There was the glimmering Aztec costume in gold, with towering feather headdress and ankle rattles. The giant pyramid dress decorated with sugar skulls that glowed in black light. And a circus tent skirt that doubled as a puppet show set — with painted black velvet backdrops and puppets decked out like Mexican revolutionaries.
Sometimes too much is never enough. And for those times, there is Astrid Hadad, the Mexican performance artist and satirist who helped inaugurate the first day of the Pacific Standard Time Festival: Live Art LA/LA at the Mayan theater last week. (The awkwardly titled festival, which is underway in locations around Los Angeles through Sunday, is the performance companion to Pacific Standard Time: LA / LA, the series devoted to work by Latin American and U.S. Latino artists.)
Hadad certainly got the proceedings off with a bang — landing like a camp asteroid on the stage of the Mayan with some unusual greetings in playfully choppy English: “The coming has been so difficult,” she said with a grin. “I hope you have a great orgasm!”
Sometimes too much is never enough. And for those times, there is Astrid Hadad.
Hadad, who first emerged out of the performance scene in Mexico in the 1980s, stews up elements of Latin American variety shows with nightclub cabaret acts and absurdist action, and simmers it all with a heavy dollop of folklore — for a show that is as much a tribute to Mexican culture as it is a skewering of it. She frequently describes herself as the “Lady Gaga of Nixtamal,” referring to the processed maize used to make corn tortillas.
Hadad’s lineup at the Mayan featured traditional Mexican songs (“La Bamba” and “Cucurrucucú paloma”) as well as some originals — including “Tierra Misteriosa” (Mysterious Land), a rousing, klezmer-infused ditty about colonization that she dedicated “to the exploited people.” Sample line: “The military, multinationals / Presidents, hitmen and business men / Yesterday they were viceroys, today they are dignitaries.”
For that tune, she wore a sparkling silver outfit that can only be described as part processional Virgin, part milagro, the Catholic folk charms, often rendered in silver, that are placed at holy sites as an act of devotion. The dress opened up to reveal an image of indigenous people toiling in mines. Colonial critique, it turns out, can be wickedly glam.
Hadad, in true diva style, changed outfits for each song, and each seemed more outrageous than the next.
For the popular ballad “Una lampara sin luz” (A Lamp Without Light), she wore a dress studded with light-up sacred hearts and a flashing sacred heart headdress. Then she proceeded to dedicate the song to “all the men who have all the power and don’t do anything for people.” In a nod to the largely U.S. audience, she added: “You have those men too.”
The sold-out crowd went wild.
Machismo, corruption, violence, corporate exploitation, histrionic nationalism and the ravages of imperialism. Nothing was too precious for Hadad’s biting wit — not even the sacred cows of Mexican culture.
Late in the show she dedicated the traditional folk tune “El venadito” (The Little Deer) to painter Frida Kahlo.
“I admire her art,” Hadad said, pausing dramatically, “...and her ugly, deformed marketing.”
Toward the end of the song, she opened her dress to reveal an image of Kahlo’s iconic 1946 canvas, “The Wounded Deer,” that showed the artist as a deer struck by arrows. It was crass — like all the merchandising that surrounds Kahlo’s image — and hilarious.
Hadad is a gifted singer, able to belt out those long, deep notes on mournful songs such as “Cucurrucucú” like the best balladeers. And though her voice was raspy at times during last week’s performance, it hardly mattered.
Her wit. Her riotous stage presence. And her willingness to dismember hypocrisy with back-handed compliments and deftly delivered asides, made Hadad the gleeful, necessary antidote to our era’s exhausting, hand-wringing earnestness.
¡Viva Astrid Hadad! ¡Viva la Lady Gaga de Nixtamal!