Honoring People of the Corn

Tlaoli: People of the Corn shows at 8 p.m. on June 24-26 at La Peña Cultural Center.


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Rodrigo Esteva performs with Dance Monks, which connects audiences to nature.

Edi Hirose

Dancing monks may instinctively call up the whirling dervishes of Turkey, the Cham dances by Tibetan monks, or those of the Shaolin traditions of China. Dance as meditation is not much practiced in Western cultures, but it is integral to many Asian and African practices.

Berkeley’s Dance Monks are the dance/life partnership of Rodrigo Esteva and Mirah Moriarty, who after more than 20 years of performing with other companies around the globe, decided to strike out on their own. In 2000, they lived in the mountains of Mexico and spent many hours dancing and meditating outdoors. This practice became the model of Dance Monks for whom dance is part of their daily spiritual practice and a way of connecting audiences more deeply to the natural world.

For the 2014 Nomad: The Blue Road, they had created a ritual performance that followed Strawberry Creek on the Berkeley campus through its underground path downtown. It was part of an international movement to promote the daylighting (bring back above ground) of buried urban waterways.

Their new Tlaoli: People of Corn is an ambitious multiphased installation project that examines the most widely grown crop in the Americas, which provides 21 percent of human nutrition. Corn (tlaoli in Nahuatl of the Aztecs)—a vegetable when fresh, a grain when dried—has been embedded in the cultural memory of Mexican people for millennia. Myths and practices around planting, tending, gathering, and celebrating food crops, however, are integral to most cultures around the world. But what happens to this deeply rooted knowledge at a time of migration and displacement, the growth of agribusiness, genetically modified organisms, the destruction of the planet and current U.S. immigration politics? Tlaoli addresses these issues through dance, video, and visual installation. Dance Monks calls the piece “a temporary refuge or fertile ground for this wisdom to continue to grow.” In addition to the weekend performances, La Peña also sponsors free monthly “Tlaoli Marketplaces” June 18, Sept. 24, Oct. 29, and Nov. 1.

Tlaoli: People of the Corn, 8 p.m. June 24-26, La Peña Cultural Center, Berkeley, 3105 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley; $15 in advance, $20 at the door; 510-849-2568, LaPena.org.

Editor's Note: This story appears in the June edition of our sister publication, The East Bay Monthly.

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