On April 1, 2022, Washington Performing Arts, one of our capital‘s premier arts presenters, and GALA Hispanic Theater, which since 1976 has been a vital supporter of Latino arts and culture in our region, will join forces to present the first world of “English with an Accent”, created by Migguel Anggelo and Jaime Lozano. The piece follows an “anthropomorphized immigrant caterpillar” and is done through a “dance-theatre” medium. With the support of the commissioning of Montgomery College Cultural Arts Center, there will be a one-night performance at 8 p.m. at the GALA Hispanic Theater in Washington, DC
The performance itself is told as a “narrative song cycle”, featuring Anggelo and 10 dancers. The caterpillar, like its creator, arrives in New York from Venezuela in search of the “American dream”.
Anggelo says, “I’m very excited to bring ‘English with an Accent’ to our nation’s capital and I’m very proud to be partnering with Washington Performing Arts and GALA Hispanic Theatre. After 16 long years, I am now (finally!) a naturalized US citizen, so this job is especially meaningful to me. It represents my quest for security, happiness, self-esteem, and finding that in the United States, I can now call this country my “home.” Home and safety are important to everyone, no matter where they come from, and I hope people who don’t normally see their stories on stage will find theirs in our work.
“English with an Accent” features music and lyrics by Anggelo and his co-creator, Jaime Lozano. It is directed, choreographed and developed by Avihai Haham, known internationally for his work including “West Side Story”, “Evita”, “Hair”, “Encores! Working the Musical”, and others.
I had the chance to talk to Migguel Anggelo about “English with an accent” and about his own life and experiences.
Migguel Anggelo (creator, lead performer) is a Venezuelan-born, Brooklyn-based multidisciplinary artist. Her work explores the intersections of queer, Latino and immigrant identities. He has released two musical albums: “La casa azul” and “¿Dónde estará Matisse? He has received numerous grants, theater residencies, and performances at organizations as diverse as MASS MoCA, the Kimmel Center, Lincoln Center, Miami Light Project, National Queer Theater, LPAC, Joe’s Pub Working Group, NY Presenters Consortium, among others. He served as cultural attaché, under the auspices of the US State Department, on two separate 10-city tours in Russia. Along with “English with an Accent,” Migguel Anggelo developed and performed “LatinXoxo,” his critically acclaimed semi-autobiographical hybrid performance that explores queer identity through musical and theatrical extravagance, deconstructing gendered Latino stereotypes. Other works include “So Close: Love and Hate”, “Another Son of Venezuela”, and “Welcome to La Misa, Baby”.
Does theater in the United States differ from theater in Venezuela, and if so, how?
Theater in the United States is the same as in Venezuela (or any other country in the world)… Theater is theater! The big difference, however, is that outside of the United States, many governments sponsor and support the arts, especially if the artists support that particular government’s political stance, as it showcases the country’s image under a positive day. In the United States, the arts are supported by private institutions, non-profit organizations or patrons who sponsor their productions. So it allows artists to create with that financial support behind them, without having to reduce their authenticity and truth.
Can you explain dance theater in simple terms to our readers?
Dance theater is a way to express ideas through the body, so you can tell a story through movement and body language. For example, many ballets like “Swan Lake” and “The Nutcracker” are a form of dance-theatre. In the 20th century, modern and contemporary dance merged with storytelling to create what many associate with “dance-theatre”. In our case, with “English with an Accent”, we have created a dance-theatre hybrid piece where I sing live and connect to the story through movement.
Why did you choose a caterpillar to represent you in “English with an Accent”?
I find the world of the caterpillar really fascinating. It is a small creature that comes from an egg; so small, who begins to eat, he gnaws without stopping until he knows it’s time to change. The caterpillar evolves through metamorphosis and becomes a beautiful butterfly with wings. Inside the caterpillar exists the instinct to fly and survive in the world. It’s a really wonderful metaphor to explore.
So that inspired me to create through this poetic metaphor, using that transformation and connecting it to the journey of an immigrant. When an immigrant decides to go to another country by choice or by force, he knows that it will not be an easy journey. So many challenges to overcome that they realize they have to work hard to save money, just to pay for the expedited process of their legal documents. It’s a long wait, it’s a considerable amount of money to finally get the piece of paper you long for. Getting your legal status, in my case, was a lot like the butterfly acquiring its wings. It brings you closer to the possibility of making the road less difficult. That’s what “English with an Accent” is all about – the arduous journey with many possibilities.
You were are gay man performing in Russia. In light of how the Russian government treats its LGBTQIA+ community, how have you been treated there and have you seen or heard of any mistreatment from this group?
I was there under different circumstances. I went to Russia as a cultural attaché or cultural ambassador to the United States Department of State, so I know I was treated differently. I heard that this is not the case in many cities or places in Russia. But I could point out that this is also the case here in the United States. For example, the just-passed discriminatory LGBTQIA family bills in Florida and Texas are clearly a threat to LBTQUIA families and artists. So clearly we still have a long way to go, even here in the United States. I can’t believe this is still happening in 2022. But coming back to Russia, my personal experience has been unique and the Russian people have been wonderful to me. I did not feel discriminated against. They accepted me and treated me with great warmth and love. Personally, my statement as an individual and as an artist is to be authentic to who I am, and my work reflects that. I’m going to be myself whether it’s in Russia, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Florida or Texas.
Do you have hope that one day you will be able to return to Venezuela to play?
Of course, that would be one of my dreams come true! To come back and perform for Venezuelan audiences, and my family and friends, so they can see how I’ve grown as an artist (like the caterpillar in “English with an Accent”), but also show that deep inside me, I’m still the same Migguel, I’m still Venezuelan, I miss my beautiful Venezuela and I suffer.
“English with an Accent” will be performed one night only on April 1, 2022 at 8 p.m. at the GALA Hispanic Theater located at 333 14and Street NW, Washington, DC 20010. It is just one block from the Columbia Heights subway station. Parking is also available at the Giant parking lot on Park Road NW at a discounted rate of $40 (with parking ticket validation in the theater lobby). Tickets are available at the Washington Performing Arts Box Office or the GALA Theater.
The Covid restriction is that masks must be worn and guests over the age of 5 must show proof of vaccination.