Gabriel Mata's World Premiere Articulates the Dreamer Experience


Gabriel Mata's award-winning choreography takes him around the country: Washington, D.C., Delaware, New York, Minnesota, California. But it's a country he fears he might be compelled to leave. Mata is one of the Dreamers, undocumented immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as children and who dream of some pathway to citizenship. Mata has expressed the hopes and fears of his experience in his newest piece, "This is where/I Begin...", a world premiere in sjDANCEco's upcoming 17th season.

Gabriel Mata. Photo by Thomas Hassing.
Gabriel Mata. Photo by Thomas Hassing.

His work has been commissioned and performed by sjDANCEco, the Festival of Latin American Contemporary Choreographers, the Luna Dance Institute, Joy of Motion, Dance Place, and the Charlotte Dance Festival. He has performed for companies such as sjDANCEco, Post:Ballet, REACH BC Dance Company, Zenon Dance Company, and Mark Foehringer Dance Projects SF, and for artists such as Diane Frank, Joel Smith, Keith Johnson, Wynn Fricke, and the work of José Limón. He has taught at Santa Ana High School, Zenon Dance School, Dance Institute of Washington, and Dance Exchange. His awards include the Sadie Rose Artist Residency Award, the Mina Garman Award for Excellence in Choreography, the Carol Ann Haws Award for Excellence in Performance, and 2018's "Best Arrival for DC Dance" editors pick for Washington City Paper.

Arriving in the US from Mexico when he was five years old, Mata grew up in Santa Ana, California and graduated from San José State University with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Dance. He was trained in the Limón technique, which he applies in his choreography and uses in teaching. Gabriel Mata/Movements is his solo based performance project. Having done his undergraduate work at SJ State, he has worked with sjDANCEco since 2012.

While his earlier works were usually choreographed for fun, now his choreography involves social consciousness, which he uses to engage audiences in diverse topics about the human experience. "This is where/I Begin..." was preceded by two of Mata's works, Out of the Shadows and DREAMING, that touched on the Dreamer theme. Asked if he sees this theme as continuing and evolving in future works, he answers, "Definitely. There are so many layers to identify in having lived that experience. It'll definitely be in some layer or other in my work throughout the rest of my life. I hope not in the same form, but I'll use it as part of the foundation of my own experience."

Mata has two more performances scheduled of "This is where/I Begin...", one in Brooklyn in September and another in November at the Festival of Latin American choreographers in San Francisco. Always a work in progress, these performances will not necessarily be the same. "I am definitely the kind of choreographer who tweaks things as I go along," he says, "With every performance I learn something more about the work and my approach to the work or how I want to express it."

Currently, "This is where/I Begin..." is twenty minutes long, but his goal is to make it a full-length, hour-long production. With every one of his solos he finds there are ways that he can extract something meaningful that is ten minutes or twenty minutes in length. "I can make it malleable for any performance that has a time limit or requirement. Maybe you're not getting the whole picture, but you're getting a sample in some way."

"This is where/I Begin..." is set to the composition "Jenuwine Flow" by Michael Wall. Mata says he felt an "immediate connection" to it. He felt a sense of exhilaration that was a little bit overwhelming. "I was just rushed with ideas and images," he says, "It was so hard grasping all of them, it was like a floodgate opened. There was so much that came with it, thematically, choreographic elements that I found myself using and creating another, almost hour-long program."

He takes ballet classes with several teachers in San Francisco as a drop in student. Despite the recognition of his work by the dance community in this country, he can't shake the fear of being apprehended and deported. Because he has applied for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), the government has all his information. "They know where I live," he says.

"This is where/I Begin..." will be performed as part of sjDANCEco's performance of "Etched in Time" on October 18 and 19 at the California Theatre in San Jose.

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