“I think fat has become a really bad word today,” Villarreal said. “Nobody wants to use it. The word society likes to use a lot right now is obesity. Or overweight. . . . But being an obese person means you are fat. People want to distance themselves from that word. I hate euphemisms.”
During the show, Villarreal plays several fat characters. “At first, I wanted it to be about putting cool, fat people on stage, talking about how awesome their lives can be,” she said. “But you can’t get all the good without showing the complexities.”
Her goal is to foster empathy. “There is something so powerful about seeing a real person going through emotions or sharing thoughts on a stage in front of real-life human beings. All these characters talk about being overweight in America. It is both a celebration and an exploration of the lives of people living with fat.”
Dissonance, a ballet company featuring mostly black dancers, presents the premiere of “Drum,” an Afro-modern and classical ballet dance inspired by D.C.’s history of black dance companies, many of which have faded away.
“I have the largest number of classically trained black females and largest majority of black dancers dancing classical ballet work in the city,” said Shawn Short, founder of Dissonance. “I thought I was the only one doing this.” But as Short did more research, he said, “I realized I was part of a continuum.”
“Holding It Down: The Veterans’ Dreams Project,” a multimedia piece by jazz composer Vijay Iyer and poet Mike Ladd, is based on dreams and nightmares of veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“I call it a song cycle, a performative documentary,” Ladd said. “The best way to describe it is an opera. But they would stone me in some countries for saying that. In a way, this project is an experimentation with the boundaries of opera.”
Ladd and Iyer worked with Iraq war veteran Maurice Decaul to interview veterans, collecting their dreams. Dreams are a common denominator among people, Iyer said. “When dealing with veterans and non-veterans, there is this gulf of understanding. You have to take people across. Dreams can be that bridge.”
But for the veterans, dreams are not always welcome. “There is one song in the project that rattles off the names of the medications soldiers take to keep them from dreaming,” Iyer said. “It’s called ‘REM Killer.’ ”
“Holding It Down,” which will have its Washington premiere at the festival, includes a performance by a veteran who piloted drones remotely from Las Vegas. “She was literally at a console collecting intel from different satellite video feeds and targeting people,” Iyer said. “The wild thing about it for her was it was a remote war. She was in the zone but also still here. Then she would go on a break and go to Starbucks.”
“That is the reality of the 21st-century war,” Iyer added. The goal of the show is to have “everyone in the room and onstage facing these realities together.”
Feb. 23-March 10. Atlas Performing Arts Center, 1333 H St. NE. 202-399-7993.