An “illuminating examination of how the commercial musical simultaneously relies upon and marginalizes the labor of Latina/o/x dancers and choreographers,” Brian Eugenio Herrera, Princeton University.
Theatre Topics, a publication of Johns Hopkins University Press, has published an article by Associate Professor of Performing Arts Julio Agustin Matos Jr.
“From Mu-Cha-Cha to Ay-Ay-Ay! A Critical Explication of the Use of ‘Latin’ Dance Styles and the Absence of Latinx Creatives in the Broadway Musical” features the work of Agustin and exposes ongoing systemic racism toward Latina/o/x performers in the Broadway musical theatre industry.
As a Broadway performer and working director-choreographer, Agustin draws on both his own experiences as well as the history of over one hundred years of “Latin” dance styles in commercial theatre from 1913 to the present. Although the tango, rumba, and chachachá have recurred with great frequency on the nation’s most famous theatrical venue, the Broadway stage, there have been but five choreographers of Latinx descent to have cracked the glass ceiling of Broadway choreography.
Furthermore, it was not until very recently that Sergio Trujillo became the first Latino to receive the Tony Award for Best Choreography of a Musical (“Ain’t Too Proud,” 2019). Before this, it was commonplace to appropriate the rhythms, steps and styles with scarcely a mention as to the source of inspiration, or for Latina/o/x choreography assistants to provide their white (and usually male) counterparts with the source material without ever receiving credit.
With such subtitles as “Stereotypes and Emotional Tokenism” and “Towards Authentication of Movement,” Agustin’s article questions the origins of dance that inspired such classic musical theatre gems as “Man of La Mancha,” “Evita“ and even “In the Heights.”
It also interrogates the common practice of pan-Latinidad in casting such as can be seen in the upcoming movie revival of “West Side Story.” Here, structures of white supremacy helmed by the usual suspects for appropriated consumption continue to advance myths that perpetuate false and dangerous narratives.
The article also features an interview with international choreographer Julio Monge. As the only Puerto Rican sanctioned by the Jerome Robbins Estate to remount productions of “West Side Story,” Monge openly shares insights of what it is like being the only non-White creative in the room. Coincidentally, a photo of Monge and his Opera Australia dancers graces the cover of the March 2021 volume of the journal.
The official publication of the Association for Theatre in Higher Education, Theatre Topics is a peer-reviewed academic journal that focuses in performance at the border of theory and practice.
Along with other provocative refereed articles, “From Mu-Cha-Cha to Ay-Ay-Ay!” can be found on Project Muse at https://muse.jhu.edu/article/786253.