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Art & Life with Alfonso Cervera

Today we’d like to introduce you to Alfonso Cervera.

Alfonso, please kick things off for us by telling us about yourself and your journey so far.
I’m normally not a fan of talking about myself but I guess it’s important to start from the beginning in order for my story to make sense as to where I began and how my work connects to me sharing/creating art that depicts the experience of me as a Mexican-American queer artist. To begin, I think it’s important to state that I was raised in the IE (San Bernardino) by my mom Maria Del Carmen Casanova and by my sisters Denise and Diana. Our heritage derives from being Yucatecos and I take pride in sharing and acknowledging my experience as a Yucateco in my work.

Growing up, I was very lucky to have my mom place me in Ballet Folklorico in local community centers by our home. It was here that I started dancing at the age of four and fell in love with dancing and representing my culture. I remember my mom being hesitate because I was a male and she was nervous that my friends or school mates would make fun of me because I was dancing and not participating in sports. Yet, I didn’t care because there was something about putting my botas (boots) on that I felt whole and complete. You would probably know which little boy I was because I would walk and play at school with my botas not caring if I had the newest sneakers. Fast-forwarding, I continued to dance folklorico and found my passion as a young professional dancer for a more spectacularized form of folklorico with dance companies such as Ballet Folklorico Grandeza Mexicana and Ballet Folklorico de Resurrection who both followed in the footsteps of Amalia Hernandez. It was here that I was fortunate to begin my basic training in Ballet and hungering for more dance but feeling shy to seek it out. I will admit that I fell victim to the popular show “So You Think You Can Dance” where I wanted to be one of the dancers on television but I knew I didn’t have the money or privilege to do so because of my family situation.

It’s important to share that growing up was a bit different for me especially since my mother suffered from Retinitis Pigmentosa which made her loose her vision overtime. During this time, you would probably find me holding her arm guiding her around as we would cross the street, shop at the local grocery store, or riding the bus to go the doctor. I share this because spending time with the woman who raised me and seeing her push through her disability to raise a family allowed me to always remember the human and act of caring and giving. Behind this, there was the hidden little queer boy in the closet who didn’t want to shame his family for being a homosexual. I’m sure like any Mexican household the male needs to demonstrate his “machismo” and dominance but I was quite the opposite. I was always shy, quiet, and didn’t speak unless I needed to.

Yet, this all changed as I started college at the University of California, Riverside where I found my interest for other dance genres. I remember sneaking into the department where you could peep through a window and see the dance classes happen. I did this for about two semesters until the instructor by the name of Kelli King came out and invited me to take class. I was so nervous to even enroll or walk in because I only knew the zapateado and had no idea about modern technique in general. However, since my attendance as an undergrad I was fortunate enough to work with Susan Rose, Wendy Rogers, Kelli King, Peter Witrak, Jess Mullete, Crystal Sepulveda, Hannah Schwadron and Joel Smith who all trained me and supported my career after graduation.

Since graduating as an undergrad, I went to a dance festival in Maine where I met amazing dancers and artist like Bebe Miller, Kathleen Hermesdorf, Paul Mattison, and Douge Varon who all inspired me to continue. I then moved to San Francisco because I had gotten an internship with Joe Goode Performance Group working as an assistant in marketing where I was able to continue my training. I later returned to Riverside and was asked to return as a graduate student where I received my MFA in Experimental Choreography. During my attendance in graduate school I was creating, performing, and dancing for companies such as WHAT Dance Theatre under Julie Freeman, Intersect Dance Theatre under Sofia Carreras, and starting my own collective titled Primera Generacion Dance Collective.

Since graduating with my masters I have been teaching at Mt. San Jacinto College and at Riverside City College teaching lecture and technique courses while also balancing being a choreographer for other universities. I have also recently been appointed a full-time job at the University of Wisconsin, Whitewater where I will be moving this August.

Can you give our readers some background on your art?

I am a dance maker, teacher, and performer currently based in Riverside and in Los Angeles, CA. I believe in dancing with the body that I have by incorporating my Mexican- American family lineage and heritage as the methodology of my practice. I am interested in cultivating sensations in the body by working with concepts of exhaustion, negotiation, labor, and forms of sociality.

My work as a dance maker influences and supports my work as an educator. I am an Associate Faculty member at Riverside City College, Mt. San Jacinto College, and Menifee Valley Campus. I also regularly teach master classes and workshops for different communities by facilitating improvisation, contact improvisation, and contemporary dance techniques. My studies of somatic, folkloric social forms, and improvisation influence all of my teaching and creative work. I am currently invested in weaving together ballet folklorico and contemporary dance as a way to implement and investigate my identity, gender, and race within my practice.

My process of creating work is complicated and can feel like a hurricane since I am always editing and recreating composition and movement. I have been fortunate to work with individuals who value process rather than the final product and feel excited to know that I have made it this far as an artist.

I enjoy exploring both intellectual and physical embodiments that allow for collaborations to mold into cross-interdiplisenary modes of experimentation and research. Both my works and collaborative works have been presented at the FLACC Festival, Red Cat, Pieter Performance Space, Highways Performance Space, Bushwick Studios, and Lux Boreal’s 4×4 in Tijuana Mexico to name a few. My work has also been presented at numerous festivals, universities, and in non-traditional spaces. I have had the pleasure of working with Wendy Rogers, taisha paggett, Meg Wolfe, Julie Freeman, Sofia Carreras, Joel Smith, Crystal Sepulveda, Sylvia Palacios, and with my collective Primera Generacion Dance Collective (Rosa Rodriguez Frazier, Patricia Huerta, and Irvin Gonzalez). I am inspired and intrigued by questioning the relationship between process, performance, and audience interaction. I am also committed to my ongoing practice of collaboration, improvisation, and contemporary technique on a weekly basis.

I believe in creating dances that are important to our relevant time and that grant voice, space, and safety for queer and colored bodies. I believe in interweaving social and political issues that we as a dance community revel in. As of now, I am interested in exhaustion, agency, process, and discovering the new for myself. My work tends to value the process of making dance rather than always showing the final product.

Do you think conditions are generally improving for artists? What more can cities and communities do to improve conditions for artists?
I think the role of an artist is always changing and is always needing to stay current locally or internationally. As artist I feel that it is important to give voice, bring into discussion, and or grant platforms for ideas to be commented on. I myself with my collective have created works that deal with the politics of Donald Trump entering the office and having him state that he wanted to build a wall and to deport all illegal immigrants affected us as Mexican-Americans whose family members, students at colleges, and friends were illegal.

I always try to relate social and political issues inside of my work in hopes that it can become relatable to someone. The world needs art as activism because it is one of the only things that can’t be controlled.

What’s the best way for someone to check out your work and provide support?
My work is usually seen at local dance festivals in Los Angeles or at events in Riverside. Places where I have shown work and or continue to show work is at Highways Performance Space, RedCat, home/LA, and Human Resources. As of now, I am more invested in creating works for schools sharing my process of weaving together Ballet Folklorico and modern dance as a new aesthetic and movement practice.

My work can also be seen at Riverside City College and at the Mt. San Jacinto College campuses as I continue to work with students creating modern dance pieces. Since my lower back injury, I will admit that I have taken a break from creating and moving since I am in the process of healing.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
All images please credit Jonathan Godoy

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