Among the questions Forte asked them was this one: “If you were an animal, what would you be?” Over and over, the women replied “a bird.”
“Because birds also immigrate,” Forte said. Making a beautiful, precarious, necessary journey.
And so Forte’s newest piece is called Bird Woman. The multimedia work uses dance, film, original music, sound installation, and, above all, the stories, voices, and faces of Miami immigrant women to evoke an experience central to this city and – with record numbers of people fleeing war, climate crises, repression and violence – central to humanity.
“I made this piece to represent my community,” Forte says. “For me it’s important to share our stories with people: how we think, how we talk, the way we are.”
A longtime supporter of Forte’s work, Miami Light Project premieres Bird Woman Feb. 24 and 25 at MLP’s new home in the Miami Theater Center in Miami Shores.
Forte’s own trans-border life is central to Bird Woman. Born and raised in Caracas, Venezuela, Forte met Alexey Taran, her life and artistic partner, there in the early 90’s, soon after he left his native Cuba. The pair created a vibrant dance and creative practice in Caracas, until the country’s growing turmoil sent them to New York, then Miami, in the mid-2000’s. The couple has also worked and lived in Europe and Latin America. Their most consistent base has been their house in Little Haiti, where Forte’s parents live with them, and the vivid, dreamlike, and improvisatory artistic worlds they create together and separately.
“When you’re an immigrant you can always go somewhere else,” Forte says. “Because you feel like you don’t belong anywhere.”
Forte began interviewing women in 2019, initially working out of Miami Dade College’s Koubek Center in Little Havana, and received a Knight Arts Challenge grant for the project. She and Taran have been Artists in Residence with Miami Light Project for over a decade, and MLP has supported their wide-ranging creative projects, which include film, international improvisation festivals, and live and multi-media performance; and frequently presented their work.
Several of Forte’s visually lush, surreal, gorgeous-grotesque dance films have played at ScreenDance Miami, including 2021’s Femme, which shows Forte in elaborate bird masks and draws on some of the Bird Womanmaterial. But the full-length piece is Forte’s most ambitious performance work, with the audience joining her onstage for the immersive production. (Taran collaborated on the video installation and choreography, and is the lighting designer and technical director.)
“I feel like this piece is a culmination of all [Forte] does best,” says MLP artistic and executive director Beth Boone. “Making films, making dance, actively engaged in what’s important to her from a social justice perspective. The stories are devastating and poignant and urgent, and often invisible, like so much of women’s lives.”
Interviewing the women was an intense and emotional experience for Forte. She spoke to one woman from Cuba who made the dangerous journey through Central America and Mexico – now the most common route for people fleeing the island for the U.S. – with her husband, their two young children, sister, brother-in-law and their two kids.
“A lot of these women have had moments where they felt bullied, mistreated, threatened,” says Forte. “One woman from Mexico said “when you endure all this you get stronger.” You have to say ‘I cannot erase my story, my life’.”
Forte talked to a number of women from Miami’s dance and creative communities, sometimes interviewing several generations – to the Cuban mother and grandmother of dance artist Niurca Marquez, for instance, and of Sandra Portal-Andreu, whose maternal family is Colombian. Forte spoke with Cuban film/visual artist Dinorah de Jesus Rodriguez, whose aged mother is frail, but whose mind is sharp. “You can feel how tired her body is, but her mind is brilliant – she remembers everything,” Forte says. “You feel the emotion between mother and daughter, remembering their stories together.”
All grew up surrounded by other immigrant families, amidst layers of emotions, memories and histories of leaving their country and making a new home.
“It’s a generational nostalgia,” Forte says. “Their emotions follow the same path. If I miss Venezuela, my child will probably miss Venezuela. And depending on your family, there could be a generational rejection” of countries like Cuba or Venezuela, where political repression has driven so many away.
Forte includes a revealing conversation with her own mother. “My mom appears onscreen asking why I left my country, if I’ve found something here that makes me feel complete. She asks me about my life now, if I’m ready to go someplace else. At the end she asks me where I belong. I answer “to your belly”.”
Their stories and faces are mixed into film and audio collages, a kaleidoscopic portrait of humanity. In one section, Forte will improvise to the women’s voices, attempting to physically express their pain, hope, and yearning. “I will try to immerse myself in each woman’s character,” she says. “Translating them through my body.”
The process has been profoundly affecting for Forte. “I cry all the time,” she says. “It’s a mix of emotions all the time. We open our hearts, our souls, to tell the audience about ourselves. But it also makes me feel like I’m not the only one. We are all together in this.”
We are accessible and assistive listening devices are available. To request materials in accessible format and accommodation to attend an event, please contact Eventz Paul at 305.576.4350 or email us, at least five days in advance to initiate your request.
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.
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.