The Stories Our Bodies Carry: An interview with performance choreographer Awílda Rodriguez Lora

Harmony Bench, Associate Professor, The Ohio State University Department of Dance

Feb 27, 2019

Awílda Rodriguez Lora

Awílda Rodríguez Lora will visit Columbus the week of March 4 for a one-week residency at the Wex. She will meet with Ohio State students and faculty, conduct research, and develop performance work on issues surrounding debt related to Puerto Rican status and life. Rodríguez Lora spoke with Harmony Bench, an associate professor in the Department of Dance at Ohio State, to discuss her work as a transdisciplinary artist. 

Rodriguez Lora’s Artist Talk will be held on Tuesday, March 5, at 5:30 PM at the Wex. This program is free and open to all. The talk is cosponsored by Ohio State’s Latino/a Studies Program; Center for Ethnic Studies; Department of Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies; Department of Dance; Department of Arts Administration, Education and Policy; Department of African American and African Studies; and the Wexner Center for the Arts.

Harmony Bench: How did you come to reflect on what it means to be female, Puerto Rican, Afro-Caribbean, and queer in your artistic practice?

Awílda Rodriguez Lora: I was selected to participate in Charged Bodies, Links Hall’s Mentorship Program for Queer Performance Artists with Tim Miller. As a queer performance artist and storyteller, he shared with us the importance of creating work from our own stories. I found my voice then as a queer Latina performance artist. My stories came from my experience as a queer Puerto Rican woman looking to understand my Afro-Caribbean self through the use of the voice and reggaeton music.

HB: How do you describe your work as a performance artist?

ARL: It’s something that keeps changing with time. My work as a performance artist comes from the stories my body carries and is manifested through various creative expressions from dance, video, and now photography. I am a transdisciplinary artist that creates images with bodies, space, and objects to ignite progressive dialogues about race, gender, and sexuality. So now I describe myself as a performance choreographer.

HB: Most recently, you’ve really been thinking about sustainability. What does a sustainable arts practice look like for you?

ARL: I think media is always bombarding you about what you’re missing. You need a pill for this, you need the car for this, you need the bikini for this, and you need the drink for that. And I’m making choices in my own practice to value what I have as a decolonizing action. I was part of Co-Habitar 2014 in Valparaiso, Chile where on my first day, all performers were asked to perform right then and there. I didn’t even know how to start, my first thought was “I am not prepared enough.” I need time and research to think about what I’m gonna do. Everybody else performed, and they were mesmerizing. We then talked about the process and the common thought amongst them wasn’t about what they didn’t have, but what they did have—the history their bodies carried. That shifted the way I create work and how I think about sustaining a practice.

My current three life projects explore sustainability in the following ways: La Mujer Maravilla, where my body, personal objects from previous performances, gifts from loved ones, popular images of Caribbean women, and my own story as an Afro-Caribbean woman are what creates the images and are then choreographed as performances to challenge the fictional character of Wonder Woman. Then La Rosario, a project that directly supports my basic living expenses, so I cannot only work on La Mujer Maravilla but also contribute to the fight and struggle in Puerto Rico for decolonization from the US. This also allows for my third life project to be possible: Bailemos ___/365 #bailartodoslosdias. This project is done with my body that is always present, my cell phone, and free social media platforms like Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. The only thing that I invest is my time, but what better way to use time than to dance? The first dance was recorded on January 1, 2015, with the hashtag #bailartodoslosdias2015. Currently you can still see me dancing. #bailartodoslosdias2019.

HB: What will you be working on at the Wexner Center?

ARL: The project that I’m presenting at the Wexner is part of the Puerto Rico Arts Incubator, and it’s called Sustento, which is Sustenance in English. And I’m doing an analysis of my own practice and my own work and how I sustain a practice as a Puerto Rican artist living in Puerto Rico. Just seeing how my projects generate funding. And not only funding, but also emotional support. There are other types of support, right? It’s not just financial, it’s also community, family—my queer community, my feminist community. And you can’t put numbers on that. It’s another type of Sustento. Another type of sustenance that is needed.


Harmony Bench is an associate professor in the Department of Dance at The Ohio State University, where she is also affiliated faculty with Theatre, Folklore, Translational Data Analytics, and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. 

Awilda Rodríguez Lora is a performance choreographer. Her work challenges misconceptions about womanhood through the exploration of sexuality, empowerment, and self-determination. These concepts are explored through the use of movement, sound, and video as well as through a methodology she calls the “economy of living”which can either potentiate or subtract from her body’s “value” in the contemporary art market. Born in Mexico, raised in Puerto Rico, and working in-between North and South America and the Spanish-speaking Caribbean, Rodríguez Lora's performances traverse multiple geographic histories and realities. In this way, her work promotes progressive dialogues regarding hemispheric colonial legacies, and the unstable categories of race, gender, class, and sexuality.

Lead image: Awilda Rodríguez Lora, performance of La Mujer Maravilla: INDIA$ m.e. at the Brooklyn Museum, 2016; photo: Daryl E. Tillman.