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AMERICAN THEATRE | A Track Heard ’Around the World, and the Unsung Fiddler Who Set It in Movement

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Eduardo Robledo and Quetzal Guerrero in “Ghost Waltz,” a manufacturing of Latino Theater Firm at Los Angeles Theatre Heart. (Grettel Cortes Images)

Quetzal Guerrero stepped onstage as Juventino Rosas and began enjoying a well-recognized tune on the violin, swaying with the melody and easing right into a waltz along with his toes. Different characters round him referred to as the tune a “completely satisfied unhappy” music, and undeniably Mexican. 

At first pay attention, the melody sounds acquainted, paying homage to carnivals or cartoons. Actually, the music is so recognizable as a result of it has Traveled the world—together with calliopes, video video Games, and cartoon soundtracks—because it was written within the late 1800s, beneath the title “Sobre las Olas” (Over the Waves). However whereas the tune is ubiquitous, its composer, Rosas, an Indigenous Mexican, was all however forgotten after his demise at 26.

Ghost Waltz, Oliver Mayer’s new play, in its world premiere with Latino Theater Firm on the Los Angeles Theatre Heart, goals to get well the true story of the beloved music and painting the artists of colour who typically go uncredited, even at present, for his or her cultural contributions. 

“It’s not not like an archeological dig,” Mayer mentioned. “I’m attempting to uncover the bones of a protracted, buried life.” 

Mayer hadn’t deliberate to write down a play about Rosas. The composer got here to him in a dream, he mentioned, making an attempt to waltz in his huaraches whereas a crowd of individuals wearing white watched. Mayer awoke and wrote a web page of dialogue, quickly recognizing the journey of rediscovery forward.

“I really feel prefer it’s my privilege to convey the story to mild now,” he mentioned. “It feels to me each time we hearken to his music, he comes again to life. Each time we discuss him, he comes again to life.”

A part of bringing Rosas again to life is setting him alongside his contemporaries, mentioned director Alberto Barboza. Within the play, audiences are additionally launched to historic figures like Scott Joplin, performed by pianist and composer Ric’Key Pageot, and opera singer Ángela Peralta, performed by soprano Nathalie Peña-Comas. Guerrero, Pageot, and Peña-Comas—every a distinguished musical artist in their very own proper—had been particularly forged to reflect the power Rosas and his friends would have introduced right into a room. 

Earlier than moving into the position of Peralta, also referred to as the Nightingale, Peña-Comas had no clue who her character represented. All through the rehearsal course of, she uncovered Peralta’s story as the primary Mexican opera singer to sing in main European theatres, together with La Scala. She even went on to kind her personal firm. 

“She knew what she had and he or she used it,” Peña-Comas mentioned. “For me, that is an inspiration to maintain going.”

Quetzal Guerrero, Nathalie Peña-Comas, and Ric’key Pageot in “Ghost Waltz,” a manufacturing of Latino Theater Firm at Los Angeles Theatre Heart. (Grettel Cortes Images)

For his half, Guerrero discovered Rosas’s background strikingly just like his personal: Each got here from musical households, have Indigenous ancestry, studied in a conservatory, and primarily performed the violin. The sturdy connection makes enjoying his music in Ghost Waltz way more intimate.

“As a result of I examine music for my life, I really feel prefer it speaks to me in a a lot deeper manner than if I used to be simply an actor,” he mentioned. 

Barboza—who beforehand directed a staged studying of the play for Latino Theater Firm’s Circle of Imaginistas in January 2023—sought to make use of music as a information for the complete manufacturing. The play is full of music, however not like a musical. Music shapes the sonic setting of Ghost Waltz, talking to the interval and the personalities onstage.

To create the musical panorama and historic context of the present, Barboza looked for documentation of the composer. He discovered a guide within the UCLA and USC libraries, however not a lot else. Throughout a visit to Mexico Metropolis, he visited three of the biggest bookstores there in hopes of discovering extra sources about Rosas, to no avail. Upon returning to L.A., he spoke with Josh Kun, a professor of cross-cultural research at USC, who confirmed that books on Rosas are scarce. Barboza shortly acknowledged the load of Ghost Waltz: This could be a play about “recovering folks which have been whitewashed,” as he put it.

“This can be a story a few music,” Guerrero mentioned. “It’s a narrative a few music that took wings, made its presence recognized all through the world and made historical past. Now we get to see how that music was created and the place it got here from. However the decolonization half is the belief that what we’ve been advised and what we’ve been taught to assume isn’t the case.”

Ghost Waltz takes half in decolonization by giving voice to views which have been excluded. One place this exhibits up is within the delicate intricacies and particulars Barboza and Guerrero put into their illustration of Otomi, the Indigenous individuals who represent Rosa’s background

Ariel Brown, who performs Bethena, mentioned she discovered her level of entry into the present’s themes with the road: “100 years from now? Individuals received’t care concerning the cash you made or the way in which the notes are written down. It’s what’s between the notes.” 

She isn’t simply speaking concerning the emotional core of the music. Bethena, a Black lady dwelling round 20 years after the thirteenth Modification abolished slavery within the U.S., signifies that between the strains, she feels free. As Brown put it, “It’s impactful for this character to have the ability to play music and journey and stand on the notion that she is free.”

Mayer crafted the characters with nice intentionality, to make sure their backgrounds are salient of their each transfer. His purpose is to remind audiences that whereas we might now see them as historic figures, they had been simply dwelling on a regular basis lives, worrying about getting their subsequent meal and making a dwelling. As Rosas involves life onstage by Guerrero, audiences can see and really feel how he might have carried himself or stuffed a room along with his music.

In highlighting forgotten luminaries from the previous, Ghost Waltz additionally serves as a reminder to worth missed people who find themselves alive at present. 

“The previous is one factor, and it’s nice to get well these nice inspirations from the previous, however the fact is the current is what we have to be fearful about,” Mayer mentioned. “All of the people who find themselves doing all the nice work and never getting the eye that they deserve—folks on this room proper now. We have to do higher, and we are able to begin at present.”

Steven Vargas (he/him) is a multimedia journalist, dancer, and actor based mostly in Los Angeles whose work focuses on the intersections of media, social justice, and efficiency. His work will be present in publications just like the Los Angeles Occasions, E! Information, USA At present, TheWrap, Dance Journal, and ARTnews.

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