Storyteller David Gonzalez to perform ‘Cuentos’ on Sunday

by Lauren Segal | 10/13/17 1:40am

For many, storytelling represents an escape from reality into a world of fantasy. In “Cuentos: Tales from the Latin World,” however, venerated storyteller David Gonzalez relies on his own experiences and cultural heritage to render vibrant characters and spellbinding plotlines onstage. Gonzalez will perform this program on Sunday.

Gonzalez, a renowned storyteller, playwright, poet and public speaker, has traveled the world sharing his fantastical imagination with audiences of all ages. He is a cultural ambassador for the U.S. State Department, a recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award for Sustained Excellence from the International Performing Arts for Youth and a fellow of the Joseph Campbell Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to the preserving the art of mythology. While many of his stories are performed with the primary intention of entertainment, Gonzalez weaves in themes applicable to life, using his craft as a medium to expose audiences to his Latin-American tradition. 

The stories Gonzalez will be performing on Sunday in “Cuentos: Tales from the Latin World” focus particularly on Gonzalez’s own Latin-American roots, bringing to life folktales from Puerto Rico and an Afro-Cuban myth about a being called the Orisha, a religious concept of the Yohuba people that Gonzalez incorporated into his program. 

Gonzalez will tell the tales of “Juan Bobo & the Pig,” “The Man who Could Make Trees Sing” and “Chango and the Power of the Drum,” which are primarily intended for younger students. These three stories range in their lessons for children, from wisdom and the power of music. His interpretation of the stories “Delgadina,” “Obatala and the Creation of the World,” “Milomaki” and “Vovo” will be included in a second set of performances intended for older students. Despite the ages recommended, however, Gonzalez firmly believes that storytelling is an experience that can be enjoyed and valued by people of all ages.

“Storytelling is an age-old art that is at the root of all contemporary dramatic forms,” Gonzalez said. “The storyteller’s craft is to engage deeply with the imagination of the audience member so that the story becomes alive for them. All people can benefit from this.”

Gonzalez’s bewitching stories will also be accompanied by a salsa trio: percussionist Wilson “Chembo” Corniel, keyboard player Daniel Kelly and drummer Willie Martinez. Corniel is a 2009 Grammy Award-nominated percussionist. Born to Puerto Rican parents, he has devoted a part of his career to raising awareness of Afro-Caribbean tradition in the United States. The music emphasizes certain parts of the stories and creates an atmosphere that allows audience members to feel like they are characters in the tales. 

“The musicians, in a very practical way, add color, form and energy to the story,” Gonzalez said. “They accent dramatic places, they foreshadow, they give propulsion. Their energy and beauty on stage adds to the charm and the enchantment of the moment.”

The performance, though primarily in English, incorporates Spanish words and encourages younger audience members to recognize their meanings. 

“Drawing from my heritage — Puerto Rico, Cuba and New York — it makes sense to blend in some of the vocabulary, because the language itself has a flavor and a sound,” Gonzalez said. “It’s a celebration of those cultures.”

Gonzalez believes that Latin-American tradition is grounded in these stories themselves, and this tradition can be passed down to audience members through his storytelling.

However, the traditional roots of the folktales not only offer insight into Puerto Rican and Afro-Cuban culture but also into Gonzalez’s own worldview. 

“It’s a story from my own life and how I make sense of my world,” Gonzalez said.

As a seasoned storyteller, Gonzalez regards storytelling as an art form that can form bridges between people of different backgrounds.

“Stories connect us. They give us solace, information, guidance and energy for our life journey, whether we are children, adults or senior citizens,” Gonzalez said. “Stories make us feel connected to one another, and that gives us a balm against alienation, loneliness and despair. But more importantly, it gives us a soulful energy to use in our lives.”

Margaret Lawrence, director of programming at the Hopkins Center for the Arts, said that Gonzalez’s performance will provide a valuable opportunity for residents of the Upper Valley to explore Latin-American culture in an innovative way.

“We hope that [the audience] will gain an appreciation for the diversity of Latin-American cultures,” Lawrence said. “It’s not only in the news right now as a political situation, but it’s a great source of pride and it’s something to be proud of and celebrated.”

Gonzalez praises storytelling as an expressive art form that is not only vivid and expressive but vital in promoting awareness of heritage through oral tradition. His belief that the craft contains elements that cannot be replicated through other forms of media encourages him to further hone and explore the discipline that is storytelling.

“One of the beauties of storytelling is that it’s always fresh, it’s always a new public, new eyes in a new situation and storytelling is really about connecting to those people,” Gonzalez said. 

Storytelling provides a haven of imagination and magic, one that stays with audience members well after the curtains close. Gonzalez will transport people of all ages to the lands of rich Latin-American tradition and colorful characters through his artistry.

“The joy of playing with my voice, finding the right turn of voice, being on stage, finding the right gestures, performing alongside great musicians; the pleasure of it is profound,” Gonzalez said. “I’ve been following the stream of that pleasure my whole life, first as a musician then as a storyteller and now as a combination of the two.”

Gonzalez will be performing “Cuentos: Tales from the Latin World” in Spaulding Auditorium at 3 p.m. this Sunday.