Tonight and tomorrow: A UNCC professor turns the immigrant experience into gravity-defying art


As an aerialist, CarlosAlexis Cruz takes risks every day.

But the simple fact that he’s a Latino living in America also puts him at risk.

When the UNC Charlotte professor of physical theater first moved from Puerto Rico to California for grad school in 2004, getting pulled over by the police was a common occurrence.

“It gets uncomfortable,” he said. “It feels dangerous.”

And if it feels dangerous to a legal resident who takes risks for a living, imagine how it feels to someone more vulnerable.

Cruz’s first production at the Booth Playhouse, “Nouveau Sud, Nouveau Cirque” (“New South, New Circus”) — the result of a $25,000 McColl Award from the Arts and Science Council — began with Cruz literally searching the streets for break dancers and hip-hop artists.

His young cast had loads of talent and desire but little to no professional experience. However, they worked so well together that Cruz hoped they’d become a troupe. “SUR: An Acrobatic Journey in the Search of Safety,” coming to Booth Playhouse July 21 and 22, is their second outing as a company.

“What we’re saying in this performance is ‘This is what (minorities and immigrants) live,’” he said. “And although people were deported under Obama, too, it feels like –- since our change in government — we have regressed. There’s a heightened level of fear now. It feels like something could explode. And to think that other people in my community don’t feel safe doesn’t sit right with me.”

Through movement and acrobatics — and often hanging from or climbing up a rope — Cruz and company’s “SUR” follows a character who’s being deported through to the end of his harrowing journey. Besides deportation, “SUR’s” other main theme is police brutality.

Sounds like a totally chill evening at the theater, right?

A circus with a message

Don’t worry. Cruz aims to both entertain and enlighten.

“This is pretty heavy stuff,” he said. “But we’re still a circus show. There’s an entertainment quality that can’t be taken away.”

There are virtually no words in the performance. It’s all action. The only language you’ll hear is Cruz’s introduction (his “cameo appearance,” as he says) and two spoken word poets — Herrison Chicas and Kafia Tyler.

Cruz made sure there would be representation from the Hispanic and African-American communities in the poets he chose, as well as his cast. It’s their stories he’s telling.

The storyline is about searching for safety while living in a dangerous world, and the aerial maneuvers the cast pulls off help make the point.

“We’re playing off safety in many angles,” Cruz said. “Our cast members may feel danger on an apparatus. They have to be cautious.”

And rely on one another.

There’s safety in numbers, and SUR’s hero learns he must seek community to feel a sense of security.

“SUR” is not an angry, defiant piece of art as it easily could be. Cruz doesn’t seem angry. He’s an intelligent, affable professor who wants to start a dialogue through art.

He has a master’s degree in physical theater from the only school in the country to offer one, the Dell’Arte International School of Physical Theatre.

But his academic pedigree doesn’t give him the tools to solve America’s (and Charlotte’s) xenophobia problem.

“I don’t know what the solution is,” he said. “But we should seek it together.”

Catch “SUR: An Acrobatic Journey in the Search of Safety” at 7:30 p.m. on July 21 and 22 at Booth Playhouse at Blumenthal Performing Arts Center. General admission tickets are $10, which you can get here.

Follow Cruz on Twitter.

Photos: CarlosAlexis Cruz



  1. Oh Page, it’s not xenophobic to demand that people immigrate here legally. I have friends from Malaysia and Mexico who did that and eventually became citizens. They are thrilled that illegal immigration is no longer cheapening their hard-earned citizenship.

  2. To Steve: Do you know what it takes to leave your country with nothing, not knowing the language , and knowing that you’re going to get treated poorly and make nothing, but still more than what your country can offer you? Or better yet, do you know what it takes to get a visa? I assume not, because if you did, you would know that most of the undocumented immigrants can’t ever get a visa to come here because they don’t qualify. I commend your friends for getting their citizenship, which is a very long process, I know because I did it too. And, how is illegal immigration cheapening their hard earned citizenship? By the way, human capital, in this case undocumented immigrants, is just like any other good in the economics scale…if there is no demand then there is no supply, demand always dictates supply and not the otherway around.


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