Tuesday, June 28, 2016

"Her Fishtrap": a reflection from Ni'Ja Whitson

Choreographer Paloma McGregor
in Building a Better Fishtrap
(photo: Whitney Browne)

In Her Fishtrap, dance artist and guest writer Ni’Ja Whitson reflects on Building a Better Fishtrap, a work presented at BAX/Brooklyn Arts Exchange this month by choreographer Paloma McGregor in collaboration with visual artist Sara Jimenez, installation designer Vassi Spanos and sound designer Everett Saunders.

Photos by Whitney Browne

Her Fishtrap

Cold jar swings
from the ceiling.
its translucence
off white spill.
A residue
memory, and time.

Paloma McGregor
in Building a Better Fishtrap
(photo: Whitney Browne)

It is another of McGregor’s portals.

Building a Better Fishtrap commands its audience receive and witness with the same stamina the soloist McGregor rigorously expels. The performance takes place between three floors of Brooklyn Arts Exchange, a spatial expanse that mirrors the vast locations of physical, object, and media vocabularies embodied. She is wielder/welder/poet/cyclone/octopus/child/magician/dreamer.

Fishtrap’s audience becomes her ocean-bound garden, being toiled and rooted as the piece unfolds. One of the work’s most striking and successful elements is the manipulation of object and/in space. Among all three floors, her unique world is made by the ways in which the calculated manipulation of objects installed in the performance space are activated. On the first floor, mason jars are rolled and spun, opened and emptied, carried with care and abandoned. McGregor, at one point, makes a clever emptying roll of a jar, releasing a swell of aromatic ground mint, then proceeds to further make her/self a conjurer, shifting the air through the sense of smell. She then wafts the jar to the witnesses, puts mint grounds in hand, over body, head and floor. She cleanses and reopens. The doing in this work is its magic. And McGregor does both the subtle and grand with such intention, the magic hypnotizes.

Paloma McGregor
in Building a Better Fishtrap
(photo: Whitney Browne)

She breaks
through time. Strung
as a clothesline
the years hang.
With back wing
spread the ocean
sorceress stops
let light wonder over
She sings her birth.
Dances a life
from the deep.

It was born to her.

McGregor is a masterful constructionist; her choreographic structure is tightly considered, thus where she “plays” she, too, devises. Strategically and uniquely working within a grounded knowledge of African diasporic vocabularies (and beyond), Fishtrap makes meaning in the employment of improvisation as a virtuostic practice. And the lines where presumably “set” or improvisationally set material live, exist here as wonderfully blurred. The dance of this performance is as much in the spaces of (brief) stillness as it is in McGregor’s turns, arm curves, undulations, and foot pounds. This is critical to the work; there are no disposable gestures.

Paloma McGregor
in Building a Better Fishtrap
(photo: Whitney Browne)

Black mama joy
spin her.
Wave skirt and dive
She wet.
We dry. But we all swim.
Black mama child girl
cross a net sea
to the other side.
We wait
at the shore
she our people
bones in the dark.

Paloma McGregor’s Building a Better Fishtrap is an embodied poem and slicing exposition of memory. It, at times lullabies in quiet movement or task, then within an instant destabilizes through near-cinematographic staging and striking movement. Fishtrap gifts what it inquiries: play and recall.

Her Fishtrap
©2016 Ni’Ja Whitson

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