LDHP Timeline - Tonio Guerra

LDHP Interview with Tonio Guerra

LDHP: Describe what influenced your work, who did you influence. Did you work individually, collectively, collaboratively?
TG: Born in Havana, Cuba, 1952 into a fiercely creative and artistic family, architect parents. Exiled to the US, 1961. Visual Arts Training / BFA (PCA), Group Motion Dance Theater, German Expressionism, improvisation al work, solo (with recorded and/or live music), in duo, trio or group often as collective. Collaborative work with numerous multidisciplinary artists (visual, music, film/video) Influenced youth of W Berlin in 1978 who had very little exposure to Western Post modern movement trends, university and private studio students for 15 years, as well as many dancers who participated on group works, including many from U Arts and Temple’s dance program.

LDHP: Were there issues that you addressed in your work, socio-political atmosphere of the time, antiwar movement, nature/environmental, spiritual, other -“isms” activism, feminism.
TG: I came to dance fascinated by the physicality, immediacy and impermanence of creative movement as an extension of my visual arts training during my time at the Philadelphia College of Art. Dance became my passion. However, as a young choreographer, I often found myself at odds with the limitations and aesthetics prescribed by the dance “concert” format, and frequently found my work misunderstood by some dance critics and many in the general dance community. I liked that the traditional proscenium framework could be challenged and played with. What excited me was the idea of treating a stage or performance area the way an artists views a blank page or canvas to be filled with color, texture, mood, light, shade, lines and forms. In those days, most modern dancers and many traditional critics did not always respond positively to these non-traditional/conceptual works. However radical my choreographic approach may have been, nevertheless I respected and even embraced the some of the formal techniques which paved the way for “new” dance. My formative training included work with Brigitta Hermann, Manfed Fishbeck, Helmutt Fricke Gottschild and Til Thiele (Wigman), Joan White (Iyengar Yoga), Carol Conway/Jim Taylor (Hawkins), Takako Asaskawa/Andrei Pap (ballet). These structured classes were augmented by frequent workshops in New York with DTW’s Movement Research programs, a short stint at the Grotowski Theater Lab in Breslaw, Poland and later, many informal improvisational sessions with other independents such as Terry Fox, and David Appel. Deeply committed to the German expressionist aesthetic in my early years, I worked with Group Motion Multimedia Dance Theater and Zero Moving Company, eventually moving to Berlin to co- found TanzTheatre Triptikon with artistic co-directors, Jacalyn Carly and Ric Schachtebeck. While there, we established a series of intensive, on-going workshops on creative movement open to anyone sharing a passion for dance and willing to explore physical movement, offering improvisation, technique, voice-breath and body integration. From this discipline, we laid the foundation for expressionist performance work that was physically and visually raw, confrontational but also subtle, emotional and spiritual. Although short lived, the company successfully toured and gave workshops in Berlin, Hamburg and Munich which were received with strong reviews. Once back in the States, I began to establish myself as an independent choreographer. I was inspired by the legacy of groundbreaking work created by many incredible early and mid 20th century dancers such as Isadora Duncan, Vaslav Nijinski, Mary Wigman, Martha Graham, Merce Cunningham, Erick Hawkins, The Living Theater, Pina Bausch, and especially by many artists associated with the Judson Dance Theater. All of them were pioneers who questioned the status quo, broke new ground and approached movement with freshness and curiosity. They drew from their traditional; roots and were fully committed to pushing the envelope to create dance within the greater context of their historical times. I was also fascinated by Japanese Butoh theater. My interest was in working outside of the confines imposed by labels of “choreographer”, “Latino artist” or even “Dance Theater”. This led me to collaborations not only with other talented and visionary dancers, but also cutting-edge multimedia visual artists, designers, videographers, musicians. Among these were Charles Cohen (electronic sound designer/composer), Woofy Bubbles (sculpture), Joan Guerin & Ed Cornell (video), Lenny Seidman (percussionist), Eiko Fan (Ssculpture), Michael Howell (set design), Doug Rooney (video) and Raymond Ercoli (visual artist). Among the independent dancers I worked with were Terry Fox, Linda Moores, David Appel, Jano Cohen, Nina Piunti, Edrie Ferdun and Rennie Harris. My personal focus shifted to creating works, which would evoke resonant images using a palette of mixed media with movement that allowed all of the resources of the body. Sometimes my pieces were deeply personal, sometimes philosophical or playful, at times spontaneous or rigidly calculated, but always seeking to combine a strong physicality within spatial, visual, textural and technical frameworks. I also started to explore my love of language, integrating text and creating my own solo video works, “Nocturno del Hueco” and “States of Being” so as to reveal, at a deeper level, the humanity of the person behind the performer. My last work in 1996, “Tower of Babble”, took this concept further by assembling a drastically diverse, multicultural ensemble and inviting the audience to playfully engage in the creation of the electronic “soundtrack” (with long-time collaborator, Charles Cohen). This soundtrack was then randomly and instantly recorded, digitized, and processed, producing a rhythmic audio stream of musical phrases, to which the dancers responded. These last three works marked the culmination as well as the conclusion of 20 years of extensive, uninterrupted and fully committed movement and concept exploration.

LDHP: What of forms?
TG: Weight/strength/cardio-pulmonary training, some Pilates, body integration and alignment, contact improv, yoga, music/ voice and group improv, modern/postmodern techniques (Wigman, Hawkins, Cunningham and their protégés -postmodern generation) Video: Alan Powell/Connie Coleman

LDHP: What was going on at the time? The prevailing zeitgeist?
TG: Artistic exploration and invention, revolution against establishment, diversity, freedom.

