In the center of an abandoned warehouse, carpenters put the final screws into a sandbox big enough for a giant. Near the front of the box, a woman buries a man in the sand. She's wearing a black leotard and a mask reminiscent of the reptilian birds from Labyrinth, he's wearing little more than a loin cloth and lines of beige paint. It's clear that at some point he will emerge from the sand, but first he must be buried.
Just West of the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge, Cara Mia Theatre Co. collaborated with Prism Co. to fabricate an archaeological dig for the show, Teotl: The Sand Show, a movement-based piece that excavates a rivalry between two Aztec gods. The building, 500 Singleton Blvd., used to house an ironworks. Now it's owned by the group developing Trinity Groves, which loans it to artist groups for performances and events. It's been an exhibition space for Dallas Biennial 14 and the final resting place of performance artist George Quartz. Now it's filled with 20 tons of sand.
"Like other Prism Co. shows, we started with the material and said, 'Gee wouldn't sand be fun?' Which leads us to questions like, what happens if you try to drink sand or dance with it?" says Jeffrey Colangelo, Prism Co's founder and Teotl's writer and director. "Then we dug into the mythology to give ourselves something raw to work with."
When Colangelo says he dug into the mythology, he means just that. To fully explore the sand on stage, the actors dig, throw, push, bury, excavate and emerge from the dreamed-up desert. You'll want to take your shoes off when entering the space (highly encouraged) and you'll wonder how many odd places the actors will find sand at the end of the night (don't dwell on this one). And by the end of the hour-long show, you might find yourself with an uncontrollable desire to go to the beach.
In just two years, Prism Co., run by Southern Methodist University grads Colangelo and Katy Tye, has created and self-produced a handful of shows with this playful philosophy. Using paper, they created Galatea about a writer creating a perfect woman; with elastics they created Baba Yaga, based on the folktale of the Russian witch. And along the way, David Lozano, Cara Mia's artistic director, has been looking for an opportunity invite the fledgling company to work together. Teotl: The Sand Show marks Prism Co.'s official professional debut.
"It was Baba Yaga that did it for me," says Cara Mia's artistic director David Lozano, who invited Colangelo to work more closely with the company, first as a fight director, then a co-director on Magic Rainforest, and now his own show. "I knew I wanted him to create a show for us, and basically it just had to be a Latino theme, so I gave him a book about these mythologies and he latched onto it."
Working with Prism Co. is also a sign of Cara Mia's growth. One of the few companies in Dallas to focus on Latino theater, Cara Mia this season continues to bolster its artistic output, expanding to five plays this year and numerous collaborations, including with Dallas Theater Center on its Dreamers trilogy, a project that was awarded a 2012 development grant form The Arts Community Alliance (TACA).
"In the past few years, I've noticed something that I think is healthy for us, which is that we've been moving away from creating our own material, like Dreamers, and other original works, partially because the evolution of our ensemble and the changing interests and needs of the community," says Lozano. "And we've been doing more published plays, like this season's Lydia. But we want to maintain this spirit of adventure that I see in Jeff's work."
And the script, or more appropriately the choreography, certainly takes a less traveled road in Dallas theater. Wordlessly, the performers act through movement, building a narrative about the ancient gods Tezcatlipoca and Quetzalcoatl beckoned from their slumber to renew their eternal battle. And though the show is specific to the Aztec history, this method of physical theater often is as much about the production's magic as it is about the story. Here, the production benefits from masks and costuming by Frida Espinosa-Müller, special effects by Trigg Watson (sand appears, disappears and rains from above), and the pulsating music of Fabricio Farfán, which immediately sets an exciting, exotic tone. Ultimately, the show's success relies on a suspension of disbelief.
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"In these pieces, we can focus on the virtuosity of the performer in a more expansive story," says Colangelo. "But the thing that's true of all of our shows is that we're having a lot of fun onstage."
This show uses both performers seen in previous Prism Co. shows - if you saw Galatea, you'll recognize the show's protagonist, Dean Wray - and ensemble members of Cara Mia, which allows the two companies to combine their individual styles into one. Masks were the territory of Cara Mia; Colangelo supplied the combat expertise. And if it comes together the way they expect it to, this will be the beginning of a beautiful friendship between the two.
"Now the national Latino theater field has eyes on us," says Lozano. "And it's exciting for me, because it gives me the opportunity to bring people like Jeff on board and see what kind of magic they bring to the stage."
Teotl: the Sand Show runs through November 2 at 500 Singleton Blvd. More information at caramiatheatre.org.