Ballet 5:8 Reimagines ‘La Llorona’ to Raise Awareness for Postpartum Depression and Maternal Mental Health Challenges

La Llorona is a traditional Mexican myth about Maria who, in a fit of jealousy and rage, drowns her children in a river after being spurned by her husband. Overwhelmed with grief after realizing what she has done, Maria is condemned to wander the Earth, searching for her lost children while wailing mournfully. My abuelo recounted to me the story of La Llorona as a young girl, warning me of the consequences of disobedience or wandering alone at night. 

What if there’s more to Maria than a cautionary tale? What if Maria, like so many Black and Latina women, including myself, suffered under the weight of postpartum depression? 

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, “Postpartum depression (PPD) occurs in approximately 15% of births.” Dr. Cheryl Tatano Beck wrote in the American Journal of Maternal/Child Nursing that, “women of color are significantly more likely to experience postpartum depressive symptoms compared with White women in the United States.” It’s a silent scourge across Black and Hispanic communities and one that has passed through my own home and my own mental wellness. After discovering my new project, Dr. Beck wrote, “I am blown away. It will help so many other people who do not know the depths of despair that postpartum depression can bring to the mother and her family.”

I’m the choreographer and Artistic Director of Ballet 5:8, a resident company at the Harris Theater in Chicago, and I’m also the mother of three beautiful children. However, I was unprepared for the severity of hormone withdrawal after giving birth to the second and third children. I had to continue to perform at work leading the organization, but something inside me was broken and I struggled through each day with intrusive thoughts of harm. To me, Maria is a person not unlike myself — a Latina who also struggles under the pressure of Marianisma and the need to present a perfect and polished figure. Tragically in the traditional myth, Maria never gets help and breaks under that pressure.

I’m choreographing La Llorona which imagines a better world for Maria. It tells her story, it validates her pain and it offers hope on the other side of sadness. I believe that the world would be a better place if women like Maria had a more robust awareness of what was happening inside their bodies and the caregivers of those who are suffering had language to understand the implications of postpartum depression. 

The National Museum of Mexican Art is a presenting sponsor for the work, placing this incredible piece into the rich history of Mexican work. RAICES Chicago Story Coalition will be offering support in chronicling and archiving the research, creation and presentation of the work so that it can be a point of inspiration for other Latine artists.

During an open rehearsal for the community, Andy Boeta, marketing manager of the local Orland Park Area Chamber of Commerce said, “Ballet 5:8’s take on the tale brings a whole new aspect onto the table. They are retelling the story, without changing the main idea of it, in a different way to convey a very important matter — mental health.”

You can learn more about the work at Ballet 5:8’s La Llorona online, and enjoy the performance at the Harris Theater on October 5th and 6th.

How to Help:

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This post was submitted by Ballet 5:8 as part of our “You Said It” program.” Your voice, ideas and engagement are important to help us accomplish our mission. We encourage you to share your ideas and efforts to make the world a better place by submitting a “You Said It.”

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Julianna Rubio Slager is Ballet 5:8’s Artistic Director and Resident Choreographer. She was instrumental in the co-founding of Ballet 5:8 in 2012, and is known for her unique ability to engage audiences in discussions of life and faith through her choreography.

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