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
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
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
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.