Esperanza Arts Center brings their Winter/Spring season and 2022 Voces Series to a close with the world premiere by choreographer Caili Quan, performed by BalletX. The new work was the result of a collaboration between Quan and EAC Artist-In-Residence, Tanaquil Márquez. Inspired by Márquez’ community led, Nichos Project, Quan’s production uses the Mexican nicho (shadowbox) as a source and springboard for creative exploration and expression.
Your new work will focus on themes of identity and colonization and has been shaped, in part, by your discussions with Esperanza Arts Center’s Artist-In-Residence, Tana including highlighting connections between Mexican and Chamorro Filipino culture.
How have these themes and your collaboration with Tanaquil influenced your approach as choreographer and what is it, we can expect from this premiere?
CQ: With the help of Bill Rhoads, Tanaquil and I were able to connect earlier this year. I really wanted to find a through-line between Mexican and Chamorro Filipino culture. Tanaquil really helped me with that. Through our conversations, we spoke at length about identity and the idea of decolonization. I ran into so many beautiful cultural parallels during our talks. In our first conversation, she spoke about The Nichos Project she was working on at Esperanza. I was quite inspired by her work and felt like the idea of a nicho would make an interesting focal point for a dance. Tanaquil was able to watch the first run-through right after I finished choreographing the new work, Before and Always. It has been so wonderful to have her help and perspective while creating this work.
Before and Always is divided into four sections, with the first three honoring three relationships and culminating in a finale that celebrates life. The music is a mix of Mexican folk songs, Latin Boogaloo, and Cuban music. I tried to choose music that made me want to move. Hopefully, it will make the audience want to dance too!
You were raised in Guam and trained as a dancer in the U.S. How has your background and upbringing influenced you personally, and in your work as a creative and performer?
CQ: Guam seeps into all of my work. There are many things I don’t know in life, but I do know where I come from and the culture, I grew up in. I know the family that raised me. They introduced me to music and dance, and they’re the reason I’m here dancing and making dances. It only feels right to constantly honor Guam and the people that helped me develop into the person that I am today.
It can often be a difficult transition for a dancer to shift from regular onstage performances and into a new chapter of their career.
How has this journey been for you? How do you envision yourself and your work evolving over the next 5-10 years?
CQ: It has been a wild few years. I retired from BalletX in August of 2020, in the middle of the pandemic, and transitioned to choreographing full time. It was tough and scary looking back on everything, but dancing for BalletX and choreographing my first big work on zoom really helped me transition quickly. With that experience, I was able to get more work teaching and creating dances on zoom right after I retired. I have Christine Cox, Artistic and Executive Director of BalletX, to thank for that. She was fearless and was one of the first directors to pivot to making dance films virtually.
In the next 5-10 years, I would love to collaborate with more artists from different mediums, like Tanaquil Márquez. I would love to create new story ballets. Right now, I’m really focused on creating positive environments for dancers. Especially at this time, the world needs art to lift us up and we’re stronger together.
BalletX’s world premiere of Caili Quan’s Before and Always is May 26th at Teatro Esperanza. Free tickets are available at EsperanzaArtsCenter.us.