BTS SPECTRA: Zaquia Mahler Salinas

An interview with SPECTRA choreographer Zaquia Mahler Salinas

Zaquia Mahler Salinas is the Artistic Director and Co-Founder of DISCO RIOT. She is from San Diego and has danced professionally here in her hometown for the past 10 years. In addition to running DISCO RIOT, Zaquia is a dance educator; she is the Coordinator of the Envision Dance program and Conservatory at Canyon Crest Academy. As an artist, Zaquia’s interest is in making work that excavates personal narrative as a point of creative departure.

Zaquia is working on a new dance of survival, friendship and transformation. Her piece, Hourglass Alchemy, is dedicated to friend Desiree Cuizon, and performed by Zaquia and Chelsea Zeffiro. In her interview, Zaquia talks about the process of creating her piece as well as her hopes for the dance scene in San Diego.

What inspirations, launching points, or ideas are you working with for your piece for DISCO RIOT’s show?

We started working on this dance as a trio (myself, Chelsea and Desiree) back in the summer, and it was originally called Grunge Pajama Party. That root exploration was around the topic of inheritance: what is your inherited trauma? what is your inherited triumph? what is your inherited magic? We had additional framing questions: can we partner? can we touch? what is the touch we need right now? The performance ended up being canceled due to COVID, but what we developed in that first process laid a foundation for the dance – what surfaced was moments of spirituality, sisterhood, witchiness, and defiance. This second exploration of the work, now titled Hourglass Alchemy, and performed by just myself and Chelsea, has yielded a more distilled probe into those same themes, plus some new layers as a result of the duet nature of the work as it is now. There’s an interest in alchemy – how one metamorphosizes the mud of experience into something beautiful, or harnesses the power of their history to conjure connection with others.

What has been your favorite part of the process?

This go around, collaborating with Chelsea and digging in a bit deeper has been really awesome. Chelsea and I always have a really good time in the creative process, and I appreciate the depth of artistry she brings to the work. The piece feels like an exercise in activating and directing energy in a way that I have been enjoying. I feel like we’ve made a beautiful piece that straddles several big ideas, and we’ve had a ton of fun making it.

Other than choreography/dance, what other mediums (if any) are you utilizing to showcase the message or purpose behind your piece?

I think this piece will involve projections. The projections will serve as a kind of environmental element more than a video component or something of that nature. I am not sure that I am trying to place us anywhere specific, but I do think that the world Chelsea and I are building could be supported by a visual component and I am excited to get into the performance space and see how projection can work for us.

What would you like the audience to know about your work in this show?

This dance is dedicated to Desiree; not only because she was an original contributor to the work, but because I think we were somehow making this dance as an homage to friendship and sisterhood even before we knew that was what it was. Des, Chelsea and I have had many adventures together as friends and dance collaborators. Des is getting ready to embark on a new phase of her life journey, and I am grateful to have this opportunity to perform this little witchy, energetic love letter for her with Chelsea. 

What are your hopes and dreams for the San Diego dance scene?

My hopes and dreams continue to be that we can make space for a more radical, thoughtful, and care-driven dance community here. We aren’t the biggest dance city on the West Coast, but we have the potential to be home to a truly vibrant dance scene; it requires some big changes in how folks in San Diego think about and support dance, both within the dance community itself and on a more macro scale at the cultural and infrastructural levels of San Diego. I am optimistic, and just keep putting in the work here at DISCO RIOT and in my teaching practice with the belief that a little bit at a time, we are shifting the needle!

You can see Zaquia’s piece, among others, at SPECTRA – a show sharing stories of personal heritage, magic, play, and dreams. All other interviews are posted on the blog, be sure to check it out and learn more about the choreographers!

SPECTRA will be held at San Diego’s City Heights Annex on April 21-23 at 7pm. Admission to this show is by donation ($12 for artists/students and $25 for the general public is suggested). Please reserve your seat in advance; tickets will not be available at the door. Masks are required upon entry.