Ivan Espinosa is an experimental theater artist and performance studies researcher based in New York City. Primarily inspired by eco-poetics, Deep Ecology, and Japanese Butoh dance, Ivan’s work explores how the interconnectedness of the Earth can be manifested and experienced on stage. His greatest aim is to create theater that connects both the audience and the performer to the more-than-human world, stage performances in which the Earth takes the forefront and becomes an active participant in the drama.
As a director and choreographer of stage performance, Ivan has produced dozens of original works everywhere from college theaters and National Parks to outdoor festivals, including multiple performances at the Seattle International Butoh Festival and the Houston Fringe Festival. Ivan holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Theater from The Evergreen State College, where he produced 4 large-scale, feature-length stage performances.
Ivan is currently completing his Master of Arts degree in Performance Studies at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, where he is researching theories of embodiment and sense perception, particularly the eco-centric performance of habitat and living landscapes.
Ivan Espinosa was born in Texas to Mexican immigrants and was raised in Houston, one of the most prominent hubs of the U.S. oil industry. Growing up in the Texas Gulf Coast — a region that is home to three of the world’s largest oil refineries — Ivan often gazed at giant smokestacks billowing dark clouds of smog into the sky. Like many, Ivan grew up isolated from the land and estranged from nonhuman nature, disconnected from the vast web of ecosystems that co-habitate this Earth.
It was not until 2015, when he relocated to the Pacific Northwest, that Ivan experienced an ecological and spiritual awakening. He suddenly found himself immersed in a beaming environment known for its beautiful coastline, spectacular Cascade mountains, and lush forests populated by some of the tallest trees on earth. Living in this region gave Ivan the opportunity to go on frequent walks in temperate rainforests and meditate at high altitudes after hiking the Olympic Mountains — things he was never able to experience living in the concrete metropolis of Houston. For the first time in his life, Ivan felt an intimate and physical connection to the Earth, shattering any illusions that humans are somehow separate from “nature”, separate from the breathing landscapes of the Earth.
For two-and-half years, Ivan completed his undergraduate studies at The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington — an interdisciplinary, liberal arts institution surrounded by more than 1,000 acres of forest, with winding trails leading to a beautiful Pacific Ocean inlet. It is here where Ivan renewed his bond with the earth, where he fully felt and connected to the soil beneath the pavement.
For his undergraduate study at Evergreen, Ivan explored Butoh-inspired physical theater and politically-charged performance art. Most of his performances were critiques of capitalism and the military-industrial complex; an artistic, protest response to modern society’s view of the body as a mechanism to be trained and the Earth as a resource to be exploited. This culminated in a final stage performance called “The Earth Speaks” — a meditation on the harmful split between the earth and human society that has resulted from patriarchal capitalism.
But, towards the end of his undergraduate journey, Ivan began to realize that it was not enough for him to create artwork that simply criticized society’s disregard for the environment. He wanted to create artwork in which the Land came alive on stage, in which the Earth ceased to be just another backdrop for humans to draw on as we please. He longed to see a performance in which the living, breathing landscapes of the Earth took center stage.
“When I would walk through the lush rainforests forests of the Northwest, everything was buzzing and singing with life. I could hear, see, smell, and touch countless living beings and the “mini-universes” that they live in. Being immersed in this living landscape allowed me to contemplate, like never before, the the intelligence of the Earth that nurtured us, and all of life, into existence.” — Ivan Espinosa
Ivan began to wonder: What would happen if they could take that Earthly intelligence, perceived by the physical senses, and transmit it on stage? What if a theater performance could facilitate an immersion into the interconnectedness of the Earth’s highly connected and awe-inspiring ecosystems? And how would experiencing a living, sensate landscape on stage impact the ways we experience the Earth off stage, especially for an urban audience in places like New York City or Houston that lives so remote from nonhuman nature??
This is the investigation that led Ivan to New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. In 2017, he began working on his Master of Arts degree in Performance Studies and is actively researching theories of embodiment, affect, and sense perception — particularly, the performance of living landscapes. Ivan hopes that his artistic research can help illuminate further the fundamental links between human life and the more-than-human world, to feel again our wholeness and interconnection with the soil beneath the pavement.