Beliza Torres Narváez
Hemispheric Institute
3rd Annual Encuentro Lima, Peru
Seminar Course Project

An Interview with Puerto Rican Performance Artist Ivette Román

(versión Español)

A pioneer of performance art in Puerto Rico, Ivette Román predominantly employs her particular use of the voice and plays on words as a fabric of her work. Her feminist, political, social and personal concerns are present in her performances. An example of this is the investigation of the use of Spanish and English languages in Puerto Rico's everyday life as a result of the colonial situation: both resistance and assimilation.
Círculo her latest show was part of the III Seminar of the Hemispheric Institute of Politics and Performance in Lima Peru. This is the Román's first political cabaret, and musician Amed Irrizarry and plastic artist/performer Freddie Mercado are part of it. In this interview, I asked her about her personal training, her creative process, her career and the motivations that drive her.

Beliza Torres: What kind of voice training do you have?

Ivette Román: As a part of my training I do regular singing exercises: breathing, vowel and consonant pronunciation, triads, creative visualization, etc. Things I learned in classes that I took in the Escuela Libre de Música, the MUSIC CONSERVATORY OF PUERTO RICO and the University of Puerto Rico, as well as in the Community College of Santa Mónica, California, in videos and IN workshops).
I alternate this with yoga exercises. Then I work on improvisations and games (I do this at any time and in any place). I codify the sounds with symbols that I make up and create musical scores in order to remember them and to communicate them to the musicians. Now, since I have a five year-old son who keeps me pretty busy and I don't want to wake him up during the night (which is my only time of solitude), I normally rehearse in the car on my way to work.

BT: Tell me about your creative process.

IR: My creative process can start with an abstract idea, like a melody or a sound, like the rhythm of a fan that oscillates In the ceiling... Any repetitive sounds grab my attention because they create the same effect of a mantra. Sometimes, inspiration comes from a particular experience, like a gratifying conversation with a friend or a scene from a movie. On the other hand, on the cabaret [Círculo] I'm working with the song itself, transforming it and adding my own work to other people's songs.

BT: How and when did you become a performer?

IR:I began doing performances in the 80s -without knowing what "Performance" was- among friends, in parties... I would do experimental vocal pieces while playing the guitar. It was Costa Rican performer Elia Arce who convinced me to show my work in the underground scene in California: the performance marathons at Highways Performance Space, at LACE (Los Angeles Contemporary Space) and at the Boyd Theater, among others. Before I began working on my own, I worked with the group LAPD (Los Angeles Poverty Department), an ingenious collaboration between the homeless of Skid Row and resident artists.
The LAPD group has been very significant in the history of performance in Los Angeles especially because of its unique and very psychological proposal: performances in which the boundaries between reality, fantasy, normality, acting and schizophrenia are frequently crossed. This experience marked me deeply, maybe more than working in New York with Casa Salvador -during the war in that country- which was also very intense. In the 90s I returned to Puerto Rico, and produced "Veinte y pico," [Twenty something] a performance marathon at "Casa de TEO" (a venue owned by actor Teófilo Torres in Río Piedras) in which every artist had twenty minutes to do her performance.

Back in Puerto Rico, I started to study Performance from an academic point of view in order to be able to explain what performance is and to be able to explain myself. I took Performance History and A Avante-Garde Theater courses at the University of Puerto Rico with professors Nelson Rivera and Rosa Luisa Márquez. Now, I read art magazines such as Musicworks (a Canadian publication,) the Art Papers,etc.

BT: What is your motivation? What are you looking for?

IR: I've had diverse motivations throughout time. When I first started, (not knowing that what I did was called "Performance") I did this out of an urgent necessity… and did it for myself. It was a way keeping my mental health at a time when -perhaps because I was too young- I couldn't find other ways to communicate intense emotions like desperation, frustration, impotence, emptiness... back then, my pieces were acutely subjective and abstract, full of symbolic language. AS if I wanted to keep "the truth" to myself. These works were much more verbal than my more recent work, and I would also played the guitar in them, an influence of the "Nueva Canción" type of music.

As I developed a relationship with the stage and with the people who saw my shows, I realized that my needs were common to others', especially to women. My work became decidedly political as the internal emptiness became satisfied. My pieces turned more direct and applied as little resources as possible. First, I eliminated the guitar and, eventually, the word itself. In fact, my work became almost silent. At that time, my search was mostly focused in finding all the possibilities in the use of the voice as an instrument; I knew with out a doubt that the message would get through. My topic was basically existence itself, and the struggle for power against the struggle for power itself that, for me, is what brings about all emptiness, at then least most of them.

Because we have to live with it as Puerto Ricans, another subject I felt compelled to address was the issue of identity. Not anymore the search for an identity, but its contemplation, since it becomes blurry in the midst of our colonial experience, the present Postmodern times and the position of the performance artist in the world of the arts. And, certainly, including the things I have done to validate myself as an artist and to ask myself if all this is "real" as well. Therefore, my work has been a collage of corporal and sonorous images intertwined with a stew of themes, decodified and simultaneous, as if everything lead us to the same place.
In April 1999 I began my current project entitled Círculo, influenced by the Latin American political cabaret and with an intention to bring back the times when Antonio Pantojas, Ivonne Coll, Georgina Borri and Teófilo Torres among others performed in Cabaret style. In this show, the word and the open political statement are back. Some of the new elements of this show are a taste of our Caribbean Humor (which was much more subtle in my previous works) and the use costumes (it's the first time I'm working with characters: The Postapocalyptic Diva and the most recent the Calandria Guaraguá from Manatí) are new elements in this show. Also, it is the first time since the LAPD that I'm collaborating on a regular basis with other colleagues (musician Amed Irizarry and performer/plastic artist Freddie Mercado), and the first time I'm singing other artists' songs (by performers Ivy Andino and Eduardo Alegría, and writer Mayra Santos). What I really don't know how to explain is my reason for a change from the abstract to the obvious, from the minimum to the excess and from the solo show to the collective work... Or maybe I already did.