UTEP dances the wetlands at ‘Experiencing the Bosque’


Annabella Mireles

The Rubin Center for the Visual Arts and the Center for Enviornmental Resource Management (CERM) collaborated for “Experiencing the Bosque” at the Rio Bosque Wetlands Part Nov. 5.

Elisha Nuñez, Staff Reporter

“Experiencing the Bosque,” an event led by the Center for Environmental Resource Management (CREM) and UTEP’s Rubin Center for Visual Arts, was held Nov. 5 at the Rio Bosque Wetlands Park, a restored area near the Rio Grande. There were performers scattered throughout the park, demonstrating their contemporary dance moves in the wetland environment. 

El Paso was once home to intricate wetlands based around the Rio Grande. As human expansion continued the wetlands started to get smaller, but not all hope is lost for saving this environment. In the 1970s, a part of Mexican territory close to the Rio Grande became U.S. territory after the river was channelized. From there, the Rio Bosque Wetlands Park was born. 

For a couple of years now, the UTEP community has been trying to bring more attention to it. 

“This started from a conversation between Alex Mayer, who is the director of the Center for Environmental Resource Management, which is the center at UTEP that manages the park, and a colleague of ours, Chris Reyman, who’s a professor in commercial music at the university,” said Sandra Paola Lopez Ramirez, a visiting assistant professor for the College of Liberal Arts.

With two time periods that allowed for visitors to walk the park and watch different dance performances by UTEP dance students, the event was a large collaborative effort that was meant to raise awareness for the environment and the region’s water problems. 

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  • Some of the goals listed on the UTEP website for this event included having participants understand the water crisis in El Paso and to encourage them to be involved in restoring aquatic ecosystems and conserving water.

  • The experience started off with an opening ceremony which consisted of all the performers gathering around the entrance and putting on a group performance before separating to their spots throughout the park.

  • The performance was a two-day event that consisted of a showing at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. which UTEP providing transportation to and from the Bosque.

  • A performer contemporary dancing in the wetlands of the Bosque.

  • The Rio Bosque Wetlands Park is a 372-acre ecological restoration project that covers the Rio Grande/Rio Bravo valley ecosystem on the U.S.-Mexico Border.

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“We’re all part of this big interdisciplinary research collective that focuses on water issues on campus,” Lopez Ramirez said. “I feel like we just kind of pulled together from different places to start thinking about this project at the Rio Bosque Wetlands Park.” 

Since El Paso is a desert city, it is possible that people have recognized the scarcity of water, and the damage done to existing water sources like the Rio Grande. That being said, it was important for the organizers of this event to introduce people to a place like the Rio Bosque Wetlands Park through memorable methods. 

“I think it’s very important that UTEP, as a research institution, involve(s) students in active research. So, we started to, since last year, introduce in our classes (to) discourses around water scarcity, the fundamental importance of water (and) water justice,” said Melissa Melpignano, director of dance in the department of theater and dance at UTEP. “One of my main themes (is) our research and how the embodiment, (the) dance and performance, can support in making water justice a commonly felt cause.” 

With a whimsical opening scene that involved incense and tree climbing, the performers went to their respective areas and danced for attendees to watch. People who visited followed a trail in one of the park’s areas and witnessed the many performances put on by the dancers.  

The dancers’ costumes also represented the overall theme of water and the environment. Some costumes even had fragments of debris found at the Rio Bosque, which were designed by UTEP’s very own Jess Tolbert, assistant professor of art and head of the jewelry and metals program. 

All the costumes are made with elements of the Rio Bosque, pieces of wood, pieces of cattails, even the glass that we have collected from of our workshops,” Melpignano said. “We made a workshop where we collected all the glass, and we created rhythms with the glass that we were collecting. So, we started to engage performatively with the glass, and now Jess and her students have been using glass to make the costumes to create sounds. It’s going to be beautiful.” 

With contemporary dancing, sounds of nature and performances by people, “Experiencing the Bosque” was an event that compiled human and environmental elements to create an eye-opening experience.  

“There were some people (who) had mesquite beans (as a) part of their costumes and things like that. I feel like they were just truly in touch with the nature, with the wind and things like that,” said Alexis Garcia, an educator and visitor of the event. 

From dancers to drummers, this walkable event can be expected again sometime next year, with an ongoing emphasis on water in El Paso and the importance of The Rio Bosque Wetlands Park. 

For more information on events and environmental opportunities happening at the Rio Bosque Wetlands Park, visit utep.edu/cerm/rio-bosque/rio-bosque-home.html 

Elisha Nunez is a staff reporter and may be reached at [email protected]