- Title: Broken Tailbone
- Written and Performed by: Carmen Aguirre
- Genre: Comedy
- Director: Brian Quirt
- Company: Nightswimming
- Venue: Factory Theatre
- City: Toronto
- Year: Runs to Sunday, Oct. 13
Carmen Aguirre’s new show is a moving experience. Literally. Unless you choose to be a wallflower and sit on the sidelines, you’ll be up and dancing for the duration of its 80 sweaty minutes. And you won’t be doing just any kind of dancing, either – Aguirre, the Chilean Canadian actor, playwright and author, turns out to have a fourth arrow in her quiver: salsa instructor.
Broken Tailbone, which kicks off (or better say, twerks off) Factory Theatre’s 50th anniversary season, is a hot ’n’ heavy mash-up of dance class and political/personal memoir. Factory’s studio space has been cleared of its seating and turned into an open dance hall, complete with bar and DJ, and Aguirre is in charge. A martinet in a shimmering blue top, leggings and high heels, she insists on being called la jefa – the boss – and we’d better obey her. “No freestyling!” she barks, if someone dares to deviate from the prescribed salsa moves.
It’s all in good fun. This turns out to be Aguirre’s latest, lightest and certainly most kinetic iteration of her fascinating life story, which in the past has found an outlet in more conventional plays (The Refugee Hotel, Chile Con Carne) and in books (Something Fierce, Mexican Hooker #1). Once again, we begin in 1970s Vancouver, where her family fled to escape Chile’s brutal Pinochet regime and where, it turns out, her parents started the first of the city’s Latinx dance halls.
The halls weren’t just places to dance and mingle, but also served as an outlet for the passionate socialist beliefs of the Chileans and other Latin-American refugees. The music often carried a political message and, as Aguirre teaches us the basics of salsa, she has us dancing to a greatest-hits collection of the Latinx social-justice songs that she grew up with. (For those of us who didn’t, it would be helpful if the show’s program listed them.) By extension, she also leads us through a late-20th-century history of Latin-American revolutionary movements, from the underground one in Chile that she joined as a teenager to Nicaragua’s Sandinistas in the 1980s and Mexico’s Zapatistas in the 1990s.
She has plenty to say about the Americas’ North exploiting the South, but oddly enough, she doesn’t take her narrative up to the present-day crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border. Instead, she changes her tunes midway through the show to focus on salsa’s sexy side. The songs of Luis Enrique Mejia Godoy, the Nicaraguan protest singer, give way to those of his nephew, Luis Enrique Mejia Lopez, the prince of salsa romantica. Aguirre gets us twerking and doing other blatantly erotic moves, while she retells steamy tales of her love life. And let’s just say that includes an explanation for the cracked coccyx referred to in the show’s title.
Aguirre shares the stage with a pork pie-hatted Pedro Chamale, a.k.a. DJ Don Pedro or the “little boss,” who spins the show’s 15 songs while acting as her provocateur and occasional dance partner. The semi-improvised performance is directed by Brian Quirt, whose company, Nightswimming, is the producer. (Broken Tailbone premiered in Vancouver in 2017 and has played a string of festivals across Canada prior to its arrival here.)
As much as I enjoyed the exercise, the production could use more quiet moments. Aguirre has plenty to say, not just about her politics and her own history, but about Vancouver’s changing immigrant population, reflected through its evolving dance-hall scene. I felt I was missing some of that between her rapid-fire delivery and my own attempts not to step on my neighbours’ toes.
Still, if you have no qualms about Aguirre’s rigid ideological stance and want a lively lesson in Latin pop that goes deeper than Despacito, this is the show for you. Just remember to wear your dancing shoes.
Broken Tailbone continues to Oct. 13. (factorytheatre.ca)
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