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Building a Miami Beach Fantasy – Liony Garcia’s Corporeal Decorum

March 31, 2022

By Jordan Levin

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In the years that choreographer Liony Garcia has worked on Corporeal Decorum, this layered, shape-shifting dance and visual evocation of South Beach’s Art Deco landscape has morphed multiple times.

Body Study Celia D Luna
Body Study Celia D Luna

In its latest form, which Miami Light Project presents April 7 to 9, Corporeal Decorum is suffused with an almost mystical sense of the ocean that defined Garcia’s beginnings and his journey to Miami – as if the sea’s motion, color, and light has overflowed into his memory and his deep exploration of this fantastical architectural style. Corporeal Decorum will be performed at Miami Theater Center in Miami Shores, and is being presented as part of FUNDarte’s annual Out in the Tropics festival of LGBTQ performance; before continuing to the Ringling Museum later in April.

Garcia, 36, has been fascinated by the ocean since his early childhood in Cuba’s Isabela de Sagua, a tiny coastal village where his family lived in one of the stilt houses perched over the water, which earned Isabela the nickname “Venice of Cuba.” On his family’s precarious voyage to Miami in 1991, 11 of them packed into his father’s small fishing boat, tiny Garcia perched on the prow between his mother and grandmother. They stopped in the Bahamas after his frightened aunt refused to continue – luckily, because two days later, a storm destroyed their boat. Months later, on the night of July 4th, 1992, as they rode a cigarette boat to Miami, he remembers two dolphins leaping alongside on the mirror-bright, moonlit sea.

“I’m making a piece about water,” he says. “It’s always been around me – always.”

Soon after they arrived in Miami, a cousin brought Garcia to the Art Deco district, where he was enchanted by the sense of freedom and fantasy, the swirling design, the nearby beach, the water-saturated light reflected in the bright colored buildings. “A lot of the piece has to do with this exuberance of light and the ocean,” he says. “It plays with the man-built and the naturalistic, the ephemeral. Miami is a city, where it feels like the natural and built environment are always talking to each other.”

Liony Garcia with Corporeal Decorum collaborators
Liony Garcia with Corporeal Decorum collaborators
Liony Garcia's Corporeal Decorum for Here & Now: 2019
Liony Garcia’s Corporeal Decorum for Here & Now: 2019

His expansive creative exploration was propelled after Miami Light Project commissioned the initial version of Corporeal Decorum for the 2019 Here & Now Festival – the launching pad for so many Miami dance, performance and theater artists. A visit to a beloved South Beach street made unrecognizable by construction had inspired Garcia to research Art Deco, and got him thinking how past and present, memory and imagination were embodied in these unique buildings – imperiled by sea level rise, development and forgetfulness.

MLP executive director Beth Boone was captivated. “He was talking about all the research he was doing, how influenced he has been by modernism, the way light reflects on the buildings,” Beth says. “I didn’t know how he would embody architecture in movement. I cannot tell you how satisfying it was to see how he figured out that magic. When we started to see the [piece] take shape we were like it’s buildings in motion, in poetry. It was really extraordinary.”

Ever Chavez, the president of frequent MLP partner FUNDarte, is happy to feature Garcia, who is gay, in Out in the Tropics with LGBTQ artists from Mexico, Spain, New York and San Francisco. “I always want to support local artists, but it can be difficult because they perform in Miami all the time,” Chavez says. “When I found Liony was doing a new piece, I thought I can support his career by having him with these well-known international artists.”

That initial 2019 version of CD was a solo for Liony, experimenting with movement that reflected Tropical Deco’s graceful forms. That led South Beach design museum Wolfsonian-FIU to present CD as a trio in their ornate lobby; while Liony did research in their extensive archives, digging into the history of modernism, Art Deco, South Beach’s unique Tropical Deco and its multiple influences – such as Aztec architecture and tropical plants; how the colors of the sky and ocean inspired the pastel palette of the area’s 1980’s revival. A Wolfsonian historian found a program for performances by modern dance pioneers Isadora Duncan and Loie Fuller at the 1925 Art Deco Congress in Paris. MLP commissioned Garcia again for 2020’s Here & Now, presented online in the midst of the pandemic; then procured two National Performance Network grants for the piece; and built on a longtime relationship with Elizabeth Doud, a former Miami-based artist who’s now Currie-Kholman Curator of Performance at Sarasota’s Ringling Museum, to bring the museum on as a co-commissioner, and sponsor two residencies. It was at the Ringling – which presents Corporeal Decorum April 14-16 – that Liony connected with Virginia artist True Harrigan, whose transparent, light-infused sculptures, with their wavelike blend of naturalistic and futuristic, seemed perfect for his evolving vision. “Looking through them, it’s like opening your eyes underwater,” he says.

