the formula is double. Double everything! Double the cast, double the amount of numbers. So there are some original numbers by me. And restaging and recontextualizing choreography that already exists, transplanting it onto our dancers and our space. What aspects of the Miami night scene come through? Well… Miami has a nightclub scene. I remember conversations with the creative team at the beginning about what in other cities might be risqué or really exciting. But for Miamians it would be boring. Go-go dancers in Miami are dancing in pasties. It’s like, “big deal.” Having been a go-go dancer myself for many years, I can say it’s nothing out of the ordinary. For Miami, we expanded the cast and created new characters. And because of the specific skill set of the Miami performers, it completely shifted the way that we thought of some of the characters. For example, we were searching for a main character, Tatania, the queen of the forest, and we ended up with this group of girls at our audition who were aerialists, contortionists, singers, actresses, dancers, and the sky was the limit in what we could do. And the set is amazing! It is a feast for the eyes. I always say that if you could see the inside of my heart, it would look like Miami’s “Donkey Show.” This must have been a really exciting project for you. It was great. It was a learning experience. Being predominantly a director now, and a choreographer, it’s difficult for me to step back and not want to take complete creative control. But these are people that have been doing the show for 10 years. And so they understand it in such a profound way. It was my job to ask them to think of it in a different way. Sometimes they said “that’s great” and sometimes they said “absolutely not.” So it was a huge challenge. In the end I’m very happy. Not just because of the outcome, but because of the experience as a whole, and the opportunity to work with such a kick-ass group of performers. We just kick everyone’s ass! The dancers that come here… there’s something special. I don’t know if it’s the way that the sunlight and the ocean breeze inform the body and the movement, but there’s something really special here. And it’s just about damn time that somebody said let’s shine a spotlight on it! “The Donkey Show” at the Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, Ziff Ballet Opera House, 1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami, opens July 18. Previews begin July 13; tickets start at $45. For various performances with starting times ranging from 7:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m., go to arshtcenter.org. This article was first published online in the Miami New Times.