Ana Masacote Talks LGBTQ Dance Theater Fantasia 'Alice in Rainbowland'

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Wednesday June 30, 2021

Producer and Creative Director Ana Masacote.
Producer and Creative Director Ana Masacote.  (Source:Carven Creative Media)

Ana Masacote describes herself as "the proud, queer daughter of Mexican immigrants living at the intersection of multiple identities." As a student at MIT, she co-founded Masacote Entertainment, which, her webpage notes, has become "one of the most influential performance groups in the salsa industry, receiving the 2014 SBA's MA Minority-Owned Business of the Year Award."

In 2019, Masacote founded another business: Dance to Power, "an online Afro-Latin dance academy." She also has a longstanding relationship with Cambridge's American Repertory Theater and has organized fundraising dance spectacles at the A.R.T.'s OBERON space.

Now Masacote partners with OBERON once again, directing and performing in the music and dance-filled "Alice in Rainbowland," an Afro-Latin dance theater piece that follows iconic literary character Alice into a magical land that's saturated with the colors of the Pride flag. The inaugural production of the Queer Bodies in Motion dance project aims to "build awareness of LGBTQ discrimination and celebrate queer identity." "Alice in Rainbowland" reimagines the Lewis Carroll classic, challenging the gender binary and featuring the contributions of nine collaborators.

One of those collaborators — drag artist Just JP (he/she/they) — joined Masacote for a chat with EDGE about the show, what it means to push back on the gender binary, and reimagining "Alice" for a new century, and a new medium.


EDGE: Ana, you studied at MIT, is that right? How did you get into dance and theater from there?

Ana Masacote: I had been dancing all of my life. I came to MIT to study electrical engineering and computer science, and in my sophomore year, I had a change of heart and realized that I could make dance a career. I started up an entertainment company and switched to business. I started my business when I was still in college, still in my last couple of years, and then I ended up staying in Boston at that point.

EDGE: Is this your first time working with the A.R.T.?

Ana Masacote: I've actually worked with A.R.T. a few times before. I used to run a nonprofit initiative called Yo Soy LOLA (Latinas Orgullosas de Las Artes). We would create a yearly production that was multimodal art. It included theater, dance, music, poetry, spoken word — a number of different things. Every year, we would produce the show at Oberon — it was a huge scholarship fundraiser. We would raise funds for three scholarships for Latinas. The show happened at least three years in a row, and the last one was at the end of 2019, then the pandemic messed everything up.

Lilly Rose Valore as Alice  (Source: Carven Creative Media)

EDGE: In your charming promotional video for "Alice in Rainbowland" you mention that you had to come out twice. Most of us only come out once, and that's hard enough.

Ana Masacote: You always have your big coming-out when you're in your family environment, and then [you come out again] to your personal community. I came out when I was a queer youth. This was back when Ellen [DeGeneres] was just coming out and was receiving all this backlash. You didn't have your social media, your Facebook, your Instagram, but you had the starting of the internet, and I got cyberbullied. I was not supported. I had not one single person support me during that time. It was a very difficult process for me as a youth. Eventually, I ended up getting married.

After the divorce, I was already on the international stage. And there was another coming-out process at that time because at that point there were no other women on the international Afro-Latin dance scene who were really open in that way, who had to take a stance about their sexuality. I did receive backlash in the community in some ways. I was supported because we were in a different time. And so that was a different process of coming out again altogether on a much more international stage.

EDGE: The novel "Alice in Wonderland" was a satirical take on the politics of the time. And today, it feels like we've gone down a rabbit hole ourselves.

Ana Masacote: This is a pretty tough year for anti-LGBTQ legislation, particularly at the state level, and a lot of that is targeting transgender youth. The collaboration started with the artists, where I started asking them, "What is the story that you want to tell?" As we were talking with everybody, gender identity and expression came up as a really big theme across the board. Knowing how much of that legislation is out there, we thought that this would be a good opportunity to present a childhood fairy tale in a different way and start changing the gender binary that we see in our mainstream media. Hopefully, it can start giving people a different perspective.

