Around 2:00 pm a few Saturdays ago, I watched as Haverford senior, Cristian Espinoza ’18, and HCAH student assistant, Noorie Chowdhury ’21, hauled black mannequins into the Dining Center Basement’s Black Box Theater. Wearing luxurious fur coats and fashionable leggings that showcased Cristian’s dynamic style, these models had been on display on the VCAM Exhibition Wall as part of a multimedia installation. That evening, however, they would stand in the Black Box Theater, facing the audience and conveying steady confidence for Cristian’s Lutton Fund performance, Marisol.
By 8:00, the theater was packed, with two extra rows of filled seats along the right edge and quite a few people standing against the walls and by the door. Students, faculty, and administrators alike eagerly awaited Cristian’s arrival. Once the crowd settled, she strode out in a pair of glittering stiletto heels and a long coat, with all the confidence and grace we had come to admire in her during her last four years at Haverford. Only after thanking all of those who helped bring the event to fruition, Cristian signaled for the music to start, and began to sing. His voice was beautiful, and each line carried personal meaning. As the music built, Cristian let his coat sink to the floor, revealing a stunning yellow pantsuit.
Between songs, she shared moments of her experience grappling with gender, sexuality, race, nationality, religion, mental health, and how the world receives her complex identity. Cristian steered the audience carefully through feelings of anguish, amusement, anger, and optimism. The stories were painful to hear, and, I imagine, more painful to share.
My favorite moment was the dancing. Students who know Cristian are aware of his passion and skill for music and dance. Many of the professors and administrators in the audience were amazed by the self-assured shimmies, shakes, kicks, and splits with which Cristian commanded the room. After the show, she told me about how throughout her freestyle performance she had reflected on sharing a new element of herself with her mentors.
After a few routines, Cristian called for an intermission: it was time for a wardrobe change. Ten minutes later, Aya Micaela ’18, Cristian’s friend, took the stage, playing a tune on the oboe for the returning audience. Aya explained that Cristian had asked her to contribute to Marisol, in light of a year of self-discovery, to celebrate embracing her Peruvian roots. She was the first of a number of Haverford community members who Cristian welcomed into the show. Cristian returned with long hair and another striking outfit, joining Praxedes Quintana ’18 in a powerful duet.
For the final routine, Cristian led members of her weekly Zumba class to join her in a dance. No one in the audience could remain still in our seats—the beat and movement were intoxicating.
Overall, the show was extremely emotional. There was a sense that this was a culmination of a personal, social, and intellectual journey for Cristian and his community. A feeling of nostalgia and pride settled over everyone present at the performance. Expecting to feel overwhelmed by the intensity of sharing, Cristian later admitted that after the show, he was instead surprised by a sense of elation and catharsis. Without a formal background in singing or dance, he was initially nervous to perform, but as a collective energy flowed forth from the show, that lack of training made way for a more raw and powerful expression. Furthermore, a spontaneous element that permeated many of the stories and dances contributed to that authenticity.
After the show, I visited the exhibition wall in VCAM to see the incredible portrait work depicting Cristian by Alliyah Allen ’18 and Natalia Amaral ’18. Both Alliyah’s photography and Natalia’s painting and text were invaluable for Cristian’s project, capturing a sense of Marisol for anyone who was unable to attend the performance and for anyone hoping to remember its energy.
Written by MacKenzie Somers ’20, History of Art and Museum Studies Major
Photos by Claire Cheney ’20
Edited by Andrew Nguyen ’19, English Major and Dance Minor