Prototype Festival 2024 Review: Malinxe

Autumn Chacon, Laura Ortman, & Marisa Demarco Make History Vitally Present Through Sound

By Jennifer Pyron
Photo: Maria Baranova

Prototype Festival’s Out of Bounds presented the world premiere of “Malinxe” on January 20th, 2024, in the Winter Garden at Brookfield Place. Out of Bounds is a platform for new vocal performance pieces that take place in unlikely locations across New York City. Through these new works, Out of Bounds makes public places into temporary spaces of contact, exchange, and refreshed social dynamics. “Malinxe,” co-created by Indigenous composers Autumn Chacon and Laura Ortman, is a contemporary retelling of the myth of La Llorona, or “the weeping woman.” Starring Marisa Demarco as Malinxe and Jeffrey Gibson as La Llorona, this powerful experimental interpretation resonated far beyond expectations.

The Perfect Sound Stage

Originally set to premiere at The Playscape at Battery Park, the performance was relocated due to freezing temperatures – and this was definitely in everyone’s favor. The Winter Garden at Brookfield Place is right next to the Hudson River and the North Cove Marina in downtown Manhattan. While walking there from the subway, one can visit the National September 11 Memorial and witness the majesty and monumentality of the city’s skyscrapers, including the One World Trade building. The interior of Brookfield Place is no different.

With an atrium rebuilt in 2002, its design includes 2,000 panels of glass and 60,000 square feet of marble flooring and stairs. There are also 16 40-foot-tall Washingtonia robusta palm trees, capable of growing to heights of over 80 feet, in the atrium. These palms ground the center and set the stage for a welcoming environment. This downtown hub also circulates hundreds of thousands of visitors daily and makes for the perfect place to host concerts throughout the year.

“Malinxe” was center stage for its world premiere in this venue, and with temperatures well below freezing outside the turnout inside was extremely exciting! There were children flocking to the marble stairs and stopping their family members along the glass-lined balconies to get a glimpse at the performance. One might have been reminded of the first time they saw a live performance that made them stop and listen as intently as this. And this was the entire point. “Malinxe” took live performance to the next level: performing “out of bounds.” There was really no better way to share the story of La Llorona than in this way: openly, urgently, and unapologetically now.

Diné and Xicana artist Autumn Chacon uses her activism, art, and community involvement to communicate as a contemporary storyteller, exhibiting her electronic installations, sound, and performance work both domestically and internationally. Laura Ortman (White Mountain Apache) creates across multiple platforms, including recorded albums, live performances, and filmic and artistic soundtracks. Ortman’s composition and libretto for this performance was liberating in every sense. The main vocalist, Marisa Demarco as Malinxe, expressed original vocal improvisations through her performance, making this a collaboration of intentional awareness and deep respect. 

Laura Ortman’s experimental violin playing with Demarco’s vocals generated a sound atmosphere with a very wide range. The moments when Demarco’s voice soared into higher registers felt weightless and the electronic processing of her vocals, as shown in this video of her live work for High Zero Festival 2020 (High Mayhem Edition), ushered in a rich spectrum of unusual colors and sensual noise. The audience could not take their eyes and ears away from what was happening, while Malinxe poured out her beating heart like a pulsing river coming to life, flowing on top of the marble stairs. This was a radically hypnotic and wonderfully unexpected interpretation.

The Body of La Llorona

The river was depicted by a large white cloth that extended all the way through Brookfield Place’s atrium. Visuals created by Mateo Galindo and Razelle Benally were shown on top of this abstract layout. Jeffrey Gibson as La Llorona was dressed in white cloth that mirrored the image of the river, making Gibson appear immersed and disturbingly present in his role. The river held a lot of meaning in the story of La Llorona, and it was interpreted as a force by Gibson with imaginative veins. This river succeeded in its confrontation with Malinxe to face her with the reality of her own demise as a way to liberation. “Malinxe” evoked emotional excess to a high degree. This was unhinged drama in the best way possible. 

One might have noticed when Gibson, as the river, rushed to cover the mouth of Malinxe and drag her under the weight of him, how people stopped whatever they were doing and talking about to see what was going to happen next. This moment exemplified the power of live performances bringing together audience members to experience something new. The curiosity that pulsed through Brookfield Place was palpable.

Audio engineer Bob Bellerue made “Malinxe” into a dreamer’s playground. The radical layers of vocals mixed with violin and the reverberated noise of Brookfield Place’s acoustic atmosphere created a levitating, hypnosis-inducing free-for-all that was out of this world. The laptop processing was created by Marisa Demarco. For me, personally, as someone who attends a lot of experimental performances, this might be one of my all-time favorites. It was also very emotional to see Chacon, Ortman, and Demarco bringing “Malinxe” to life with the unconditional support of Beth Morrison Projects and HERE, who have such faith in the vision of these brilliant, emerging creators. This was history being made for many. Brava!


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