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The life and work of 17th-century poet, feminist, and nun Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz will be celebrated this weekend at Asheville's BeBe Theater, when the Asheville Contemporary Dance Theatre and the White Dog Project will put on a performance celebrating Day of the Dead traditions through original choreography and dance. The piece, titled The Tenth Muse, honors Sor Juana, the self-taught scholar and poet whose contributions to the Spanish Golden Age of literature.
The production, choreographed by Susan Collard and guest choreographer Jaime Camarena, is "an evening dance show that delves into the life of Sor Juana. It captures her struggles with her own faith and with the Church and government authorities who would try, and eventually succeed, at silencing her poignant, poetic, and insightful voice. The show will containdance, poetry, singing, and graphic animation." The performance is a centerpiece of ACDT's annual Sugar Skulls showcase, which honors the Day of the Dead festival.
Sor Juana's biography is fascinating. Known as "The Tenth Muse," she moved to Mexico City at the age of 12 and begged to be allowed to disguise herself as a boy to enter school; when this was forbidden, she began a course of study on her own. At 17, she astounded a crowd of nobles, theologians, philosophers, and other scholars by answering difficult questions and discoursing on complex topics of natural philosophy and literature, a feat which eventually led to correspondence with Sir Isaac Newton.
Her devotion to her faith and her desire to continue her studies led her to join the order of Hieronymite nuns in 1669, at the age of 18. She amassed a personal library of over 4,000 books and corresponded, despite being cloistered until her death, with patrons that included the Viceroy and Vicereine of New Spain (which included present-day Mexico). Throughout her life, she was an advocate for women's education and women's rights, going head to head with religious leaders over these issues. Eventually, she abandoned writing because of threats and condemnation by Mexico's archbishop. Her most famous work, The Dream, is a long philosophical poem in which a feminine soul contemplates creation.
The show runs Thursday through Sunday at the BeBe Theater (20 Commerce St.). Performances begin at 7:30 pm Thursday through Saturday and at 6 pm on Sunday. Tickets are $17 ($15 for students/seniors). Attendees are encouraged to bring a picture or memento of a deceased loved one to honor during the evening. For more information, go to acdt.org or see the Facebook page.