Dorian Wood Is On a Mission to Put Latinos at the Forefront of Performance Art

Photo by Eduardo Alvarez

One of the first things you see when you click on Dorian Wood’s Tumblr is a headline that reads, “Dorian Wood is not here to comfort you.”

A YouTube search and a click on “La Cara Infinita,” the video he directed for his 2013 single featuring Eddika Organista, later shows you exactly what Wood means by his headline. In the NSFW video, naked women surround him in a room as he stands in front of Organista and a band performing a catchy pop song. A nightmarish choir and a danceable piano kicks off the music. He’s wearing a long black robe and holds on tightly to two naked men who embarrassingly cover their crotch, frightened. In one moment, Wood violently grabs a man and kisses him, the next he strokes his penis. Comedienne Margaret Cho makes a naked cameo sitting on a wooden piece of furniture with her hands tied behind her as she witnesses it all.

“¡Ay amor!” Wood sings dramatically. “¡Estas niñas andan buscando sangre!” Critics have described Wood’s voice as one you’d hear at church. Like a preacher, his voice is deep and powerful, projecting to the heavens.

Dorian Wood is not here to comfort you.

The song, vengeful and dark, describes an alternate universe where women rise up.

Wood is a Los Angeles-based musician and singer. A DIY enthusiast, you can often find Wood playing multiple roles: He sings, writes, plays, and even directs. With a strong online presence, Wood has followers mesmerized inside the U.S. and in places like Mexico City, Santiago, and Barcelona with his dark, dramatic music and live shows.

Photo by Eduardo Alvarez
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Music is Wood’s reaction to the world, and “La Cara Infinita” is a response to how the world comes down on women.

Being raised by a single mother, Wood finds this kind of oppression infuriating. The song is a “fantasy that I have of women whom I love and am eternally indebted for, certainly my mother, my sisters, and my aunts,” he explains over the phone.

Wood was born in L.A.’s Echo Park, but moved to Costa Rica with his mom and sisters after his parents split up (His last name is a result of his paternal grandfather’s Irish American background). Music has been a part of Wood’s life since he was young. Wood’s half Costa Rican, half Nicaraguan mother is the daughter of Calasanz Alvarez, the classically trained Nicaraguan pianist. Alvarez taught Wood how to play the piano as a child. Thanks to his grandfather, Wood was also admitted to the Conservatorio de Castella in Costa Rica, a prestigious conservatory for music and theatre, where piano took a back seat and theatre became his focus. Theatrical elements bleed into his music, in addition to other projects that have given Wood acclaim in their own right. Besides making music, Wood is also a performance artist and an artistic director. He has been a part of several onstage performances, including one in the opera Tongues Bloody Tongues with the experimental band Killsonic at the REDCAT.

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Wood names his grandfather as his first and biggest musical influence, but it was Wood’s mother who passed down an appreciation of diverse music that includes both Latin American and US genres. Elements of folk, gospel, soul, and classical music are mixed into Wood’s own experimental sound, which is wrapped with lyrics he sings in English and in Spanish.

The result is a captivating sound that is alarming and dramatic, but there is also a different side to Wood. In some instances, Wood is mostly piano and voice. The melodic sounds of his keys blend with his deep, emotional voice, which wails out lyrics of love and loss. “When you fuck me ‘til I am full of heavenly cum,” he sings in “The Scarcity of Miracle” with Diego Buongiorno.

“I’m always trying to battle the expectation of music being something that you play in the background and comforts you and that is something you play when you take a hot bath and you’re sipping wine and you’re playing music to relax you,” Wood says.

“I’m always trying to battle the expectation of music.”

On the phone Wood’s demeanor is calm. He is polite. He’s also a bit under the weather, but is still up for talking. At the time, he is in the works of creating his next musical project, XALÀ, which he calls his darkest album yet.

It may be easy to misunderstand Wood’s work if you’re overwhelmed by sexually charged lyrics, visuals that make queerness the norm, and his lack of censorship, but Wood sees music as a platform to share experiences that stir emotion and a place to begin conversations from a perspective that is often silenced in the mainstream.

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“I think a lot of my sexuality comes from that – as a statement against these forms of oppression that just go on and on and are certainly very prevalent in the Latino community,” he says.

Being a US-born Latino that spent part of his youth in Latin America, Wood has faced alienation of his own.

“It’s important that someone with a brown face and brown skin can get out there and show that this is also a part of Latino culture.”

“I remember growing up in Costa Rica. There was this prejudice against me because I didn’t speak Spanish very well…I had a very strong accent,” he says. “They used to call me ‘gringo regalado’ because I had dark skin…they said I was ashamed of being Latino and I was ashamed of my skin color because I didn’t speak Spanish properly, ” he recalls. “That couldn’t be further from the truth.”

Wood has only become more empowered by his experiences since entering the world of performance art, a place where he says he has been able to explore his culture. Wood’s mother has also played a vital role in his empowerment. Despite growing up in a Catholic home, Wood says his mother was an advocate of free expression. Wood’s music and performance and visual art have become his vehicle of self-love, a place where he defines his experiences for himself.

“I feel that my sexuality is very much something that is in tune with my spirituality, with my religious beliefs. It’s a part of who I am.” he says.

With Killsonic. @ 2HeadedHorse, Los Angeles, CA. 2009
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XALÀ will be an accumulation of everything Wood has done as an artist and performer. The album will feature songs solely in Spanish – inspired by the time he has spent touring Europe and of his time growing up in both L.A. and Costa Rica – and has been recorded in the format of a trio with musicians in Spain.

“I think as a Latino, it’s important that someone with a brown face, with brown skin can get out there and show that this is also a part of Latino culture. I’m not an outsider; I’m very much a part of the community.”

Keep an eye out for XALÀ later this year.