Theaterlab presents the world premiere of “MAGDALENA,” an intimate multimedia solo work by the award-winning filmmaker and a Guggenheim Fellow Gabri Christa. The piece marks a stage comeback for Christa, whose work has been hailed as “stunning… multimedia dream” by The New York Times. Utilizing storytelling, visuals, and dance, the artist reveals a deeply personal account of experiencing her Dutch mother’s dementia, and an effort to piece together her past, marked by struggles with war, interracial marriage, and unconventional motherhood.
The titular character – Josephina Magdalena Aleida de Jong – lived a remarkable life. Born in Holland to a modest Dutch family, she survived the severe bombing of her hometown of Rotterdam during World War II and lived to meet a handsome middle-class Black man from the Dutch Caribbean island of Curaçao who had become her husband. When Magdalena’s memories started to fade, her daughter, Gabri Christa, took on the task of rebuilding her mother’s life through stories, dance, and images. The resulting 60-minute multimedia piece is part family album, part story of love and race, but above all, a reckoning with the harrowing consequences of a devastating illness that affects an increasing percentage of the world’s population.
“When my mother began to lose her memory, I asked her to write me letters reminiscing about her life,” says Christa. “As I was collecting these stories, learned more about the disease, and also details of her biography. When people talk of dementia – which they rarely do – they usually mean Alzheimer’s, which is one of its forms; meanwhile, the spectrum covers over 60 different conditions that manifest themselves in complex and devastating ways. In ‘MAGDALENA,’ I was trying to do two different things: to preserve the person I know and love, and retell the story of her life – and find a platform to talk to caregivers and health professionals about the disease that leaves not only the directly affected but their families without much help or hope. As an artist, I am a strong believer in storytelling as a means of deeper understanding. I sincerely hope that my telling this story will make the complexity and loneliness of dementia better understood, both by the people who deal with it and those who don’t.” – she adds.
Gabri Christa (Concept, Writer, Performer) came to filmmaking after a successful career as a choreographer and dancer. She choreographed and danced with companies such as Danza Contemporanea de Cuba (Cuba) and the Bill T. Jones Dance Company (USA) and was one of the founders of DanzAbierta de Cuba. Gabri was invited to Pangea Day Festival as one World’s 100 most promising filmmakers. Her film One Day At a Time won Best Short Documentary at the Harlem International Film Festival. Awards include a Guggenheim Fellowship for Choreography and an ABC television award for creative excellence, a fellowship from the Atlantic Foundation for Equity in Brain Health and funding from the Netherland America Foundation for the film section of “MAGDALENA.” She is an Assistant Professor of Professional Practice at Barnard College, Columbia University, Department of Dance, where she directs the Movement Lab and teaches dance and film through the Department of Dance.
The script, told in eight chapters covering eight decades of Magdalena’s life, comes to life thanks to the extensive collaboration with the director Erwin Maas (known for the recent critically-acclaimed Poison at the Theater Row), whose understanding of the Dutch culture and language helped shape the final version of the show. The design and dramaturgy by Guy de Lancey (who directed Finding Fellini, a play that won best production design at the United Solo Festival in NYC) utilizes simple, portable elements that work both as a prop and a metaphor.
“MAGDALENA” will be presented at Theaterlab (357 West 36th Street, 3rd floor), opening on Wednesday, September 12 and running Wednesdays thru Saturdays until September 22. Tickets are $20 and can be purchased via Ovationtix or by calling 866-811-4111.
Conceived, written, and performed by Gabri Christa
Directed by Erwin Maas
Design and dramaturgy by Guy de Lancey
Wed-Sat, Sept 12-15 and 19-22
All shows at 8:00pm