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Louisiana - No Passport Theatre Conference 2014 / 10 November 2014

The much-anticipated performance of Carthage/Cartagena, written by Caridad Svich and developed with the Signdance Collective International under the direction of Beatriz Cabur played to an enthusiastic audience overcrowding the large dance studio.

The text of Carthage/Cartagena is a series of multi-lingual letter-song-poems connected by themes of displacement, exile, and human trafficking. This verse play dramatizes moments of “desterrar,” or being ripped away from homeland and finding oneself in a foreign land.

The piece stages the violent origins of diaspora, a recurrent topic raised throughout the conference. For instance, the “Jazz in Plays” panel discussed song as the only thing that diasporic populations carry with them when they have lost everything. The Katrina Effect panel discussants returned time and again to the shock of total loss in their discussion of disaster response performance.

Performances by José Torres-Tama and Margaret Kemp both addressed the struggle of diasporas to survive in places, like the United States, where immigrants face hostility and violent exploitation.  The verse of Carthage/Cartagena enacts its diasporic imagination in its rendering of voices of individuals displaced by wars, human trafficking, and acts of violence. 

As a previous reviewer had pointed out, the play on words within Carta-ajena, could mean letter from afar, as well as a letter written in a foreign language.  These “letters from afar” are not only written from spaces of dislocation, but also speak from the borderlands of the real, a space beyond representation and language, encircling the edges of trauma.

The performed text of Carthage/Cartagena drew on multiple languages, English, Spanish, Italian, BSL, and ASL as a strategy to approach this “unspeakable” space of trauma through the disconnected space between languages, and the gap between meanings lost in translation.

The SDCI was the perfect company to interpret the piece because they move between so many registers of language: spoken, sung, and embodied in their specific fusion of dance and sign. Images of homeland, like a lemon tree, a cake, or a spinning top, were invoked as the final vestiges of subjectivity from the edges of the traumatic experience. The SDCI’s approach was to interpret the loss of homeland as the structural loss of innocence.

Coming of age in the blown-out wasteland of Carthage/Cartagena means grappling with the shock of total loss, a retracing of the missing pieces of self, and transformation in a state of absolute exile.   The ritual structure of the choreography, a spiraling transcendental meditation, made room for the co-presence of these lost voices—the casualties of violent acts of displacement—as they were re-imagined in performance.

Carthage/Cartagena made for an intense and riveting end to this 8th annual meeting of the NoPassport Theatre Alliance. The successful one-day engagement forever altered the threshold of possibilities and opened new roads for LSU theatre and participating artists from Baton Rouge and NOLA.
Eric Mayer-García