Review: Broken Tailbone (Nightswimming Theatre/Factory Theatre)

Broken Tailbone challenges us to change for nobody’s benefit but our own.”

In Broken Tailbone (Nightswimming Theatre/Factory Theatre), playwright and star Carmen Aguirre treats us to a history of how music and dance have changed her life, culture, and community. She regales us with stories of steamy nights in Latinx clubs, her Chilean upbringing under revolutionary parents, and episodes from Latin America’s rocky history with dictatorships. She ties them together with the common thread of shaking booties to a beat. To set the mood, Factory’s Studio Theatre transforms into a dance hall with smoke, flashing lights, and a bar for good measure.

The show itself is structured as a dance lesson. Aguirre leads those willing through fifteen songs, placing each in historical context and pairing it to an appropriate dance: salsa, cumbia, twerking, merengue, and more. She explains what each of the song/dance combos mean to her personally, translating lyrics for us, giving us glimpses into the cultures of their countries of origin. For example, how she can tell what country someone is from based on how they move on the dance floor.

She also gets into the history of dance halls as meeting places, ones that played an integral part in framing the ideals of and stoking support for revolution in Latin America. Aguirre is well familiar with progressive politics as her parents were resistance fighters in 1970s Chile. She shared the story of her upbringing in the 2011 bestseller, Something Fierce, which won Canada Reads the following year. She mentions some figures in the book throughout the evening.

Aguirre’s energy and comic chops were too on point to notice, but the show is improvised. It’s a testament to her skill that every instant of her performance has that special glow of deeply personal work. She speaks about her loved ones, country, and Latinx culture like they mean something to her and it’s contagious. 

As an educator, she taught us steps with patience and humour that minimized nervousness and more than earned my trust. There’s no fourth wall in Broken Tailbone and she treats the intimacy this entails as a privilege. Such is why there’s no pressure to dance if you don’t want to, but I certainly recommend it. Since most of Aguirre’s stories are set on dance floors, dancing along to her words made me feel like I was reliving her experiences with her. It also made it easier to suspend my disbelief under the heightened awareness of the runner’s high that comes from a body constantly in motion.

In a big-picture sense, Broken Tailbone is about self-affirmation and being yourself without shame. Especially as a woman and de-facto second-class citizen in some sense pretty much anywhere. Aguirre explores these themes by talking openly about sex and sexuality. She recounts one night stands and teaches us dances with racy examples, fostering an atmosphere where we are all equally human and human urges are to be reveled in. 

Aguirre is unapologetic about having nothing to hide. So too can a citizen under authoritarian rule either stand up for who they are or repress it out of fear. The same went for me as Aguirre taught us different dances. There was only room for inhibition or its complete absence. By deciding to become part of the show, I had no choice but to be myself and actively participate in weaving the story.

Pedro Chamale, aka DJ Don Pedro, plays Aguirre’s MC and sidekick. He is a tempering force to her stories of sex and political upheaval. The laughs he gets, rooted in humility and self-deprecation, emphasize quality over quantity in his approach to improv. He is a man of few words who uses them to offer us relief when the tone turns dark.

My guest, Jotty, said Aguirre’s storytelling simply took command of the room. She felt Aguirre delivered every line like she had a personal stake in it. Which is why she also thought her a great teacher. When she chastises dancers (playfully) for not moving, she says it because she cares, because we are now part of her story too.

In Broken Tailbone, Aguirre challenges us to change for nobody’s benefit but our own. By getting us to shake our tailbones in a room full of strangers, she asks us to let go of how we are seen, consider our own cultural roots, and greet the parts of ourselves we’ve been too scared to meet. Rousing does not even begin to cover how good this show is.

Details

  • Broken Tailbone runs Tuesday-Sunday at Factory’s Studio Theatre from October 2-13. Performances begin at 8:00pm except on Sundays, which begin at 2:00 pm.
  • Disclaimer: Audiences will be standing for the duration of the show. If you require accessible seating, contact the box office at (416) 504-9971 or by emailing boxoffice@factorytheatre.ca.
  • Tickets are available online.

Photo of Carmen Aguirre and Pedro Chamale by Erin Brubacher.

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