Amanda Piña’s Frontera is part of an ongoing project in which the Vienna-based, Mexican-Chilean choreographer delves into the backstories of endangered or marginalised human movements – in this case, a dance from the Mexican border town of Matamoros that mixes hip-hop and folkloric influences.
Piña’s programme text and artistic discourse freights the performance with hefty theoretical cargo, but what matters more is the event itself. It takes place on the top floor of a Leeds car park, marking the end of the Transform festival of experimental performance against a panorama of tall buildings and cottony clouds, the chill air permeating the blankets under which we huddle.
As the title suggests, the idea of the border is central, here manifesting most emphatically as the one separating actors from audience. The piece unfolds around one obsessively repeated loop: from the back, the eight performers approach the audience in slow but purposeful lines, their piercing gaze seeming to search for some horizon behind us. When they reach the front – that is, the fourth wall – they stop and turn back, only to advance again once they reach the back.
With each cycle, they don different clothes from the wardrobe rails at the back, plain caps and sweatshirts becoming accessorised with tinselly carnival drapes, shamanic masks and bright skirts emblazoned with religious icons or national flags. Here, a woman crawls like cat; there, a man wrestles with a ribbon-like snake and then, spine swaying, seems to become a serpent himself. While images and associations proliferate, every step of the dance lands exactly upon the drumbeat – an insistent pulse that unites the bodies of these multicoloured, polymorphous people.
Unexpectedly, a live drummer appears and the work takes a different turn. No longer acting out their cumulative loops, the cast dance in fiery formation, their whirling and stamping steps still always landing exactly on the battering beat, however irregular and wrong-footing its rhythms. It’s a sudden but sustained blast of energy that leaves us buzzing – as if the spirit, if not the bodies of the performers, had finally breached the border separating us from them. We descend through the car park back into the streets of Leeds feeling weirdly dislocated, definitely cold and much enlivened.