Melanie Rios Glaser

Melanie Rios Glaser

Remembering La Tribu Via Improvisational Dance

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Melanie Rios Glaser in “La Tribu.” Photo by Nathan Lammers.

In 1999, I sat at a bar in Guatemala City with 10 or 12 friends. Among us were writers, performance and visual artists, musicians, filmmakers and dancers. A friend, a multi-talented jack-of-all-trades, walked in and, seeing us, gleefully yelled “Tribu!” (Tribe). It was his nickname for a group of us making work at that time.

On December 30, 1996 a peace treaty had been signed in Guatemala, closing a chapter on a civil war that had spawned more than 30 years. The lid had been lifted off a pressure cooker. A wave of activity took shape, and casting repression away, many artists chose the genre of performance art as a way to overtly take on social norms and the ongoing violence. Writing and semi-professional film and video production boomed. So did indie rock. Radical gesture served as a way to feel alive after the de-sensitizing brought on by the war and the generalized violence we had all lived through. Performances were presented in places that were latent with meaning, such as the old central post office, the city dump, the streets of downtown and military parades.

Melanie Rios Glaser. Photo by Johnny Hernandez.

Although some of the work was provincial and naive, so much of it was fearless and admirable. Among the artists were a few with careers of international repute, making work that was sophisticated and well informed. The artists took some very real risks, as Guatemala was a dangerous place.

The window of time that was used to inspire my new La Tribu spans from 1997-2001 only because that was when I was there, participating intermittently, as I was splitting my time between Guatemala, Tangier and New York. My contribution consisted mainly of a series of site-specific improvisational solo performances. In addition to the Guatemala presentations, the series of solos traveled to the Sao Paolo Biennial, the Montpellier Danse Festival, the Performance Art Festival at the Museo X Teresa Arte Actual in Mexico City, Philadelphia and other places.

At REDCAT, La Tribu will be a movement-based piece lasting about 20 minutes. It will be anchored in improvisational dance and interwoven with some set moments, choreographic and theatrical. The piece does not intend to document, represent or re-create the artistic flourishing of those years. The “dance,” however, has been triggered or sourced by some of the most memorable work made by these Guatemalans during that span. It is a tribute of sorts, but mostly this piece is a product of my nostalgia. It comes from a deep desire to integrate those experiences into my current life. It served as a pretext to travel back to Guatemala to meet with friends and colleagues whom I hadn’t seen for some time and whom I have great affection for.

Melanie Rios Glaser in “La Tribu.” Photo by Daniel Hernandez-Salazar.

In improvisation the process makes visible the dancer’s needs to recalibrate in real-time choices of aesthetics, composition and content. The fumbles, the searches, the redirecting and the near misses result in inimitable movement that resists being choreographed. This piece is the next installment in the development of incorporating improvisational scores into the structure of the performance. Four improvisers will through deliberate studio practice create improvisational scores to serve as scaffolding.

My practice in improvisation, spanning 18 years, is based on a fascination with its necessity for a heightened awareness and absolute presence. In ensemble improvisation I expect the executors to have the discipline to select what is inherently necessary–even if decorative””and to choose closely. They must have the ability to give with abandon, while at the same time using restraint in the knowledge that it is necessary to negotiate with others.

I am interested in the crevices of awkwardness that are produced in the process of rediscovering a fuller spectrum, calling out the movement vocabulary that has been excluded through training. Tere O’Connor articulates it well when he states, “Seeds of the movement concepts for this next period involve divesting my body of dance training in an attempt to rid my work of the scholastic body languages and locate a form of expression that is pre-linguistic.”

I am thrilled to be working alongside an incredible team of people including lighting designer James F. Ingalls, scenic designer Luke Hegel-Cantarella, sound designer and dancer Karinne Keithley-Syers, costume designer and dancer Jmy James Kidd and dancer Rebecca Bruno. The REDCAT NOW Festival is a great source of support as I explore my development as a practicing artist and reconnect with the days of La Tribu.

La Tribu will be performed during the third week of REDCAT’s NOW Festival, August 9-11 at 8.30 pm. For more information and tickets:

Melanie Ra­os Glaser, Choreographer/Improvisor, serves as artistic director of the Wooden Floor in Santa Ana, California. She received her BFA from Juilliard School in 1994, was named a Kennedy Center Fellow in 1998 and was a Fulbright Scholar in Europe from 2003-2004. Her choreographic, improvisational and performance art work has been supported by the NEA and performed at the Montpellier Dance Festival in France , the Sao Paolo Art Biennial and in places around Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Panama, France, Colombia, Philadelphia, New York and elsewhere.

REDCAT: New Original Works Festival

July 26-August 11; Thu-Sat 8:30 pm. Tickets: $18 general admission ($14 students: $10 CalArts); Festival Pass: $36. Seating is general admission and tickets are available for purchase in-person at REDCAT Box Office, or at 213-237-2800, or

Week 2: August 2-4

Nick+James|Jinkyu Kim|Prumsodun Ok

Week 3: August 9-11

Emily Mast|Melanie Rios Glaser|Heather Woodbury

REDCAT | Roy and Edna Disney/CalArts Theater, 631 West 2nd Street, Los Angeles, CA 90012 (at the corner of W. 2nd and Hope Streets, inside the Walt Disney Concert Hall complex).

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