Arpita Ghosal is a Toronto-based arts writer. She founded Sesaya in 2004.
Great art is often born of collision. When Beatriz Pizano, Artistic Director of Aluna Theatre and creator of the RUTAS Multi-arts Festival migrated to Canada, she smacked up against “obstacles”. “But those obstacles gave me the vision to create the [Aluna Theatre] company in 2001, and then to bring RUTAS [Festival] to Toronto in 2012,” she recalls. When she moved to Toronto in the late 90’s, she wanted “so badly” to work in theatre. While she was able to find television and film work, she found theatre was inaccessible to her as “someone with an accent”. Around this time, she began to consider writing a one-woman show for herself. “And the rest is history”: she ended up producing, acting, writing, and directing that first show (“something I won’t do again,” she quips).
Ms Pizano, who speaks with no trace of regret or bitterness, has been described as a visionary, for good reason. The herculean work of staging her one-person show paid off in immediate acclaim and two Dora Awards. More significantly, it became the impetus that “changed everything”. Her career as a theatre actor took off in “beautiful ways”, and she has never looked back. “I’m offered fantastic jobs,” she affirms. Yet back when she started out, a friend told her that her best years would be as a mature actor, a pronouncement that infuriated her at the time. She sees now that her friend knew what he was talking about, and this is why establishing RUTAS became the natural “next step” in her artistic journey.
No longer at the stage of being a performer trying to get jobs, she was looking to build a community of artists, create opportunities for young emerging artists, and provide them mentorship and support. This mission led directly to the creation of RUTAS. “The first thing we had to do was to break stereotypes and ideas of what Latin Americans are,” she notes. “I wanted to show Canadians and Latin Canadians that we are all a continent. We may have different languages, but we are part of the same land.” She also hoped that RUTAS would connect artists across the continent and encourage co-productions between companies, between festivals, and much more. “Once you open those doors, the possibilities are endless.”
Now in its 4th iteration, RUTAS has grown into a robust 10-day international multi-arts festival which “connects the Americas through the Arts” by way of performances, concerts, film, art exhibits, workshops, conversations, and free late night cabarets. A biennial festival, RUTAS alternates years with the newer CAMINOS, which is a festival of new works by Pan-American, Indigenous and Latinx artists. Curating both festivals provides Ms Pizano with a global view of new works and different perspectives. It also provides validation. Thinking back to RUTAS 2016, The Hamlet of the Andes by an indigenous company from Bolivia struck her as one of the most successful shows of the entire festival. “It was astounding, and audiences were blown away by their approach to this interpretation,” she marvels. “It was a truly different show.” This response validates the festival’s intent to bring shows that Toronto audiences typically do not have the opportunity to see, and to bring artists who are breaking barriers and provoking new conversations in performance. Further, as a creator, Ms Pizano has long been interested in the roots of performance, “the ritual [and] the ceremonial”. And over the years, she has found the works worthy of being part of RUTAS have all those elements.
Over time, RUTAS has fostered an enduring relationship with Native Earth Performing Arts (NEPA) Canada’s oldest professional Indigenous theatre company, which partners with Aluna Theatre to co-present both festivals. Ms Pizano readily admits that Aluna Theatre’s relationship with NEPA has transformed her view “of the world, of the Americas, of the land I come from, and the land where I am a guest”. Seeing the power of NEPA’s voices on stage has made her realize how critical it is for everyone to get to know indigenous peoples across the continent. “I love and respect everyone who works in that company. Their commitment, their care, their love and their respect for what we do inspires me. I learn from the struggles they have overcome, and the ones they still work hard to surpass. I see an exciting generation of elders and emerging artists changing the way we look at theatre in Turtle Island. I’m inspired by how they think about community, the land and how we relate to each other.”
RUTAS is held in four spaces in close proximity. The venue is ideal because audiences do not need to leave the building to get to the next show. “Our signature Cabaret is right there. I also love that we are developing communities together –our audiences, artists and all those that live in Regent Park. This partnership in a joint investment “in the future — together.”
So what can audiences anticipate in RUTAS 2018? According to the press release, this year’s programming “will prompt a dialogue between the ancient and the contemporary…. Each artist that we’ve invited digs deeply into the roots of performance itself and invites us to enter into a relationship with one another, to the collective, and to the land we stand on.” In this spirit, Ms Pizano is pleased to present more Canadian works, especially from artists and companies that are “pushing the envelope”. Offerings from national artists include the world premiere’s of MT Space’s Amal, directed by Majdi Bou-Matar, which reflects on shared histories of displacement, colonization, and artificial borders. Toronto premieres include Performance about a woman in which creator and performer Liz Peterson explores the idea of identity through a series of full-bodied masks made of paper, felt and burlap. Red Phone, created by Boca del Lupo, also receives its Toronto premiere. Presented in English and Spanish, Red Phone bills itself as “part theatre and part social intervention”. It includes audience members participating, two at a time, in a five-minute dialogue about some of today’s big questions – questions written by a prominent Canadian playwright, including specially commissioned scripts by Keith Barker and Susanna Fournier.
RUTAS 2018 also presents several companies from Mexico, a country that Ms Pizano feels is showcasing “incredible artists on the world stage” with nationally and internationally touring shows . The North American premieres include Sa’as Tún compañia de teatro’s Del Manatial del Corazón, created and directed by Conchi León; and Teatro Rodante’s Cero Aguacero (Water no water), directed by Damian Cervantes. Ms Pizano has also made it a point to bring dancer Wilson Pico, one of the “masters of our continent”. His Los Materiales de la ira y el amor, a “triptych of female characters presented through the dances La Beata, Boca Ira and Mujer,” receives its Canadian premiere at RUTAS.“It is important for me to keep showing the new artists alongside the creators who opened the doors to all of us,” she explains. “It is always important to look at the work of the senior artists– to see how our perspectives are evolving and maturing– and to be reminded of where we come from. There is nothing more beautiful than to see a work of a master.”
In addition to these performances, the RUTAS Cabaret is back (and free of charge!) featuring music, dancing, burlesque and comedy by artists such as Mas Aya and Lido Pimienta, La Rumba Buena, Baobá, Rhoma Spencer, Victoria Mata, El Toro, and DJ Firecracker. Also free are Conversatorios, sessions where members of the public can engage in conversations with guest artists and social innovators about the topics raised by the festival presentations.
Looking to the future, Ms Pizano has still loftier aspirations for RUTAS. Specifically, she hopes the festival will catalyze reciprocity, by becoming a place where international presenters come to talk to Canadian artists about touring opportunities, especially in the Americas. In the meantime, we can be confident that this year’s festival will bring a unique mix of artists and audiences together in a friendly, accessible and affordable atmosphere that offers something unfamiliar and unexpected for everyone.
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What: RUTAS International Multi-Arts Festival, 4th Edition, presented by Aluna Theatre in partnership with Native Earth Performing Arts; programmed and produced by Beatriz Pizano, Artistic Director; Trevor Schwellnus, Artistic Producer; and Sue Balint, Producer, all for Aluna Theatre
When: October 3–14, 2018
Where: Aki Studio and Ada Slaight Hall, Artscape Daniels Spectrum, 585 Dundas St. East, Toronto, ON
Info and Tickets: rutas.ca or 416.531.1402; tickets $5 to $25, with many events free
© 2018 Arpita Ghosal, Sesaya/SesayArts Magazine