A Dancer Immersed in the Everglades

sloughslogSouth Florida summers are hot and wet. In Everglades National Park, thunderstorms and mosquito swarms frequently roll across the sawgrass prairie. But dancer and choreographer Ana Mendez, a Miami native who is spending the month of June in the Everglades as an AIRIE Fellow, contends that the extreme environment is good for her creative process. During long sunrise bike rides, slough slogs deep into the cypress domes, and nights spent snake-spotting along the main park highway, Mendez has shed her urban schedule and taken time to look, listen, and get lost.

“Still,” she says, “it’s not for wimps.”

Mendez is spending the month of her residency preparing a performance that will be featured at the BFI #bigfloridaimmersion, an artist-run gallery in Miami, in early 2014, where she will also lead a Weird Miami bus tour. In the Everglades, Mendez has been inspired to explore stillness. Rather than imposing acrobatics, she is focusing on meditative movements like walking, observing, and waiting.

She contends, “If you do a long walk and then sit for half an hour, the animals don’t see you as separate from the landscape.” Following this methodology, she has shared time and space with crows, rat snakes, a fox, and a surprising number of domestic cats. One evening a close encounter with an osprey became a duet—the bird moved its head side to side as she spoke, and she found him waiting in the same place the next morning. She might have even seen the elusive Florida panther, a fuzzy gray baby with black spots.

The immersive residency experience has got Mendez thinking about the boundaries we impose between nature and culture, and how to move beyond them. This is her starting point for developing the characters for a new piece. After spending three weeks alone in the Everglades, Mendez was recently joined by a collaborator, actress and musician Shira Abergel, who arrived with a harpsichord and dulcimer in tow. The two will spend a week developing Mendez’ new performance piece with a “Lost Boys, Lord of the Flies vibe, but playful.”. They will perform a special preview of at the AIRIE Summer Salon, a fundraiser for the residency program, in Coconut Grove on Sunday, June 30.