Yara Travieso, photographed by Ignacio Carballo
Fluent in multiple languages of visual expression, Yara Travieso pulls from her dictionary of film, performance, choreography, dance and narrative to create sensational works of art. Her intrinsic pursuit of storytelling manifests as stage performance, installation and video; it's culturally inspired, and an amalgam of genre and influence – she puts the MULTI in multi-disciplinary, multi-media art. She’s created numerous expositions for stage and gallery, as well as fashion films for Hermés, Glamour, and Superior Magazine, which are quite exquisite.
Inspired to capture the artist at work, I partnered with filmmaker Ignacio Carballo to document Yara’s story as she kicked off her most recent, and perhaps most ambitious project, La Medea. Through a residency with BRIClab, this was the first phase in the development of a Dogville-esque feature length project based on the ancient Greek tragedy and its protagonist Medea as “an iconized pop star in a post-infanticidal rant, re-living the events that lead to the vengeful bloodbath. Told as a Latin-disco-dance-musical-variety show turned feature film, the production is as wildly encompassing in its content as it is in its form – simultaneously manifested as a live theatrical musical, livestream broadcast, and feature film, the melodrama is directed, performed, shot, edited and streamed in real time. Performers and camera operators play the characters, while the studio audience is given agency to further the plot and fulfill the role of extras in the final feature film.”
Kaitlyn Parks: Tell me about your approach to recent work - what you've been on to lately? With La Medea you experimented with combining multiple worlds together between live, recorded, behind the camera and audience involvement.
Yara Travieso: Combining multiple visual worlds and narratives creates juxtapositions for the viewer that mirrors an emotional crisis in the work. A lot of my work deals with characters and the choices they're making, or an existential event in a character's life. With a visual palette colliding directly against the narrative, it sometimes reveals behind the camera, the cameras themselves, a video projection of what's happening live, and sometimes mirrors showing the audience watching the live work. There are various ways I do this, and so many things to look at, but that would be nothing without the story that's being told.
I may have several visuals happening at the same time in La Medea, but as a viewer you're not missing anything, you're just aware that all of these things are happening simultaneously. The juxtaposition of everything is important because it tells the viewer to feel conflicted inside and to feel lost. I tell stories of human spectacle and adopt many different genres to tell the very simple story of human crisis.
I like to use the word "anti-spectacle" because I use film, dance and visual tropes that you would see in spectaculars, but for a different purpose. I use it to create a more guttural, human experience and to say something simple in a sensational way.
Photographs from LA MEDEA, created by Yara Travieso
BRIC Arts Media House 11.22.14
KP: Can you explain how you used the crew as characters in La Medea?
YT: For La Medea, my camera operators are two beautiful bad-ass ladies: My new Colombian hero, Monica Cohen, and my crazy Italian right arm Pamela Giaroli (who I work with on a lot of projects). They're both amazing women and so much fun to work with. Involving them in the mise-en-scène and the story itself is inspired by my filmmaking process. When I make films, the part of the process I feel most excited about is the actual shoot day(s). It’s that adrenaline rush when you're shooting and you're connecting with your team the way you would connect with a live audience or live performers, that kind of creative present-ness with a film team, you can’t re-create it in the film itself. Once you screen the film, it’s a different experience. You play it and you can always play it again, there’s no ephemeral feeling the way you would have for something that is live. So when I’m making a film, I see my camera ops as performers and I give them choreography. I also start seeing my PAs as performers, who are doing things under the frame, like fixing a skirt, changing a set. Seeing it from a distance ends up being a beautiful visual story. With one shoot I did, (Till I Hurt You with Grace Weber) I had to be on a balcony overhead watching the monitor because I couldn’t be in the way of the frame, and seeing a bunch of PAs, camera op, gaffers and so on chasing around this character - it was as if they were running for their lives. That was the moment I knew I needed my camera ops to be characters, I needed them to be seen. They have a task they are committing to and the whole world is in their hands. All of a sudden if you shine a light on what they’re doing, it becomes this beautiful poetry that has a duality to it. It is poetry but it is functional in a way, it’s dirty, physical and it’s full of possible mistakes and full of reality. Exposing the behind the scenes is more honest, true, and exciting for me because I can see something different every time.
