Friday, September 9, 2016

jill sigman/thinkdance presents "Weed Heart" at Gibney

Jill Sigman in her performance of Weed Heart
and below with Katrina De Wees
(photos: Scott Shaw)


That word often crops up when we talk about weeds.

And about certain people.

I'll use it here to describe both the artist Jill Sigman (jill sigman/thinkdance) and what she has wrought at Gibney Dance Center: Agnes Varis Performing Arts Center as choreographer and as Gibney's first Community Action Artist in Residence.

Her project, Weed Heart, is an unruly yet sociable thing of sculptured plantings, tea servings, soup servings, community conversations, free-ranging ideas, music and movement in intimate space. It willfully sprawls from Gibney's gallery lounge area to its tiny ground-level Studio A and, ultimately, beyond the center's front door.

Weed Heart is both a cozy, rather retro (think: hippie era) installation, a commons where anyone can drop by and hang out (the gallery lounge), and a performance where only a little over thirty onlookers can fit (Studio A). At the evening performance, those thirty or so get soothed by a weedy brew of tea, light and delicious red lentil soup made by Katrina De Wees and luminously textured electronic and vocal energy from composer Kristin Norderval. Seated in a single ring around the space, those thirty or so observe an abstract representation of the path that Sigman took--from earnest seeking and bewilderment to soul-felt awareness--as she sought to learn what common weeds can teach her.

How they communicate with themselves and, potentially, with us. How they survive. How they foster healing. How cultures have regarded and interacted with them over time. How our disdain for weeds parallels our similar ignorance about humans we consider to be unlike ourselves and less worthy.

Working with living creatures whose existence depends upon deep connection below the surface--or, at least, attachment to dug-up portions of earth--she has tapped into sediments of her family legacy and of New York history. Weed Heart is haunted by the displacement of indigenous people, the brutality of slavery, the appropriation of what was once land available for common access.

As Sigman reminds us, during a video in her performance, when we buy our sports bras next door at Modell's or park our cars in the lot east of Gibney, we do so over the remains of enslaved Africans. Yes, Weed Heart is packed with all of this--and more. Sigman works tend to be threaded with everything and every interconnection engaging her mind--from environmental sustainability to The Movement for Black Lives. It's a fertile mind, and you just plug into something that resonates with you and hang on as best you can.

Weed Heart, the dance and the dancing, seems born of age-old ritual. Here Sigman takes on the trappings of the plant kingdom. She has tied a large, heart-shaped Paulownia leaf around her face (and, much later, reveals its remarkable source). Brighter green leaves--and a little rose-pink rhinestone heart--decorate her dark-blue hoodie. One cannot look at that hoodie, somehow, and not think of Trayvon Martin's and--when her head and face are completely swathed--the Muslim hijab and niqab.

Sigman's movements--often angular, jutting and jarring--have an alien feel, and Norderval's soundscore draws us through metallic or insect-like dimensions that elude easy identification. It's the role of the ritualist, after all, to take us far from Kansas. Sigman does this, yet--with assists from Norderval and De Wees--she shows that "strange new worlds"--removed and hidden and strange and new to us, at least--can be places of graciousness and mercy.

Jill Sigman on Chambers Street
(photo: Scott Shaw)

Weed Heart performances continue through Saturday, September 10 and Wednesday-Saturday, September 14-17, all at 8pm. For information and tickets, click here.

Related event: Weed Heart: People, Plants, and Social Justice panel discussion on Sunday, September 25, 4-5pm. Click here for information.

280 Broadway (enter at 53A Chambers Street), Manhattan

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