writes. “Their ink-spattered feet were drawing the beautiful pattern of ideas.”
At a recent rehearsal, after the samba-dancing stilt walkers had finished a run-through and were offered a breather, the performers loped around the room like giraffes on a hot afternoon before heading to perches along the walls, where they could sit on the edges of mats, eight feet up. The next scene featured performer Nikesha Breeze playing a rebellious villager and using dance and gymnastics to take on the giant soldiers who were trying to catch her. Then came Jasmine Quinsier, demonstrating the poi dance. Matt McCorkle, also known as Poki the clown, came next to practice his mime act, a comic piece with an umbrella and a lot of imaginary wind.
Diaz was born in Argentina but lived in Chile until the 1970s, when the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet created a repressive artistic climate. He is one of the country’s leading experimental playwrights from that time and once wrote a play called The Toothbrush that used a circus atmosphere to explore communication. He lives in Spain now.
Politics are at the heart of Wise Fool, which has roots in a San Francisco art-and-theater collective that built giant puppets for political protests decades ago. In New Mexico, the group branched out with a mission to support women artists and began teaching circus arts, puppetry, and theater in schools throughout Northern New Mexico. A slogan the company uses on promotional materials is “Changing Lives, One Circus at a Time.” One of Wise Fool’s most successful programs is based in the small village of Peñasco, where a 1940s-era movie hall has been transformed into a community space. Here the hoop-a-loop girls rehearse, there is a summer circus camp for girls, and after-school programs and workshops for adults are offered throughout the year. Tarin, who works in Peñasco as a teaching artist, said the space is extremely popular in the community, with dinner cabarets, concerts, kids’ recitals, and high-school plays also taking place there.
In Santa Fe, just days before opening night, the cast of 50 was finally being brought together after months of separate rehearsals. The town criers, canaries, news reporters, soldiers, generals, and villagers gathered at the Wise Fool space, decorated with colorful banners and puppets. Breakdancers were mingling with hoop-a-loop girls, stilt walkers practiced their samba steps, and acrobats were warming up with handstands. Hinckley and Tarin sat at a table and seemed to be calling the shots with a particularly relaxed, familial style. The band was missing a player, but Guerra had no problems keeping things together.
Hinckley admitted that some liberties had been taken with Diaz’s story, not the least of which was casting a young female beatboxer to play the little old man with the canaries. Also, at the Lensic, the story ends with a poem by Maya Angelou. The stage will be filled with the entire cast — all the acrobatic villagers who have been given back their books, their words, their language. They will look up at the night sky, where stars have become tiny letters, scattered across the blackness.
“It’s a wonderful story,” said Hinckley. “Not too didactic. With a lot of heart.”