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Festival Encourages Diverse Art Forms for Audiences

She calls her show a “mix tape,” but the term could also describe artist Paige Hernandez herself. 

Like the cassette tapes popular in the ’80s, Hernandez is a jumble of influences and sounds that, when organized together, form an evocative and meaningful whole. 

Black, Cuban and Chinese, Hernandez is a poet, writer and choreographer. Her show, “Paige in Full,” incorporates poetry, monologue and dance to tell the story of her life, beginning with an exploration of her childhood when she was bullied as a mixed-race girl in an urban public school. In the hourlong performance, she explores troubled relationships, love, family and loss, creating more than 25 characters, reading 18 poems and 12 monologues and dancing six full pieces. 

“By the end of the show I find my identity, or the identity I want to be in as an adult,” Hernandez said. “It’s a young girl at a crossroads in her life, trying to figure out all the intersections.”

Such themes fit perfectly into the Atlas Performing Arts Center’s second annual Intersections festival, which will continue through this weekend and next. The festival aims to bring together not only a diverse array of art forms but also a diverse array of artists differing in race, culture, age and skill level. 

“We want to celebrate what it is we have in common and to provide a kaleidoscope of perspectives about who we are as individuals, as a community and as a nation,” said Mary Hall Surface, the festival’s artistic director. 

Intersections endeavors to “animate democracy,” by bringing everyone to the table onstage and off, according to Surface. “It’s a place where roads meet and paths cross,” she said. “Where we come together at that crossing there is a spark of energy and it’s an energy that transforms.” 

Thanks to the festival’s inclusive spirit, professional and student artists share the same intimate stages. For instance on Sunday, a group mixed Federico Garcia Lorca’s poetry with flamenco on a stage only just vacated by a D.C.-based playwright’s world premiere. Next weekend, the Washington Ballet’s international stars will perform in the same space. 

The festival encourages audiences to attend shows they may not otherwise attend, by grouping its events by themes like “New Artistic Directions” or “Voices From a New America,” rather than sorting them into genres like theatre and music. “We’re trying to encourage people to go down roads they haven’t gone down before,” Surface said. “They say, ‘I’ve never seen something like this or that.’” 

Hernandez hopes the festival’s emphasis on leaving the comfort zone will encourage new audiences to attend her shows. Although her work is inspired by and written for the young and multi-
ethnic, its themes have universal appeal. 

“It’s about that place where you’re just trying to figure out where you fit,” she said. “Just realizing that sometimes you don’t have to go fit into a box or fit into a clique. It sucks to be bullied, but all that stuff helps you … figure out who the real you is.” 

The festival will feature a diverse assortment of theater, dance, sculpture and film. One piece draws inspiration from the unlikely combination of choreographer Isadora Duncan and composer Frederic Chopin, while another draws together sources from across America in a spoken-word piece exploring family relationships. 

In the performance “Getting Airborne,” modern dancers and trapeze artists collaborate to explore the notion of flight. The show, which will benefit D.C. youth, also hopes that through circus skills, the artists can empower young people and build community. 

Many of the festival’s events are similarly geared for children. A dance operetta for families, “Mirandy and Brother Wind,” runs each day of the festival. Saturdays are designated as “family days” and feature events tailored to a younger crowd.

In a variety of ways, the festival’s many events reflect on life’s journey and its many intersections. 

“When you’re entering an intersection you have to make a choice,” Surface said. “Am I going to go forward, or am I going to take a bold new turn. … We really want people to embrace the arts as a place where they can gather and learn and reach new understandings about each other.” 

“Intersections: A New America” arts festival continues on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays March 4-13. Hernandez will perform “Paige in Full” March 4, 5, 6, 11 and 12. 

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