On a patch of ground on South Throop Street Thursday night, horns blared, fireworks crackled and the rhetoric of sustained artistic survival soared.
There was one big collective message hanging in the cool air: Chicago’s long and proud tradition of Latino performing arts is still here, still vital and still determined to engage with its prideful community.
Some 500 people, along with quite a few more along the perimeter fence, showed up in support. Boding well for the future, the event sold out its 140 parking spots days in advance.
In a nod to the necessities of the pandemic, the Chicago Latino Theatre Alliance had commandeered the parking lot in Pilsen now known as Chi-Town Movies, formerly a piece of industrial earth next to the Chitown Futbol complex. Here, an outdoor venue has been erected simply by stacking three huge shipping containers and then pinning a white screen to the front side.
For its annual Destinos performance festival, re-dubbed for 2020 as Destinos al Aire and confined to a single night, the Alliance used a stage at the foot of the screen for a collection of live, open-air performances, offering its members the chance either to show up in person and perform, or to do so on video.
And in a nod to the surroundings, the four-hour experience ended with a warm-centered movie, Gabylu Lara’s “American Curious,” a 2018 feature about a guy from Chicago who rediscovers his roots, and finds some love with a chef, in Mexico City. It was, of course, filmed when such voyages were possible.
Destinos al Aire, then, was part horn-honking pep rally, and part a chance to offer some work to struggling Latino performing artists, all of whom were paid for their appearances.
“Our artists need money,” said the Alliance’s founder, Myrna Salazar, in an interview. “And it is just so important that we continue coming together.”
Thus, perhaps most importantly, Destinos al Aire was a chance for temporarily shuttered arts organizations from Teatro Vista to the Aguijón Theater, and from the Repertorio Latino Theater Company to the UrbanTheater Company to remind a broader public of their missions. Some of these companies made videos highlighting work that, in some cases, stretched back decades, offering up a feast of memories for those who had seen many of the shows.
The populist night was unpretentiously multi-disciplinary.
WGN Morning News reporter Ana Belaval offered up some live stand-up comedy about the perils of pandemic parenting; a clipping, she said, from her upcoming one-woman show. Chicago’s Cielito Lindo Family Folk Music performed in person, as did the traditional dance company Chinelos en Chicago. And, in the most stirring live performance of the night, Aguijón’s Ana Santos-Sánchez joined with the musician Adrian Ruiz to present an intense section of a work in progress called “La Gran Tirana: Descarga Dramátic”, intended both as a love letter to the soul and sensations of the Latin-influenced Caribbean and a probing of themes relating to artists working in some kind of exile. Which, right now, could apply to every artist in Chicago.
Between all that, burgers and tacos could arrive at your car, local politicians delivered speeches of resilience and determination and supporters looked forward to the destination named 2021, when, it is fervently hoped, neither car nor screen will be needed.
Chris Jones is a Tribune critic.
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