On Sunday, October 15, in the Hop’s Spaulding Auditorium, storyteller David Gonzalez and accompanying musicians combined language learning, Latin music and life lessons into a single show: Cuentos, meaning “stories.” Wilson “Chembo” Corniel, a Grammy-nominated percussionist, took to the stage to perform a solo on his congas. Willie Martinez, a renowned Latin jazz drummer, joined Corniel in a duet of drums. Daniel Kelly completed the trio on piano, and the three played an energetic opening song for the performance. Finally, Gonzalez made his entrance to the energetic rhythm.
Beginning with his background, Gonzalez cleverly combined his introduction with an outline for the stories he would tell. His mother was from Puerto Rico, his father from Cuba, and Gonzalez himself hails from “La rrrrepublica… del Bronx.” His first story followed a classical Puerto Rican character, Juan Bobo, who served as a comical lesson of what not to do. Following this, a tribute to his father’s culture featured the exchange of tools in order to pursue dreams. This led to a New York story, a personal and true tale of the tío (uncle) of Gonzalez and his creation of a guitar as a special gift to his nephew. Gonzalez finished with a general story that encouraged audience members to find inspiration and become actively involved in the world.
Gonzalez told the stories in a way that incorporated Spanish so that young audience members without any background in the language could still follow along. This began with pauses to translate Spanish words the first time they were used, but slowly evolved into Gonzalez incorporating the occasional Spanish word within a context that allowed for understanding the meaning without direct translation. The performance also included an onstage American Sign Language interpreter, which not only made the performance more accessible to the hearing impaired but added a visual dynamic of language and even more diverse language learning.
The children’s reactions were the highlights of the show. A young girl had her stuffed seal dance to the music while those two rows ahead imitated Gonzalez pulling an imaginary rope, as if to help him. The show invited audience participation, leading to an incredible sequence of interactive storytelling. When Gonzalez asked the audience what they would choose to create if they had the power to create anything, one young person started simply with “a dragon.” Gonzalez roared, and asked for something else. The volunteer continued with “paper.” Gonzalez made a swooshing noise to imitate paper and asked for a final object. Here, he faced a true challenge, as the final request was: “A fire-breathing…. ticket.” Gonzalez hesitated, laughing, then made a combination of the paper and dragon noise.
The show had elements that could entertain a range of ages, but college students were not the target audience for this show. Instead, the show was geared towards children and families. Cuentos represents another important aspect of the Hop: outreach and education within the community as a whole. The next day, buses of school children from different areas would fill the auditorium to watch the performance, and Gonzalez would teach storytelling in classrooms within the Upper Valley, making this visit much more than just a performance.