Colombia Purdue Initiative — CPI

Transcending Language and Culture Through Artistic Expression



Four professors from the Patti and Rusty Rueff School of Visual and Performing Arts at Purdue University recently traveled to Universidad de Caldas, Manizales, Colombia to participate in the 11th World Congress of University Theatre, September 5-9, 2016. At the invitation of Dr. Sergio Sierra Monsalve, Director of the Department of Performing Arts at U. de Caldas, the faculty representatives from theatre, dance, and visual communication design attended the conference, connected with colleagues from around the world, and presented a workshop and performance titled "Pasaje": Un diseño de vestuario original y una experiencia del movimiento (“Passage": An original costume design and movement experience). 

The offering was a repeat presentation of a juried entry in the 2015 TRIBES exhibit of the Prague Quadrennial of Performance Design and Space, which is the largest scenography event in the world that explores a wide range of scenographic practices – from stage design and costume design to lighting design, sound design and new scenographic practices such as site-specific, applied scenography, urban performance, costume as performance, and much more. “Passage” is an exploration of female community, rites, and ritual. Using only shared movement and non-language voicing, the tribe echoes the movement and patterns of matriarch-dominated animal families such as elephants, bonobo apes, and orcas. To view a short version of the original project in Prague, go here.

For this iteration of the project, Purdue faculty trained student performers from Manizales and Bogota in a simplified version of the choreography developed for the original project. Performers created their own costumes using a defined aesthetic and materials provided by the Purdue artists. Three separate tribes were created, each led by a member of the Purdue team. The tribes then left campus and moved through the city of Manizales, interacting with the urban environment. The tribes encountered curious pedestrians, rush-hour traffic, angry canines, street vendors, and intrigued and bemused bystanders. The experience was exhilarating, challenging, and ultimately very rewarding for everyone involved. The Purdue professors, whose command of the Spanish language is tourist-level at best, remarked on what they suspected to be true – that despite language barriers, the arts transcend language and cultural limitations. Colombian students and American faculty were able to communicate and more importantly connect – though the assistance of a student translator didn’t hurt! 

Faculty from the Rueff School included Anne Fliotsos (Theatre), Carol Cunningham-Sigman (Dance), David Sigman (Visual Communication Design), and Joel Ebarb (Theatre).

While in Colombia the faculty from Visual and Performing Arts also visited the main campus of Universidad Nacional de Colombia in Bogota, and connected with faculty colleagues in the Facultad de Artes. The experiences in Manizales and Bogota were a follow-up for the College of Liberal Arts from an earlier visit. Joel Ebarb, who in addition to being a professor of theatre is also Associate Dean for Undergraduate Education and International Programs, was part of a team from the College of Liberal Arts and Purdue’s office of International Programs that visited 5 cities and 7 universities in 9 days in December 2015. Connections that were initiated during that fast-paced visit have resulted in the development of a variety of projects and possibilities between the College of Liberal Arts and key Colombian universities. There is rich potential for activity in the areas of the humanities, social sciences, and the arts, as evidenced by the success of “Pasaje Manizales”!


Carol Cunningham-Sigman, Professor and Chair of the Dance Division of the Patti and Rusty Rueff School of Visual and Performing Arts


Joel Ebarb, Professor and Associate Dean for Undergraduate Education and International Programs of the Patti and Rusty Rueff School of Visual and Performing Arts


Student performers from Manizales and Bogota


Student performers from Manizales and Bogota


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