Photographs from LA MEDEA, created by Yara Travieso
BRIC Arts Media House 11.22.14
KP: How did your trajectory in art and life evolve into a hybrid of dance, choreography, performance, installation, directing? What came first and what inspired you to bring together all areas?
YT: It started with my parents being visual artists, and my father is very philosophical, he’s an architect and an artist, and my mother is very aesthetic as an artist/designer. She does everything - she designs clothes, she creates mosaic works… one of her influences on me was storytelling, she would just tell stories all the time. Narrative was a big part of the visual stuff in my life through my Mom. My Dad would tell factual stories, and my Mom would make everything up! With those made up stories, the spectacular would always happen, they were stories that seemed like they could be true, but there were so many fantastical falsities in them that triggered imagination. It’s also a cultural thing (Latin America) where denials of reality persist, you see it in literature (magical realism), this world of the unbelievable attached to the mundane. My brother is a visual artist as well, and my sister is into design, so everyone has a visual inclination.
As a kid, I was really energetic and dramatic. Just a kid full of too many hormones, you know, I felt everything too much. My parents tried to channel that by putting me in theater, but that wasn’t my jam. I wasn’t really interested in performance until I saw Flamenco. I thought it was amazing. It was a great place for me to start because it was so theatrical and physical. I went on to train in various dance forms. It wasn’t until later that I realized how cinematic Flamenco actually is.
I became interested in film because I processed visually. Film was a place to combine what I loved of physical theater and what I understood of the visual world – composition, and human narrative.
In high school I would make films with a group of friends, and this is when I started to create a vocabulary on screen, discovering what that felt like and how it related to stage vocabulary, like what is theatrical about the screen work. When I got selected to attend Juilliard, my life was at a crossroads. I didn’t even think I was at the Juilliard level as a dancer, and I had applied to various film/multimedia schools. I thought I should go to Cal Arts or NYU. Juilliard was the only one to offer me a full ride scholarship, which was crazy and amazing. In my audition interview with the director of the Juilliard dance division, I had to explain to him why I didn’t apply to Juilliard in the first place. I said, “ 1) I didn’t think I was good enough and 2) I don’t want to be a company dancer, I want to be a director and a choreographer, and I want to create new work. I’m not sure what it is yet, but I have these ideas in my mind and I want to explore them everyday and get better at it as soon as possible.” And he said this: “To make good work, you need great subjects. You’re not going to find better subjects than at Juilliard. You will have the best dancers, actors and composers in the world”
That moment was a turning point, when I realized that I would need strong subjects in my work. I went to Juilliard and my journey as a choreographer really began.
I wasn’t a dance company dancer, and I knew that every day I was taking class. Still, I lived as if I was that dancer. I would wake up in the morning, take ballet as though I was going to become a great ballet dancer, take modern as though I was going to be a great modern dancer, go to countless rehearsals, and at the end of the day, physically exhausted, I would stay in the studio choreographing, storyboarding and working on my own stuff. There was something in that physical rigor to grasp on to, it fueled me creatively and gave me focus. During the summers I continued to explore my voice with filmmaking.
KP: It seems that young people have pressure to focus on one discipline - or at least I was encouraged to, perhaps because it’s the most practical, industrial, capitalistic approach. But it certainly is not the most creative or visionary approach.
YT: It’s interesting because if you think of where it all comes from, storytelling is at the base of everything. If you go back to the shamans, the first shamans, they used to choreograph things like their spirit quests. Their storytelling had movement, it was orchestrated. Structure and narrative are at the core of everything.
When you move away from traditional narrative or formalized stage work, that’s when people get a little nervous because they don’t know how they are supposed to feel. And the more foreign you (or your work) are, the more they are wary of you and your abilities. Which has actually given me a lot of freedom - to do whatever I want. I don’t fit in to the dance world, I don’t fit into the art world, and I don’t fit in to the film world, so there’s no pressure.
The separation of art mediums is something imposed on us at an early age so that there is order and profitability in the perception of art for institutions and the general public. We compartmentalize each form too much these days and forget that they are all part of each other, just like our five senses. Its great to be specialized in one field, but our minds and bodies are capable of so much so why stop at one? We should create in a process where anything that can further your work is game.