Friday, November 13, 2015

Our bodies, our business: SLMDances at University Settlement

Candace Thompson of SLMDances
at University Settlement for BodyBusiness
photo ©2015, Eva Yaa Asantewaa

BodyBusiness--the exuberant, inspired new venture from Sydnie L. Mosley's SLMDances--asks "How can dancers be paid a living wage for meaningful work? How can we transform places of lack in our lives into places of abundance?"

While the first question will require something like revolution, the second gets answered and put into practice this very week by BodyBusiness itself, a dance concert hosted by The Performance Project at University Settlement where Mosley has been in residence. But not just a dance concert. BodyBusiness is a dance physically--and spiritually--nested inside a social, marketing and community networking event ("Marketplace").*  The simple fact that I might have something you need and vice versa is its operating principle and a model for how to survive, thrive and get your work done as an artist in New York or really anywhere.

Katherine Bergstrom of SLMDances
at play with audience members
at University Settlement for BodyBusiness
photo ©2015, Eva Yaa Asantewaa

Opening night found US's Speyer Hall performance space encircled by reps from from several community service organizations--The Field, Pentacle, OurGoods, PURPOSE Productions, among others--the sound system pumping soul and R&B as an audience gathered. Eventually, dancers from Mosley's troupe appeared, casually engaging a few audience members in movement play in the central space as tabling continued on the sidelines. These interactions provided a transition into the formal performance. With tables cleared away, Damel Dieng's video introduced and, with the help of Mosley's entertaining dancers, cleverly illustrated the complex economic issues faced by freelance dance artists.

Unpaid or underpaid. Up to their eyeballs in debt. Working several jobs to support themselves while pursuing an art they love. Statistics stacked against any hope for healthy balance in life, let alone success in their chosen career.

In the following live performance, we learned more about Mosley and her dancers as individuals, their backstories, struggles and dreams. "My folks wanted me off the couch," said Kayla Hamilton. "My mother, she worked too damned hard for me to be just dancing around," said Kimberly Mhoon. "My mother likens my dance career to an abusive relationship," said Candace Thompson.

Most of the dancers are Black women, and Mosley's choreography for this initial segment shows a wry relationship with classical ballet (as skill, as playacting) that is full of charm and mischief.

There is joy and determination and something I can only call being-one's-selfness in every move, and I love how Mosley keeps things continuously on the move. There are bodies in a range of sizes, and so we bid fond adieu to that "mold" that one dancer, Rachel Russell, said she did not fit. Fuck that mold.

The audience participation that follows--which I will not divulge here--gets to the heart of Mosley's whole project. She has a need to see dancers stand in their power (probably more than just dancers, too...but let's start there), and she offers some tools and bids us all use them well and carry on.

*Tonight's Marketplace--open at 6pm and followed, roughly at 7 or 7:30 by the performance--will feature tabling by health and social services organizations, and tomorrow's will be devoted to small businesses.

For BodyBusiness information and tickets, click here. Note: No one will be turned away for lack of funds. Also, with advance notice, childcare is available--which is very cool.

University Settlement
184 Eldridge Street (near Rivington Street), Manhattan
(map/directions)

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