Living Statues in Santiago de Cuba (Part I)

An interview with Alexander Legro Castillo, director of the group Allegro Teatro

Alexander Legró

By Dariela Aquique

HAVANA TIMES — Work with human bodies as expressive materials is usually realized through actions or performances, with “living statues” being one of the most common approaches to this art form.

Currently taking place in the streets of Santiago de Cuba are two living sculpture projects which, in addition to having similarities, are marked by differences causing us to recognize the authenticity of each.

“Ojos” (Eyes), under the leadership of actor Alcides “Titi” Carlos Gonzales, defines itself more in the line of body painting. Meanwhile “Teatro Allegro,” created and directed by actor Alexander Legro, has adopted an itinerate approach to shows, whose compositions use dissimilar materials and motivations, also exploring so-called “physical theater.”

HT: Why did a professional actor of the stage decide to put together a project involving living statues?

Living statues dressed with paper clothing.

AL: One day in the course of a series of presentations of the performing arts sponsored by UNEAC (the Cuban Association of Artists and Writers), about a year ago, a presentation of theatrical programs was presented by people from here in Santiago, and at that time there was talk about doing a series of actions that would help enrich that exhibition.

And I, who for a good while had wanted to do something with living statues, because I had seen them on television and in other parts of the country, decided to do this with a group of actors who had worked with me in a previous musical theater project that had been discontinued for various reasons. So was our first show and a lot of people liked it, we asked ourselves why shouldn’t we keep on doing this, maintaining that same idea… so that’s what motivated us to continue.

HT: Are you one of those people who believe a picture can say a thousand words?

AL: No; I don’t believe in one thing or the other. I think there are pictures that say a thousand words and vice versa. I’m an actor.

HT: How do you come up with the theme and the designs in each act or performance?

Living statues dressed with paper clothing.

AL: Many activities that we’ve created have been “made to order,” so to speak. For example, we’ll be invited to the opening of an exhibition and we’ll ask what it’s about. Therefore our performance will respond to the theme or format, whether the works on display are paintings or installations or whatever.

On the other hand, we sometimes come with preconceived notions and from there we come up with the designs and make the costumes and props, generating a storm of ideas about how to put on the show.

This was how La fiesta de Amy (Amy’s Party) resulted, which was dedicated to British singer Amy Winehouse (who died recently), as well as Ajedrez humano (Human Chess), a fantasy performance representation – if we’re forced to give it some kind of a name.

HT: Do you have designers or is this the creative work of a collective?

Body art

AL: There are both. We alternate collective creation with the work of the designers, of whom we in fact have two regulars in the group. We also occasionally invite artists to work with us, especially when we do body art.

HT: Your project isn’t confined to a particular style, but your compositions can be made from natural fibers or recycled materials as well as with body paint. Why?

AL: Well, that has to do with a lot of things. For example, working with recycled materials was something that I found interesting. I had proposed using that in the theater earlier on. I think these materials give another opportunity for expression, stretching things beyond our so-called limited resources.

Also the use of natural fibers, body painting, or whatever, offers a great mixture of trends in this conceptual art, but also the use of varied elements. On the other hand we wanted to do something for the street, something that had direct contact with the public, but where visual quality could play a key role.

That’s why there are not well-defined barriers between street theater, performance art, happenings, and body art. We superimpose all these techniques and do them differently and in our own way of self-expression. Sometimes they emit guttural sounds or even texts, which is why we’re beyond living statues as they’re conceived.

Body art

Although this is based on the statues, what is done at all times has always had to do with the circumstances, the desire, the need, the taste and the poetic discourse that we use at the moment.

I think the best part of the group is that there’s nothing rigid. We’re always open to possibilities for what and how to do things differently at all times.

HT: How has institutional support been for this initiative?

AL: I dare not say whether we have or haven’t had it, because we’ve received support up to now for whatever project, but we’re self-funded. Actually we joined EPRA (the Provincial Performing Artists Company), but the materials (like paint and such) we have to buy and they sell in hard currency, they aren’t supplied by any institution. But we do have institutional support; let’s call it moral, organizational and programming support for activities in different places; plus they provide transportation.

HT: How many members does the company have, and how could someone interested in it join and be a part of it?

AL: There are about twenty of us, because we have several people who are not full-time members of the group but who are still members, like the ones who make the videos and the DJ who takes care of our music. Participation really depends on what we’re going to do or not. We also have dancers who join us sometimes, in addition to college students, recent graduates and about seven professional actors.

Statue with tree leaves for clothing.

We don’t do any casting; those who participate come through referrals from friends, and if they have an interest and ability then they stay.

HT: Where do you perform your shows?

AL: Basically in the street and anywhere else that can be adapted for the shows.

HT: Considering that these types of artistic performances are new to our city, what has been the public’s reaction to your shows?

AL: We have had everything, from audiences that were very receptive to others that were almost indifferent. Paradoxically, in what are unfortunately referred to as “marginal neighborhoods,” we’ve found them to always be the most welcoming. But in many places, people of all ages have been respectful and appreciative of the shows.

Curious things have happened to us, like in one neighborhood where the actors came out in white clothes, someone shouted, “They’re the ladies are white,” which was followed by rapid response brigades and government security forces, at least until they realized what this was. Can you imagine? (laughter.)

HT: Do you think that these types of representations somehow make up for the absence of street theater, which for so many years invaded the streets and squares of the city (though unfortunately that no longer exists)?

AL: Sure, I think that’s a large part of the intention.

To be continued…