El Viaje: The Journey
Produced by Monica Rogozinski
On June 25 and 26, 2016 international percussion master and Philadelphia resident Pablo Batista presented the world premiere performances of his extended work in music and dance – El Viaje (The Journey) – at Temple Performing Arts Center. El Viaje (The Journey) tells the story of forced emigration from Africa to the Americas, and how spiritual and cultural resilience ultimately enabled slaves to adapt and re-establish themselves with dignity in diaspora.
The performances feature 16 musicians, 6 dancers, spoken word and multi-media imagery. Created in collaboration with co-writer/arrangers Dennis Guevara and Victor Pablo Garcia–Gaetan, and Cuban émigré choreographer Gilset Mora, El Viaje combines sacred Afro-Caribbean bata drumming, chant and traditional dance with elements from European classical music, jazz and blues, R & B, funk and salsa. It reflects the journey of captive African cultures as they were blended and transformed over five centuries. Musically, the work also reflects Batista’s 30 years of touring, recording and performing on Grammy-winning releases in jazz, rhythm and blues and gospel.
On a personal level, El Viaje portrays the struggles Batista and his family endured coming from Puerto Rico to the steel mill town of Bethlehem PA in the early 1960s: “This is an epic story that could really be applicable to almost everyone. You can apply it to the exodus of the Jews out of Egypt. You can apply it to the slaves from Africa who were brought to the Americas, or the waves of Irish, Italian, Latino and other immigrant and refugee groups who migrated under difficult circumstances then, and even now. But you can also understand it from a personal perspective — as one who’s on a constant journey and struggle through life.” – Pablo Batista
El Viaje has been in development for three years, but has its origins over 15 years ago. In 2000, Batista was the recipient of the prestigious Pew Fellowship from The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage, which enabled him to deepen his knowledge of Afro-Cuban drumming. Other study trips followed. In 2012 he traveled to Santiago de Cuba, where he studied with members of Ballet Folklórico Cutumba, one of Cuba’s most highly regarded folkloric dance and music companies. In 2013, Batista won a jazz residency at The Kimmel Center, and was commissioned to develop what became “The Journey.” It premiered there as a work-in-progress in June 2014. June 2015, Batista received a new project grant from The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage to expand and present the completed work of El Viaje (The Journey) for Philadelphia audiences.
Friday Arts captured the last weeks of rehearsals, and the intricate and creative collaboration process of all artists involved, leading to the performance at the Temple of Performing Arts.