‘Cartas de las Golondrinas (Letters from the Swallows)’ at Teatro de la Luna by Colleeen Sproull

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This was my first experience with Teatro de la Luna, which now celebrates its 15th year, and after tonight’s stunning performance by Noelia Fernández and Esther Aja in Cartas de las Golondrinas (Letters from the Swallows), I will absolutely return.  Impressively written and directed by Blanca del Barrio, this original piece was creative, thought-provoking, emotional, and completely relatable.

History always repeats itself. We’ve heard this phrase time and time again. Cartas de las Golondrinas (Letters from the Swallows) explores the deep-rooted meaning of this phrase and what it means to be “American.” The story is based on personal correspondence between Spanish emigrants and their families from countries such as Argentina and Uruguay. Letters and papers are a prominent part of this performance piece that skillfully merges dance and acting in storytelling.

(L-R): Noelia Fernández and Esther Aja, Photo by: Escena Miriñaque.

We enter Gunston Theater Two, and our eyes are immediately drawn onstage to where a long white dress, stretched out like a tight sheet, extends well onto the floor from the thin body of a gorgeous brunette with long wavy hair. Soon, images of life are projected onto it: rippling water, men and women of the early 1900s are dressed for travel with luggage in hand, waving goodbyes, kissing for the last time; a sweet little girl kisses her hands gently, releases them, and tiny, torn pieces of paper float out as birds flock around her.  All the while, we are immersed in the sound of waves, instrumental music with a clean, pure voice singing soulfully as soft light illuminates the action. We have arrived.

The bright sound and music adaptation of Oscar Sisniega with the gorgeous lighting design by Pancho V. Saro and the crisp audiovisuals of BurbujaFilms are crucial in helping us as audience members understand where we are in the story. These aspects are crucial to the tone and expression of the piece, as the instrumental music comes in at times and swells and decrescendos during important moments in the piece, and the lighting changes from soft spot during letter-reading to bright light that illuminates the theater during a welcomed 4th wall surprise not to be spoiled by this writer.

This one-of-a-kind experience masterfully merges fluid, sharp, and rhythmic dance with acting in a black‑box setting. Vintage luggage and traditional costume pieces help the audience understand what time-period we’re in, with costume design by Noemí Fernández. The set design and construction by Juan I. Goitia is particularly clever, as four wooden tables with multi-functional parts are lithely morphed by Fernández and Aja into the specific places they are in throughout the play, such as the boat, sleeping quarters, a long table where they eat simply using spoons and plates and making the most rhythmic sounds of expression, their place of work, among others.

The use of levels keeps our interest and peaks the intensity in each scene, whether it’s with the performers using the floor, sitting at or on the tables, stacking them, and even standing on top of them. Executive direction by Esther Velategui gives us the overall feeling of where we are in time and space when all these elements work together in perfect harmony, as they do for the entire 75 minutes we’re engaged in this world.

Fernández and Aja are fully committed to each movement and action, and generate energy that radiates throughout the entire theater as the stories unfold through their eyes. They have excellent comedic timing as they giggle together and tease each other in one of my favorite scenes that takes place on the ship, where they are reading letters and making promises. A friendship is built and they look at the stars together, eat together, and gossip about their future in America.

The connection of these artists to each other is very strong, as they always moved with conviction during the choreography, suspending their bodies with strength and in perfect unison. They did a very fine job offering contrast for each other as well when necessary, as in the mother-daughter scenes. With the wide variety of characters they portray, these women really know how to communicate the important storyline and we as an audience want to be involved.

Cartas de las Golondrinas (Letters from the Swallows) is a powerful, uplifting performance piece about humanity that is not to be missed.

Running Time: 75 minutes with no intermission.

Cartas de las Golondrinas (Letters from the Swallows) plays through October 27, 2012, at Gunston Arts Center Theater Two – 2700 S. Lang Street, in Arlington, VA. For tickets, purchase them online.