Recently my editor, Carlton Jones and I were fortunate to attend an inspiring performance and tale at BAM entitled, THE LEGEND OF YAUNA. Not entirely sure what we were about to witness, our eyes and spirit were awakened by the fusion of music, dance, song and storytelling that were presented by a multi-generational and talented cast. The mystical tale and journey is a tale of unity, while showing us ways to lose our ego. Brought to us by Grammy Award winning composer, Chris Berry, and directed and choreographed by Maija Garcia (FELA), we thought it would be best to learn more about the inspiration, collaborations and future productions of THE LEGEND OF YAUNA.
Progressive Pulse: In seeing the first presentation of THE LEGEND OF YAUNA at BAM recently, I was struck by the fusing of spirituality, music, dance and story telling that was presented on stage that evening. Can you briefly tell us the story of THE LEGEND OF YAUNA?
Maija Garcia: The Legend of Yauna is a hero’s journey. We meet Yauna as a young man who lives in a forest with his aging father. The forest has grown dry and survival becomes difficult to find enough food to survive. He goes to see a sage who tells him to go to the river and wait… soon he is pulled into another dimension by a crocodile’s tail- landing in the Queendom of the water tribes. Yauna comes from a people whose names are not spoken, but sung. And his name song wins the heart of the Queen. He makes promises and raises three daughters. When he breaks his promise, he ends up back on the bank of the river and finds he has lost his good fortune. So the entire journey is a search to return home to his family. Along the way, he meets mythological creatures from the earth, air and fire tribes. These characters are often half animal, half human- including the Black Panther Queen whom he seeks on his journey. With each new encounter Yauna shares his music and receives wisdom, guidance and healing. Eventually he learns the truth about his mother and father and Yauna is challenged to resolve a long conflict between the water and fire tribes that tore his family apart. Realizing his destiny, Yauna dissolves his ego and surrenders his own life in the name of peace.
Progressive Pulse: In hearing you speak after the performance at the talk back, you told the audience that you wanted to direct and tell the story from a story telling perspective, rather than a traditional play/musical narrative. Can you tell our audience how you approached directing THE LEGEND OF YAUNA?
Maija Garcia: Since ancient times, human beings have gathered around the fire to tell stories, dance and play music. I wanted to create an experience that captures the spirit of these ancient rituals, allowing the audience to be guided through the journey just as children at story time; to tap into the art of listening.
Progressive Pulse: This story was originally brought to you by Grammy Award winning composer, Chris Berry. How did you connect with him and at what point did you want to get involved with the project?
Maija Garcia: Chris Berry and I were connected through colleagues in the African dance and drum community. Berry reached out to me as
a director and choreographer that might help him build a show around a series of original compositions influenced by traditional melodies played on the Zimbabwean thumb piano, the mbira. The story itself was channeled spiritually in ceremony, and when I first read the script I was moved. It took a few months for me to adapt the story for the stage, and of course we learned what the story wanted to say once we started rehearsals. The creative process is always a cathartic learning experience, but this one especially felt like falling down the rabbit hole- it was an extraordinary process because we had such a diverse cast taking on an eclectic narrative and finding new ways to communicate through movement and music. A deep spiritual connection in the room seemed to pulse through our veins during rehearsals, and we were all challenged, nourished and inspired by the work.
Progressive Pulse: One of the highlights of the performance was seeing Afro-European vocalist Marie Daulne (Zap Mama) as the black panther queen. In hearing her talk after the show, it’s clear how passionate she is about the project. How did Marie become involved in the project? Will she be a part of future productions??
Maija Garcia: Marie is a phenomenal artist and an extremely generous collaborator. For many years I have danced and choreographed to the music of Zap Mama, so for me it was a dream to devise a new work by her side. Ms Daulne contributed quite a lot to the sonic landscape through complex harmonies and a multi-layered sound design. Her voice can be striking and dynamic, but also subtle and suggestive, and she uses modern technology to loop and mix a library of sounds live. As an artist she is constantly experimenting and taking risks. Her performance as the Black Panther Queen was riveting!
Marie wove her sounds like colors threaded throughout the story and her influence was integral to the flow of Yauna’s journey. I am beyond grateful that she agreed to fly from Belgium to New York during the coldest month of the year to devote her talent to this production.
Progressive Pulse: Can you talk about casting this show? The kids were integral, where did you find them?? I know that casting the lead was tricky as he had to sing, be a musician and possess certain qualities. How did you find him?
Maija Garcia: Because the story included children- the three daughters of the water tribe, the earth children who help Yauna find his way, and the young boy who inherits Yauna’s legacy- Chris and I thought it would be appropriate to include young people in the creative process, and what a gift it was to lead a multi-generational production! We did not search far to find them- The Hubbard-Salk girls and the
little boy are my god-children, and the Berry girls are Chris’ daughters. Treated as working professionals- these young aspiring artists worked long hours and they worked hard! In the end, we were all energized by their creativity and commitment.
Progressive Pulse: We have to talk about the beautiful artwork that is projected on screen featuring colorful indigenous figures throughout the show. Who is the artist and do you plan to incorporate the art in upcoming productions?
Maija Garcia: Leif Wold is a collaborator who worked remotely from a meditation retreat in India. His powerful images created a depth of presence for each archetype represented in the story. It was amazing actually, how easy he made it seem – I would ask him a question about one of the images, for example ‘What if we just saw Gurthusula’s eye, or a part of her face so that she retains her mystery while being slightly revealed?’ And the next day an image appeared in my drop box folder- BOOM! There it is- the marvelous, mysterious Gurthusula! Leif is a genius visual architect, and his work lends itself to the storybook quality. At the beginning of each segment, a new image appears on the screen- like turning a page. His work will definitely be incorporated in future productions.
Progressive Pulse: I know that you only had a limited amount of time to put the BAM production together. What are you plans for future productions and how can people stay involved or help?
Maija Garcia: The cast and crew of The Legend of Yauna would be elated to pick up where we left off, continue to develop the work and share it with wider audiences- in New York City, through out the US and abroad. The next step is to establish a relationship with presenters and producers, and I’m happy to speak with anyone interested in commissioning the work!
We are also in conversation with BAM to return in the next year or two.
Progressive Pulse: At the discussion after the BAM performance of THE LEGEND OF YAUNA, there was an electric and positive energy flowing from stage to audience. Chris Berry shared with the audience a simple way of how we can all practice Banakuna in our every day lives. Can you talk a little bit about this?
Maija Garcia: Breathe, make music and dance in community. Tell stories around the fire!
Progressive Pulse: You also talked about your own company Organic Magnetics, and how the story of THE LEGEND OF YAUNA aligns with your own vision and principles for your company regarding sustainability. Can you talk about this?
Maija Garcia: I formed Organic Magnetics about 7 years ago with the intention to create transformative experiences through theater arts. The organization functions on cross-cultural dialogue and cross-media collaboration. OM creates live installations, offers theater arts education. I am always seeking collaborators who are innovating sustainable practices- artists and designers who participate in a sustainable economy. I think it is imperative that our generation make substantial changes in our practices- so that future generations are not suffocated by our waste and pollution. Awareness is key, but we must find new modes of production, and there is no better place to imagine possibilities than in the creative process.