EDGE: In what ways you feel Afro-Latin dance is well suited to the show and the things you want to say?

Ana Masacote: I've been doing Afro-Latin dance most of my life, and it's one of the most internationally mainstream crazes that we have. And it's so rooted in the gender binary — the male being the lead and the female being the follower. With that being such an international dance, it also places that into the psyche on the mainstream level.

What I feel with Afro-Latin dance is that it gives us this opportunity to be able to have these conversations on gender and the gender binary on a mainstream level, and to take that into a much more international conversation. If people can start seeing Salsa dancers as being able to walk into a class and choose the way that they want to show up, then that will start allowing people to have the conversation — and, also, how we're intersecting that with dance. How does the perception of how we show up in a dance and movement space translate into the physical world, into our physical and everyday space?

Just JP as White Flower  (Source: Carven Creative Media)

EDGE: Just JP, what's your role in this collaborative process, and as a performer?

Just JP: I play the role of the big white flower in Rainbowland's garden, and I bring a message that we're all beautiful, we all matter, and we have to do things our way. I perform a song that was originally written by Paul Anka, "My Way," which was popularized by Frank Sinatra — but I'm singing a version in Spanish by Colette [Rocío Colette Acuña Calzada], who is a Mexican singer who rose in prominence in Mexico about 18-ish years ago with a singing show called "La Academia." This is a song that I've been performing in the privacy of my bedroom for most of my life, so it was a great moment to be able to bring this to a stage on a production that addresses that beautiful sense of individuality.

EDGE: This show pushes back on the expectation of a gender binary.

Just JP: If we think of what the binary does, [it tries to] put all 8 billion of us into neat boxes. Imagine trying to categorize billions of people into two single categories. To me, that's the fairy tale.

That binary really doesn't help us. It limits us. [If you push back against that,] there is going to be a lot of challenges, and there may be a lot of pain and suffering. But ultimately, being true to ourselves is going to allow us to be like a phoenix that rises from the ashes. There are very few queer people that are our ages — you know, millennials or [someone] older — who have experienced pain and suffering growing up because of their queer identity. I feel like now we're finally entering an age where people can be who they are from the start of their lives.

EDGE: Ana, who are you playing? Alice?

Ana Masacote: No, I'm actually playing the White Rabbit. I'm the guide between the real world and the Rainbowland world. Alice is played by [dancer, model, and trans activist] Lilly Rose Valore, who's a beautiful, beautiful person and a transgender activist, and really rooted in building more awareness around trauma and violence in our communities, of which there's too much.

EDGE: For both of you, White Flower and White Rabbit, this show is built around music and dance, but is there also a kind of a narrative through line that your characters engage with?

Ana Masacote: Well, the White Rabbit starts leads Alice into Rainbowland and gives her a different way of thinking, of allowing more celebration of herself. She gives Alice that first little bit of questionable mystery, to go into Wonderland. And then she shows up in the middle as more building a conversation on the intersection of how we show up in the present space and in the real world, by breaking that fourth wall between the audience [and the performers], and then also moves into the real world, where she's sort of like the bridge between the Rainbowland and the real world. They have this moment of interaction where they're seeing one another. In this real world, witnessing one another is a conversation that I want us to have.

Lilly Rose Valore as Alice  (Source: Carven Creative Media)

EDGE: Just JP, how about your White Flower?

Just JP: The White Flower finds Alice at a point in which Alice is lost. And the message of the White Flower is, like I already said, that you're beautiful, right? That you're a flower, you're beautiful, and it doesn't matter if you're lost. All you have to do is keep going and do it your way. And I think that that's a message that queer elders, gay elders, trans elders usually have given you, even if it is not that literal message.

