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Meet Manuel “Manny” Macias of Mechanism Dancetheatre Collective in Pomona

Today we’d like to introduce you to Manuel “Manny” Macias.

Manuel “Manny”, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
I have always been an artist, I just maybe didn’t have the language, tools, and the access until I got to college. Growing up, my body was always something I was aware of and kind of ashamed of– and dancing male bodies were something that we’re always supposed to be ‘rigid’ in my family. I kind of internalized this avoidance of moving. I was a musician in high school and gravitated toward jazz music (as a saxophone player) and percussion. I didn’t realize it at the time but playing these instruments kind of fulfilled this movement and embodiment that I think was missing in my life. When I got to college at Cal Poly Pomona, I began taking dance classes and the rest is history. I was fortunate enough to be nurtured and mentored by Professor Gayle Fekete, who is a really pivotal figure for me. She was also invested in cultivating these cohorts of students from different majors. I had an amazing undergrad experience where we were really diving into some experimental dance and interdisciplinary thinking.

Fekete also told me to check out the Ethnic Studies department where I met another mentor, Dr. Anita Jain. Dr. Jain got me really hooked on thinking about de-colonial processes– which I’ve been trying to create in dance and performance settings and spaces. Around this time, I and a few other like-minded individuals in the dance department at Cal Poly got really into these radical art-making frameworks and we started Mechanism Dancetheatre Collective in 2012. We have really been invested in representing all things “East of the 605 freeway”. We’re really into non-hierarchical ways of doing things– sharing power and building community. It’s hard work but I think it’s important. Most recently, Gayle Fekete and I have created a bicoastal (LA/NYC) experimental performance project we’ve named FEK-MAC. We call ourselves “instigators” instead of performers or collaborators because we’ve been really leaning into creating work that is really socio-politically engaged.

Has it been a smooth road?
I think when trying to do work that goes against capitalist frameworks that are really dominating in our culture, it’s always a struggle. There’s seven of us in Mechanism Dancetheatre Collective. We have done a really good job about creating a sphere of accountability where we can have conversations about what our (ever-changing) needs are and what our (ever-changing) roles are. Sometimes, it can be a really slow and tedious process. Sometimes it’s hard. This is the nature of the work. We’ve found success by being really in tune with our artistic lineage and philosophical base.

On a different note– dance has a long history in the region. Los Angeles has an interesting (and I’m finding sometimes forgotten) relationship with early Modern Dance, Hollywood and commercial dance, and the new contemporary dance scene that has bubbled up recently. Where does experimental performance fit into the tapestry of Los Angeles and how? I can’t answer this question because I feel like we’re living it… However, there’s a lot of people doing a lot of really great experimental work right now and it’s becoming a big movement.

Please tell us about Mechanism Dancetheatre Collective.
Mechanism Dancetheatre is a collective that makes experimental performance works. We operate as a community and in relationship to other communities. We are interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary. Our experience of being artists in Pomona is one of the pillars at the center of what we’ve built. We’ve been thinking about how all of us have grown up and made art in the parts of LA county that are East of the 605 freeway and how this has been formative for us. We actually call our philosophy “East of the 605.” Things on this side of LA county can sometimes feel a bit more disparate, but there are pockets of people doing really great work. This idea reflects how we do things inside of Mechanism. All of us come from different disciplines or artistic perspectives that can seem kind of disparate, but it creates a rich tapestry. We’re currently constructing a manifesto and a new website, which will both be published later this year. I’m really proud of how it’s turning out because it really reflects all of us. In the next couple of months, we’re going to start making a new work, which will be an interesting challenge in this virtual remote landscape because of the pandemic. We’re also toying with the idea of hosting virtual talks with guests who are doing amazing work.

Mechanism Dancetheatre Collective is:
Brenda Reyes-Chavez
Gayle Fekete
Gabriela Garza-Vasquez
Jennifer Gerry
Santino Lojero
Manuel “Manny” Macias

What were you like growing up?
I was a weird quiet queer kid. I was always polite. I kept to myself. I was imaginative. I liked to read and write poetry. I was always creative in some way. I loved music. In high school, I went through a goth “phase.” I was listening to a lot of Peter Murphy, Sisters of Mercy. The Cure. I was also really was into disco, funk, and music that made me want to move. I was in a garage band, but I feel like my bandmates didn’t like me because I was really into making weird noises with my guitar pedals, and I was always trying to get girl members in the band because I was really into riot grrrl music. My mentors were always radical women. My middle school band teacher Ms. Shupenia always encouraged me to compose music. I made music. Then I made dances. When I got to college — my radical women mentors encouraged me to make radical art and taught me about radical subjects. Lastly, my mom was always a strong woman but also deeply empathetic.

I think its also important to talk about how my childhood experiences with race and class influenced my artistic philosophy. Very early on, I noticed how class and race are intertwined. My parents were teenagers in La Puente. They were undocumented but were fortunate enough to be able to easily become citizens, which obviously isn’t the case anymore. They were fortunate enough to get good jobs very easily. I noticed the resources I was given in a predominantly latinx elementary school was way different when we eventually moved into a neighborhood with a higher percentage of white and middle-class POC. Noticing the shift in attitudes and resources because of race and class was something that was very palatable, but as a kid I never had the language for it. I think this really galvanized me into doing work that is collective-centered and equitable.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:

Christopher Bashaw, Allie Miks, Brenda-Reyes-Chavez, Jennifer Gerry, Natnael Alula

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