Shannon Cochrane on La Pocha Nostra (workshop and performance)

The Pochas (as myself and fellow Canadian Tanya Mars calls the trio of Guillermo Gomez-Peña, Erica Mott, Dani d'Emilia, usually during breakfast at the hotel, as in, “Have you seen the Pochas?”) invite me to watch the final 2 hours of the three-day workshop they offered at City of Women. I’ve seen various incarnations of La Pocha Nostra perform before, so I have a reference point, I have Pocha memory in my performance data bank. Even still, I am not sure what to expect in the workshop, the final hours that GP has told me will be a performance jam. How does one teach the way of the Pocha? Or the better question, how does one learn the way of the Pocha?

When I arrive, Dani takes me by the shoulders and assures me I have already missed everything, but never fear, there is always more to see. The workshop participants (split into 3 groups, each Pocha has their own group to wrangle) have just started doing a series of 3-minute, down and dirty performance installation tableaux, created on the spot, and in the ugliest places in the basement of the theatre they can find, with whatever is around. This fits. Even in the workshop, La Pocha is challenging patriarchy, even the patriarchy of the architecture itself.

Group 1 lines the hallway between two heating ducks with bubble wrap. Everyone takes off their clothes. Someone ask for the whole group to respect the fact she is going to be using sound in her contribution to the image. Someone else quickly moves some planks of wood from one spot to another, and they are ready. Dani yells for everyone to come and witness the image.

A naked woman crammed into a shopping cart is shaving her legs with a huge kitchen knife. She is being pushed and pulled in the cart over a carpet of bubble wrap, which makes a fantastic crunching and popping sound. A bald naked man with an elegant arrangement of facial hair wearing a ripped skirt made of tulle tiptoes slowly down the hallway past the shopping cart. He is holding a bouquet of flowers, seductively, while brandishing a grotesque ear-to-ear smile. Another woman, topless, wearing black tights, is banging a naked plastic doll on the bucket she is wearing on her head, over and over again. We watch, and after 3 minutes, and the image ends.

After the tableaux exercises, everyone heads upstairs for the performance jam. A large rectangular space is marked out on the ground with white duct tape, designating the performance space. Instructions are delivered. You are either in the space, in persona, contributing to the image, or you step out and away, to let something else happen, shift your persona a bit (or a lot) before stepping back in.

Everyone gets ready and participants and audience (there are a few of us there), start to split up. Participants there. Audience over here. I move towards the raked seating to sit down and watch, but G stops me. There is no sitting in the last row in this jam, not even as a spectator. Guillermo gathers everyone with a gentle admonishment, “Loca, come closer!”

The body knows when the action is done. The Pochas cajole and remind the participants to trust their bodies, in spite of the fact that you cannot know what the entire image looks like while on the inside, but trust that your body will know intuitively when to shift, or change, or hold a pose. The Pochas walk back and forth constantly describing the action outloud, shouting adjustments, telling people to hold when something is working, and tapping people out when something is no longer groovy. Guillermo proudly booms, “This is working very badly!” It’s impressive the way they keep the energy swirling around the room by keeping all the bodies moving, reminding everyone to look at the image from every angle; to have a variety of action in the image – one person moving and two static, one durational and three short duration action, one on the floor, one in the foreground, and something tall in the background. It’s a living and breathing image, and they participants are practicing trust: in their ability to create in collaboration, and most importantly, to contribute to the tribe.

This motif repeats during the performance: CORPO INSURRECTO 3.0: The Robo-Proletariat. If a proletariat is one whose super power is their ability to simply work, the Robo-Proletariat in Corpo Insurrecto is called upon to do more than work. The Robo-Proletariat in Corpo Insurrecto is called upon to “work it”. This runway stomping super creature is the perfect love child born of a performance art affair, one-half artist (trans-national, borderless, genderless) and one-half audience (willing participant, open-hearted witness, lover).

The performance is much like the workshop, with Guillermo acting as the MC, testifying from his stage, introducing the rotating evolving tableaux on three others elevated areas around the space, inviting the audience to move around, to participate, witness, and contribute to the whole picture. On each of the stages, the Pochas and several of the workshop participants create strange and bizarre images using their bodies and a rotating collection of props and costumes.

A caution tape bikini clad ballerina wearing a ponytail made from a plastic doll tries to straighten her body across the arms of a wheelchair. The ballerina later transforms into a space gladiator, splitting an apple balanced on her own head with a machete. One of the most striking images is of a woman receiving an extreme session of acupuncture; dozen and dozen of needles piece her body. Each needle has a small flag of a major global corporation attached. A perfect metaphor of how capitalism has systematically occupied our bodies, disguised. At one point, in conversation with the acupuncturist, the audience is asked to help remove the needles from the performer’s body. It’s a moving experience to watch people gently point to a flag of their choice, which is then kindly removed. I choose the Coca-Cola flag. We want to remove the most insidious ones first. Which one will be the last one to be removed? (Does this mean it is the least harmful?)

The performance ends when all of the same sex ritual marriages are performed, the needles removed, the apples split, the roses eaten, and the last final image – a family postcard to the United Nations, Guillermo declares! – is created. Hold it, Loca! Hold it!