Coming home: ASU dance alum to perform new Lerman work at Gammage

ASU grad Ruby Morales performing in "Wicked Bodies" by Liz Lerman

ASU grad Ruby Morales performing in "Wicked Bodies" by Liz Lerman. Photo courtesy Brennan Sparks Photography


Just about a year after Ruby Morales graduated from Arizona State University with a BFA in dance, she was invited by Herberger Institute Professor and legendary choreographer Liz Lerman to participate in a new work about witchcraft and women’s bodies.

Nearly four years later, “Wicked Bodies” has come to fruition, premiering at Green Music Center in Sonoma County, California, in the spring and then presented at Jacob’s Pillow performing arts theater in Becket, Massachusetts this summer. On Sept. 24, “Wicked Bodies” will finally be coming to ASU Gammage.

READ MORE: Interactive dance performance asks audiences: 'Good or bad: Which witch is which?'

Since graduation, Morales has been working with Los Angeles-based activist dance theater company CONTRA-TIEMPO. She says her dream is to create more opportunities for dancers here in Arizona. 

“I feel passionate about Arizona, and the desert and all the things that happen here,” Morales said. “I just want to keep cultivating that and to continue to create opportunities for dancers so they don’t feel they have to leave the state to find those opportunities.”

Morales shared about her personal connection to “Wicked Bodies,” how the experience has changed her, what’s unique about presenting the work at ASU, the timeliness of the piece and what audiences should know about the show.

Editor's note: The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Question: What personal connections do you have to this piece?

Answer: My family is from Mexico City, Mexico. At the time, I was really curious about what spiritual practices my family did prior to being Catholic. I was asking my great-grandma a lot of questions. At first she was like, “We’ve always been Catholic!” I said, “I don’t think that’s possible. Is there anything else you remember?” Then she started talking to me about curanderos who cure people. There is some witchcraft or brujeria inside that healing practice. I actually recorded her telling me the story, which is the story you hear in the show.

When Liz asked me about my connection to this topic I said, “I actually just had this conversation with my great-grandma and recorded her, do you want to hear it?” She just loved it and asked if it was OK to use some of this story. I feel like one of the most important things inside of the process is consent. Liz was very clear from the beginning that if at any time I wanted to take something back or I felt I was offering too much, I had all the right and agency to do that. That created a space where I felt I had agency inside of the process.

Q: How has this experience changed you?

A: I definitely think it was witnessing the capacity of the show. When I first started, graduation was very fresh and I didn’t know what it was like to be in high production shows. It showed me what was possible; it showed me what it’s like to have a team that believes in you and supports your ideas. I was witnessing how everyone believed in Liz and believed in the work that she was doing and her legacy. It was very impactful to see what it looks like when an artist is truly supported and being held. I had only ever seen examples of that in spaces outside of art. Scarcity always seems like a thing inside of art, and it was the first time I really saw what was possible. As I’m thinking now about what that looks like in my own art, it was really important for me to see that and witness that.  

Q: What is unique about presenting the show at Gammage?

A: First, it’s home. All of my immediate family lives here in Arizona. It's rare to get the opportunity for them to witness what I do for a living. I’m really excited to have them witness the show. My grandma’s brother takes care of my great-grandmother. It’s going to be very special to have him there and have him hear her voice and her story inside of this larger production and woven piece. That feels very personal and exciting for me.

In general, this feels like home for a lot of the artists. I think it will be really fun and special to have our people get to witness the work that we’ve been doing.

Q: How do you feel about the timeliness of this piece?

A: The work was already a fruitful space for these conversations to happen because the process started years ago. When everything started coming up in the world, it was a nutritious space for these conversations to happen. We were already on our way and talking about some of these things. Because it feels so alive and relevant right now, these moments feel very real inside of the work. Because we are talking about lived experiences, some of us are already living these things that have now become super big news. Now that this is happening specifically in the U.S., it really gives another entry point, another place for empathy, another place for relatability. But it was already there and we were already having those conversations. Those topics were alive in our bodies. 

Q: What should audiences know before they come?

A: I don’t want to give too much away, but I do want to say that the great thing about the show is that there are multiple entry points and multiple ways people can see themselves in the work. There are moments for anybody to see themselves in the work. There are also places for us to feel empathy for where we are at in the world and the things that are happening. I hope everybody leaves asking what has been their responsibility and what is their responsibility now. It’s not up to one person to tell their story. We all have played a role to get where we are now and we all still have a responsibility afterward. 

“Wicked Bodies” will be presented at ASU Gammage at 7 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 24. Tickets can be purchased online at the Gammage Box Office.

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