Cora! Cora! Cora!

Artistic director Cora Cardona's style--passionate, arrogant, riveting, domineering--makes Teatro Dallas special and her enemies livid

"Look, we don't even have a building yet," she points out. "So when you talk about who will or won't be a 'resident company,' you're talking about an issue we won't be able to deal with right now. We have to get through construction. Then we can think about programming. I hope the demand will be great for this building, that Teatro and Anita N. Martinez and Ballet Ollimpaxqui will all be able to utilize it, that there will be so many requests it will never be empty.

"But right now," she adds, "the fact that Teatro Dallas needs a new home is the No. 1 priority, not where it will be."

At this writing, Teatro Dallas had not yet learned about the status of another option--a space on Gaston Avenue. Under the city's 2000-2001 cultural budget, they will receive money to help with the rent--the same assistance Cara Mia gets that enables them to alternate shows in the Undermain's basement space. Teatro's board of directors had sent back a version of the lease drafted by the building's owner with some requested changes; it's uncertain whether an agreement will be reached. Additionally, the people who are renovating an art deco movie theater in Fort Worth called The Marine have approached Cardona with the possibility of performing Teatro's pieces there. Many who appreciate what Cardona does think that Teatro having its own theater is the best arrangement for everyone. "Cora has a very clear artistic vision," says one city employee. "I don't think she'd be happy with the city as her boss."

A Teatro trio, from the top: Scott Latham and Cardona in Profane Games; The Incredible and Sad Story of the Candid Eréndira and Her Soulless Grandmother, with Bryan Matthews and Susanna Guzman as lovers who plot to murder her tyrannical grandmother in the world premiere of Cora Cardona’s translation; and Susanna Guzman, Francis Munoz, and Frank Mendez in Teatro’s serenely eerie Day of the Dead show, Howling at the Moon.
Teatro Dallas
A Teatro trio, from the top: Scott Latham and Cardona in Profane Games; The Incredible and Sad Story of the Candid Eréndira and Her Soulless Grandmother, with Bryan Matthews and Susanna Guzman as lovers who plot to murder her tyrannical grandmother in the world premiere of Cora Cardona’s translation; and Susanna Guzman, Francis Munoz, and Frank Mendez in Teatro’s serenely eerie Day of the Dead show, Howling at the Moon.

While some sort of marriage between Teatro Dallas and the Latino Cultural Arts Center seems obvious on paper, they are by no means a perfect fit. In her role as artistic advisor, Cardona attempted to steer planners toward a smaller, more functional theater space; the folks at the Office of Cultural Affairs wound up choosing a traditional, proscenium-style, 300-seat architectural design that would both limit variety of staging and introduce a considerably larger house than Teatro is accustomed to filling with its often daring fare. Speaking of which--would a taxpayer-financed venue be tolerant of some of Cardona's more sexually charged productions? Cardona knows she'd have to operate under necessary city guidelines, but can't predict how that would affect her scary, erotic, international fantasias getting produced in the Latino Arts Center.

Which makes you wonder--if Teatro Dallas isn't guaranteed a few spots every year on the Center's schedule, exactly who will keep its theater space not only active, but relevant? As noted, Cara Mia has a temporary home in the Undermain basement space via the city's Facilities Reimbursement Program, with an eye toward something more permanent at the Ice House Cultural Center in Oak Cliff. Anita N. Martinez Ballet Folklorico is dealing with severe financial troubles and has been, over the last few years, a dormant organization in terms of season performances--they concentrate mostly on classes, festivals, and school tours. There's the Ollimpaxqui Ballet Company, which covers some of the same territory as Ballet Folklorico but with an Indian flavor; they take the stage even less frequently than Anita N. Martinez. What this pair specializes in, however rooted in heritage it may be, is far from the highest art forms that the Latino culture has to offer; imagine if the Bath House dedicated its space to square dancing and quiltmaking. As one former city employee, a Latino, said of Ollimpaxqui Ballet and Anita N. Martinez, "There are only so many times you can watch that damn deer-dance."

Currently, those are pretty much the only Hispanic troupes active or semi-active in Dallas. The aforementioned ex-employee notes that Cardona has done what he thinks the city should have been doing all along for its minority artists--not just handing them money, but working with them so they can master the practical realities of their art form, so they can be more professional and ready to compete for support. Had that happened, he insists, there might now be more Latino artists to fill the Latino Arts Center. Homeless, hobbled, and exhausted from the journey though it may be, Teatro Dallas is far more indispensable to the city than a shiny new cultural center dedicated to flowermaking and folklorico ever could be.

As if 16 years of blood- and sex-soaked literary adaptations weren't enough to drain her, Cardona admits the struggle to find stability for her small, risk-taking troupe has depleted her. "I am 50," she says. "You get to an age where you look around and you crave security.

"You don't have the desire you did in your 20s to work every day and every night to support yourself and make theater." At this point in her life, Cardona explains, it's the nights that sustain her. She is a constant and vivid dreamer, and recalls all of them. When she's reading a script, and a picture or a situation from her nocturnal life pops back into her head, she has no choice but to return to the stage and connect the two.

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