That vision continued to evolve in a recent rehearsal at MTC. Garcia, stage director/dramaturg Natalie Rodriguez, and William Ruiz Morales, who’s handling the projection mapping that brings Garcia’s photos of intricate Deco friezes onstage, together plotted light, color, imagery, set pieces and the movement of dancer Thomas House onstage. (The costumes are by designer Fernando Garcia, who in the 80’s and 90’s was one of the young Cuban-American creatives who sparked the South Beach revival.)

Garcia, who’s the central performer, darts between computer and stage, perches on a stool to rotate one of Haragin’s plexiglass sculptures in front of a spotlight, comments on the seemingly endless elements that inspired him. “Art Deco took a lot from exhibition architecture, architecture for entertainment,” he says; an escapist vision “meant to look and feel like a movie set” as the world emerged from WWI and struggled with the Great Depression.

He sees Corporeal Decorum continuing to evolve. As images of the ocean have seeped into the dance, so have thoughts of sea level rise, a submerged Miami as a new Atlantis, permanence and change.

“There are so many great ideas,” he says. “Now the piece has gone into fantasy. I did not expect that. But here we go!”

Miami Light Project presents Corporeal Decorum at 8pm April 7 to 9 at the Miami Theater Center, 9806 NE 2nd Ave., Miami Shores, FL 33138. Tickets are $20 to $50.

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Kristina Villaverde

Special Projects Manager

A native of Miami, Kristina Villaverde became Miami Light Project’s Technical Director in 2014. Kristina is also the director of Miami Light Project’s Technical Fellowship, a program designed to train emerging theater technicians and prepares them for professional work. A long time staple in the South Florida theater community, Kristina has worked as the Head Electrician at Byron Carlyle Theater, The Colony Theater and the Olympia Theater. Additionally, she has built her theater skills as Light Designer and Stage Manager for numerous productions, and worked for local arts organizations as Young Arts and Miami Lyric Opera. Kristina has been a member of I.A.T.S.E. Local 500 and had the opportunity to work as a stagehand for a variety of productions from Broadway, Comedy Central, CBS, Telemundo to Live Nation at a great number of venues in South Florida.
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Terrence Brunn

Marketing & Communications Manager

A native of St. Thomas, US Virgin Island, Terrence Brunn is an arts administrator and designer with a B.A. in Business Management from the University of Miami. Terrence Brunn joined MLP in 2012 as part of the Miami Light Project’s Technical Fellowship Program inaugural class where he explored all aspects of stagecraft. Now Terrence is the communications manager for Miami Light Project and the program coordinator for Miami Theater Center. Terrence currently resides in Miami and enjoys traveling when not working.
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Regina Moore

Director of Planning & Development

Regina Moore joined Miami Light Project in October 2012. Previously, Regina worked as an independent consultant and grant writer for nonprofits in South Florida. Since 2003, Regina has worked with cultural & arts and community services organizations on projects that have generated more than $4 million in grants. She has 18 years of experience in grant proposal development, strategic planning, building collaborations and program evaluation for small/mid-size nonprofits. Regina holds a master degree in business administration from the University of Miami (Coral Gables, FL) and bachelor’s degree in business from Pontificia Universidade Católica (Sao Paulo, Brazil). A native of Brazil, Regina currently resides in Boca Raton with her husband, John, and two children, Thomas and Emilie.
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Eventz Paul

Technical Director & Facilities Manager

Eventz Paul is currently the Technical Director and Productions Manager at Miami Light Project. He has been a part of this organization since 2011. He participated in Miami Light Project’s first class of the Technical Fellowship Program held at The Light Box. He joined this program hoping to improve his existing theater skills. He received training from experts in the industry that mentored and further his theater technical skills. Now, he has successfully used his professional knowledge and has had the opportunity to work with various arts organizations and venues throughout Miami including Miami Theater Center, National Young Arts Foundation, the Colony Theatre and many more. He has become an instructor and conducts audiovisual classes to incoming technical fellows.

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Elizabeth Boone

Artistic & Executive Director

Beth Boone has been the Artistic & Executive Director of Miami Light Project since 1998, developing critically acclaimed artistic programs that have asserted the organization as one of the leading cultural institutions in South Florida. These programs include: the establishment of Here & Now, South Florida’s most respected commission and presenting program for community-based artists; premiere presentations of internationally acclaimed; pioneering historic international cultural exchange with Cuba; and the creation of The Light Box at Goldman Warehouse, a multi-use performance and visual art space in Miami’s Wynwood Arts District. She previously served as Associate Director of Development for Florida Grand Opera, Deputy Director for the Department of Cultural Affairs at Miami Dade Community College, Wolfson Campus, co-founded an Off Broadway theater company (New York Rep), and served for six years as a Program Associate in the Arts & Culture Program of the AT&T Foundation. She received a B.A. in Fine Arts from the College of Charleston in South Carolina, and a MFA in Theater Arts from Brandeis University in Boston, MA.