LDHP: What of the material question?  Did you make a living as an artist?
TG: Grants and Fellowships funded larger scale projects.Worked as teacher of fitness, improvisation and modern technique (private studios and as adjunct faculty at the University of Pennsylvania and Drexel University). Occasionally contracted as a guest instructor at the University of the Arts, PA. (movement for actors, technique and improvisation). Guest Artist with Group Motion for the Young Audiences Program, dance assembly programs in Philadelphia Schools, 1981-1987.

Commissioned Work:
Performing Arts Woodstock, NY, Sam Shepperd/Arrabal Festival, The Somnambulist
Walnut Street Theater, PA , “She also Dances (Wheel Chair Dances)”
Wilma Theater: 2 Guys Naked from the Waist Down
Philadelphia Museum of Art, John Cage Exhibit: Tower of Babble

Awards/Degrees:
Pew Fellowship for the Arts 1995-96
Philadelphia Repertory Development Initiative, 1994-95
Fellowship for the Arts 1994-95/95-96
Temple University Fellowship, MFA 1990-91 PA
Council on the Arts, Choreography/Interdisciplinary Fellowships: 1985/87/89/92
PCA Special Projects 1986 
New Forms Regional Grant, Painted Bride Art Center, 1986
Independent Performing Artists Project, Community Education Ctr. 1987

LDHP: Where were places your worked/performed?
TG: Philadelphia

Theater of Living Arts
Group Motion Studio
Temple University, Conwell Theater
Drexel University, Mandell Theater
Philadelphia International Airport
Community Education Center
Wilma Theater
Walnut Street Theater
Etage
Christ Church
Movement Theater International
Painted Bride Art Center
Susan Hess Studio
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia Museum of Art
Berlin
Café Einstein
Tanzfabrik
Private Studios
Public Spaces
Hamburg
Private Studio
Munich
Munich Avant Garde Festival, Olympic Village
Poland
Grotowski Theater Lab, Breslaw
Toronto
Quarry (site specific)
Til Thiele Studio
New York
White Dog Performance Studios
 PS 122 (with Terry Fox)
Woodstock Playhouse (commissioned work)
State University New York, Albany
New Jersey
Pinelands (site specific)
Caldwell College (with David Appel)
LDHP: Other thoughts ?
TG: An unexpected and lucrative job offer in 1995 in the language industry took my career path in a 
very different, exciting and very fulfilling direction.  This new direction captured my imagination and 
fostered a deeper sense of self in ways that I never imagined. The exuberance of a daily, highly 
physical regiment eventually gave way to a more cerebral and contemplative expression, with spoken 
languages becoming the dance between cultures, Spanish and English words becoming the tools of 
expression. I cherish the same nuance, agility and possibility for power and depth in my language 
tasks as I did in my choreographic and movement work.  While admittedly sometimes the work can 
be as banal as a routine warm-up plié or a hamstring stretch in anticipation of something much more 
grand, there are those glorious, fascinating assignments that bring me into contact with unique 
gatherings  of great minds or sublime speakers, that open up my universe and  capture my 
imagination, After many years dedicated to translation and interpretation as both in-house and free-
lancer,  I am now  (2015)Executive Director for the Interpretation Division of an international language 
services company, providing linguistic staff support in over 100 languages for corporate, government 
and educational events all over the world.

Theater of Living Arts, Group Motion Studio, Temple University, Conwell Theater, Drexel University, Mandell Theater, Philadelphia International Airport, Community Education Center, Wilma Theater, Walnut Street Theater, Etage, Christ Church, Movement Theater International, Painted Bride Art Center, Susan Hess Studio, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Berlin - Café Einstein, Tanzfabrik, Private Studios, Public Spaces.
Hamburg - Private Studio
Munich - Munich Avant Garde Festival, Olympic Village
Poland - Grotowski Theater Lab, Breslaw
Toronto - Quarry (site specific), Til Thiele Studio
New York- White Dog Performance Studios, PS 122 (with Terry Fox), Woodstock Playhouse (commissioned work), State University New York, Albany, New Jersey, Pinelands (site specific), Caldwell College (with David Appel)

LDHP: Other thoughts?
TG: An unexpected and lucrative job offer in 1995 in the language industry took my career path in a 
very different, exciting and very fulfilling direction.  This new direction captured my imagination and 
fostered a deeper sense of self in ways that I never imagined. The exuberance of a daily, highly 
physical regiment eventually gave way to a more cerebral and contemplative expression, with spoken 
languages becoming the dance between cultures, Spanish and English words becoming the tools of 
expression. I cherish the same nuance, agility and possibility for power and depth in my language 
tasks as I did in my choreographic and movement work.  While admittedly sometimes the work can 
be as banal as a routine warm-up plié or a hamstring stretch in anticipation of something much more 
grand, there are those glorious, fascinating assignments that bring me into contact with unique 
gatherings  of great minds or sublime speakers, that open up my universe and  capture my 
imagination, After many years dedicated to translation and interpretation as both in-house and free-
lancer,  I am now  (2015)Executive Director for the Interpretation Division of an international language 
services company, providing linguistic staff support in over 100 languages for corporate, government 
and educational events all over the world.

More Artist Images/Materials: 
LDHP Timeline - Tonio Guerra
Published on March 14, 2015 - 12:05am