My White Flower, who told me to do things my way, was Miss J. Alexander from "America's Next Top Model." That was the first time that I saw myself represented. I don't know how much of it was rooted in ignorance, and how much of it was rooted in comedy, and how much of it was really rooted in anti-queer or anti-transness, but there was a running gag on the show that people didn't know what pronouns to use for Miss J. But seeing somebody who's so flamboyant, and outside of the binary, and strong, and in a leadership position, in a judging position — like, they did things their way, and that's why they were successful. So, if I am able to be that for somebody else, that's all I really can ask for my life to be — you know, to pay that forward.

I am hoping to give that message that you can do things. You can achieve things, you can be successful, you can be a star, but whatever you do, you need to do it your way.

EDGE: And now, of course, people can put their pronouns up on Instagram or wherever, and no one has to guess. We have moved, at least in some ways, into a freer place.

Just JP: Yes. I think that we're definitely in a place where we can be more open. But I think that also depends on what area you're in, or if your family is open to you. In many cases, a queer community has chosen families. Mainstream media may accept us, but at home, it's a different story. And, of course, some places have progressed, and then there are many places where being queer can still be a death sentence.

EDGE: When you're collaborating, does that mean that everyone has an idea that they throw into the mix? How does that process work?

Just JP: Ana approached me about this project, and the first thing that she said was, "Well, let me pitch you the idea, see where you take it." I think the beauty of collaboration is that you have to build trust with the other artists who are collaborating. It's a multi-part process, and they're able to listen to you first and be able to understand your vision. And then they're able to bring a part of themselves to help you fulfill that vision. So when she reached out to me about this project, it just came naturally to me. It flowed quite quickly. It's like I had that scene already made up in my mind, and we just had to make sure to bring it together.

Tina Cavicchio as Cheshire Cat  (Source: Carven Creative Media)

Ana Masacote: It's been particularly interesting during this pandemic time. Collaboration sort of looked like a series of Zoom meetings and calls and social distance storyboarding. But the idea for the production itself started in talking with the different artists, and it formulated originally with speaking to Lilly. She had wanted to revamp an "Alice" piece that she had done in the past. We had a conversation on that, and I asked if she was okay with us making that the through line and building a whole story around that. She was open to it. I don't know that she knew what she was getting herself into, because it grew into much more than that.

In talking to all the artists, as I visualized this idea, I asked them what character they felt they connected with, and that's where JP felt that they connected with the flower. Each person just sort of fell into where they felt that they belonged. We would workshop the script together so that if it didn't feel right or if it didn't land, we would switch it and flip it. There was a collaborative process of nailing down the script together so that it felt that it really connected with everybody. Everybody also chose their individual dance pieces or music that they wanted to use for their work, like JP choosing "My Way."

EDGE: In the promotional video clips, Ana, the show's lighting looks saturated in color, very vibrant with bright blue, bright red. These are colors from the Pride flag too. Is this also part of the tradition and the presentation for the dance tradition that you're working from?

Ana Masacote: Yes. Actually, we used color themes and different scenes. So, while one scene might be an orange color theme, JP's scene was a green color theme. And it meant we were trying to get those certain colors to pop. But we also incorporated different elements — so, black and brown. The intersectional Pride flag is a big theme throughout the production, and also the transgender flag because the show is such a conversation on identity and gender. Those colors were purposely filled throughout the production for sure.

EDGE: JP, how are you feeling about the colorful nature of the show, being the White Flower?

Just JP: Color really drives creativity. I do Drag Storytime at the library for the little kids, and I always love to go for big pops of color because it brings you in, it's welcoming, and it makes you happy. And to me, that's the spirit of our community, the LGBTQ+ community. We remember the struggles, and we commemorate the fight for our rights and for the rights of other oppressed people. And we also celebrate that we are still here, that we exist, that we will not be erased — and what better way of celebrating than using color?

Ana Masacote: Thank you for that, JP, because it reminds me of all the colors that we have in our lives. There's actually one line in the production that says, "Here, we color outside the lines." The more, the merrier!


"Alice in Rainbowland" streams on demand via Virtually OBERON following a Virtual Premiere Celebration on June 10 at 7:30 pm. The show will be available through 6/30. For more information, go to https://americanrepertorytheater.org/shows-events/alice-in-rainbowland/

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.