As part of their spring showcase, the Berrie Center welcomed mignolo dance to perform their latest piece, “Self-Help,” on Sharp Theater’s stage on the evening of March 5. Students, faculty and guests gathered into the theater where they were greeted with two wood chairs spotlighted on center stage, in addition to a chair in the back right corner that sat with two guitars and a synthesizer.
The hour-long performance featured sisters Charly and Eriel Santagado, founders of mignolo dance, as a psychologist and patient, both navigating their own journeys of mental health. Each of them utilized their position with their respective chair, ultimately employing them as narrative devices throughout the performance.
With just spoken language, it can become difficult to convey intense symptoms of mental illness, including panic attacks or depressive episodes. With full body movement, the language can be more easily translated into a collective dialogue.
“We wrote the dialogues ourselves based on our own experiences in therapy and also the different kinds of therapy,” Charly Santagado said during a post-performance conversation with Berrie Center Director Lisa Campbell. “We’ve been in cognitive behavioral therapy and psychoanalysis therapy.”
This is the type of conversation the Santagado sisters have been trying to translate with their art. After their company was founded in 2017, the sisters began to develop a new sort of language called Movenglish.
According to the mignolo webpage, Movenglish is “a movement language in progress that directly corresponds to English. The direct translation of spoken conversations is complemented by fragmented and deconstructed phrases that represent what happens between the lines and inside the mind, embodying a ceaseless yet hopeful striving toward balance between thought and feeling, mind and body, self and other.”
A simple way to understand the movement of the Santagado sisters is as a type of body sign language. For every word or phrase the sisters’ pre-recorded narration spoke, the dancers had a set vocabulary as to how they needed to move their bodies. Movenglish is intended to help dancers communicate with those who may not be dancers and help them understand what exactly they are doing with their bodies.
“Dance can be made more accessible through different mediums, so if somebody’s very familiar with music, then maybe they can use their musician’s ear and that’ll translate into their dance watching eye,” Charly Santagado said. “Of course we all use spoken language every day, and so this was a way of us connecting with audiences that might be less familiar with dance.”
In “Self-Help” specifically, the duo worked alongside Brian Curry, who played live music during the performance. The sounds acted as a voice for the dancers, in addition to the pre-recorded dialogue played throughout the piece. With the combination of dialogue and musical accompaniment, the dancers were able to express those words and feelings through their bodies, and do so in a way that their musician could comprehend, as well as their diverse audiences.
Mignolo continues to open discussion and translations of complex mental health conversations in creative and intricate ways. They shared that there is still more work to be done with their performance, and perfecting the translation will come with time.
Their method of highlighting the private moments of struggle and therapy allow audiences to gain insight on a topic they may not be as familiar with, doing so in a unique and engaging way.
“We want this to be honest and the best way to be honest about this is to talk about things that we’ve been through,” Charly Santagado said. “So these dialogues are really personal for us and we’re happy to be sharing them.”
Photo courtesy of Nia Garza.