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Magdalena
Credit: Kevin Yatarola

A small, black porcelain doll, gently bathed in a warm light, peacefully occupies center stage as theater-goers takes their seats. The light intensifies, and someone begins speaking; all eyes turn toward a voice coming from the the audience. As naturally as if speaking from her own living room, filmmaker/choreographer Gabri Christa proceeds to tell us how she first came to know the doll, originally given to her mother, Magdalena, and which eventually became her own. Upon first encountering the doll, Ms. Christa didn’t know that black dolls even existed, let alone how this one could have made its way into the hands of her mother as a little Dutch white girl.

More follows, and for the next hour, Ms. Christa tells tales of her mother as a small child, the sole survivor of a German bomb raid and growing up in Rotterdam with her large family, wanting to be a nun but eventually marrying a man of color when such marriages weren’t legal. Using pictures, audio recordings, dance and stories, Ms. Christa describes many engaging events, both trivial and significant, that paint a picture of her Magdalena, the relationship between them, and her own experience of growing up a mixed-race child.

Ms. Christa’s story-telling is keenly engaging, and one could listen to her for hours on end; adding more chapters to this story would be fully welcomed. Her dance pieces where poignant and passionate, although sometimes overly independent of the stories being told. The piece concluded with the telling of Magdalena’s decline into dementia; in these final moments, which were told in poetry and dance, Ms. Christa slowly and mournfully transforms from crawling to standing, fully covered in cloth, as though from birth to death–a moment mesmerizing and moving to behold.

Magdalena, an intimate multimedia solo work, played its final performance at TheaterLab on September 22. For more information about Magdalena and Gabri Christa, click here.