Salome Nieto is the recipient of the 2017 Vancouver International Dance Festival Choreographic Award. With it she and her company, pataSola dance, have created RIFT, which plays KW Studios as part of VIDF 2018 through this weekend. The piece tackles the difficult issue of femicide, the targeted killing of women and girls by men. With Nieto's trademark combining of the techniques and aesthetic principles of Butoh and flamenco, her powerful stage presence, and pataSola co-founder Eduardo Meneses-Olivar's highly theatrical stage design, RIFT becomes both a lament for and a protest against this unnecessary loss.
The piece is structured in three parts. In the first, Nieto emerges wearing a white slip dress, her body covered in traditional Butoh white make-up, and her feet sheathed in heels. But where we might anticipate the sharp staccato footwork of flamenco, Nieto mostly stays on her toes, concentrating instead on her braceo, or flowing arm work, and slowing down the rhythm of her movement to align not just with Butoh-time, but also with the time of grief, which stretches on for eternity. At the end of this section, we hear the stories of two women who have been brutally raped and murdered, and channeling this pain and trauma, Nieto descends to the floor, ripping up the paper children's drawings that cover it.
The second section read to me as Nieto incarnating the avenging persona of a female warrior. It starts with a Bata de Cola, the long ruffled dress worn by women flamenco dancers, being pulled on stage by wires. Nieto, now wearing only one red shoe, then proceeds to shimmy into the dress on the floor, her mask-covered face and arms suddenly emerging to startling effect. The inner red lining of the dress is used as a potent symbol throughout this section, with Nieto at one point going into a deep plie and raising her skirts, the obvious allusion to menstrual blood serving as a bold feminist reclamation of the senseless spilling of women's blood under patriarchy. Likewise, at the end of this section, the dress becomes the red-lined cape of a proud female toreador, Nieto's ramrod posture and unflinching gaze challenging anyone or anything to cross her.
The final section incorporates a series of affecting projections, and sees Nieto, once again in her white slip dress, reapplying additional body paint while sitting on a white chair. In an attempt to repair all that has been ripped open in the representation of violence from the previous sections, she then tapes pieces of rent paper from the floor onto the upstage wall. She also uses a white fan to imagine the souls of the victims of femicide as butterflies taking flight, the return of her graceful arcing braceo hauntingly doubled via the projection of her shadow self onto the upstage wall.
Nieto is an extremely captivating performer, and in RIFT she uses the intercultural language of dance to speak to an urgent issue of social justice.