Friday, November 1, 2019

Drury and Rankine: award-winning writers challenge whiteness

MaYaa Boteng portrays Keisha,
the pivotal character in Jackie Sibblies Drury's Fairview
(photo: Julienta Cervantes)

Hosted by Brooklyn's Center for Fiction and presented with Theater Communications Group, playwright Jackie Sibblies Drury and poet Claudia Rankine sat in conversation about Drury's Pulitizer-winning play, Fairview (2018), and Rankine's first published play, The White Card (March 2019). Both stories have scenes centered around a dinner party and deal with race and white surveillance, ultimately training a floodlight on what whiteness is and what it does. The writers discussed Fairview, mostly, including Rankine's experience of seeing Drury's play in the company of a white woman, a close friend and colleague, who (literally) failed to rise to its challenge. So, The White Card, which I have neither seen nor read will remain more of a mystery to me for a bit longer.

Though highly anticipated, the event proved to be frustrating, beginning with its late start (a half-hour) and a curious mismatch of speakers--both thoughtful, distinguished artists--whose personas could not have been more different. Rankine more reserved and watchful, read not from The White Card but from her essay responding to Fairview and contributed careful, finely-wrought, even mournful analysis at select moments. Drury, more accessible and endearing, too often seemed like a nervous student in awe of a visiting star scholar who is, yes, a MacArthur-certified genius. Rakine's 2014 multiple award-winning volume of poetry, Citizen: An American Lyric, zoomed her into mainstream awareness as a critical witness to everyday racist microaggressions that, along with the fundamental nature and tenacity of white supremacy, make any mention of "post-racial America" an absurd lie. Would that The Center for Fiction could have magically blended these two writers into one fascinating being.

Rankine largely supported Drury in working through the creative process and the varying audience responses to Fairview, a play that first soothes and reassures white audience members with a familiar sit-com scenario and then asks them to participate in gradual, then increasingly unsettling, hard-to-escape exposure of their own white privilege. This conversation gave me a moment to revisit my own reaction to Fairview's final section where the teenager Keisha invites white people to rise from their seats and reassemble on the stage. As a Black woman, I immediately got the system-tilting shift Drury was going for in this theatrical exercise, and I must admit I felt a little smug. No, a lot smug. I also recall that the white people in the SoHo Rep audience I had sat with were all quite cooperative. From Drury's report, it seems that reaction was far from common.

As with reading Rankine's Citizen: An American Lyric, I'm struck, once again, by a sense of unacknowledged tragedy--what Rankine refers to as the loneliness an oppressed person feels, the sense of having been abandoned by all to injustice. On many levels, for many reasons, so many of us live with unhealed trauma. Gaslighting deepens and worsens the tenacious psychological/emotional effects of injustice. It messes with our overall health as individuals, communities and a society, and we're living in a time when gaslighting is pretty much the National Anthem.

Artists like Drury and Rankine bring heroic witness to this incendiary, potentially transitional time. The rest is up to us--to clean these uncovered wounds and allow them to heal.

Learn about The Center for Fiction and its upcoming events--such as evenings with authors like Edwidge Danticat, Annie Baker and Branden Jacobs-Jenkins--here.

The Center for Fiction
15 Lafayette Avenue, Brooklyn


DISCLAIMER: In addition to my work on InfiniteBody, I serve as Senior Curatorial Director of Gibney. The postings on this site are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views, strategies or opinions of Gibney.


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Sam Kim's "Other Animal" opens at Danspace Project

Sam Kim
(photo courtesy of the artist)

Other Animal
by Sam Kim
Danspace Project
October 31-November 2

When entering St. Mark's Church for Sam Kim's solo performance of Other Animal, you'll be directed towards one of two sections of chairs or cute floor cushions, all in a straight line spanning the width of the floor, facing and perfectly aligned with the church's distant altar space. When I was there last night, a few people took seats over on the carpeted risers along the side of the floor, as you're usually permitted to do, but ushers quickly redirected them to this linear set-up. Eventually, Kim made her first appearance, and the reason for this control of our angle of view became clear.

Kim entered the space from one of the sanctuary's doors, dressed in leopard-print leggings, a long white shirt and a loose wool coat in a bold, checked pattern. For a quite lengthy stretch of her 50-minute solo, she merely sauntered, assertively strode or simply hastened across the floor, unconcerned about her watchers, repeatedly disappearing somewhere behind us and through another of the church's doors. In the beginning, I was curious to know what she was doing outside my range of view and tried to crane my neck to see.

Impossible. I turned my whole upper-back, discovering that she was actually leaving us. I didn't notice more than maybe one or two other people checking on what was going on behind us, and I think they might have been content to just hear doors close and re-open, to see Kim when she was in view, to watch her exit and return through the two visible doors facing us. I wonder how many caught that momentary apparition up on the right-hand balcony.

Now you see her, now you don't. What's that about? And do you care? Why should you?

Kim's own don't-care look and sullen demeanor (butchy, I thought) actually endeared her to me, and I began to care. I'm not sure why I would or if I should, but I did. She had won me over, and it put me in a very good place to appreciate how she went on to labor in, fill and ironically dominate the space.

Watching Kim's performance felt like finding oneself inside of a restless but also persistent, generative mind. The video animation work of experimental filmmaker Stacey Steers seemed to swell and spill from that same source--a thick, unruly blossoming of imagery, possibly organic but largely indecipherable, weird though inexplicably appealing. It bloomed in sections of the altar-area's wall, eventually overtaking its entire arch.

"I'm messy," her movements and way of being seemed to say. "Kind of beautifully messy. I'm here. I claim it. Sometimes staggering, sometimes slumping, sometimes soft of step. Holding myself together. Letting myself go. Slipping uphill (the altar risers) and rolling down. No matter how awkward it all looks, how difficult, how stop-and-start the effort."

A muted, warm pool of light sometimes draped Kim's body in the overwhelming space of St. Mark's Church like a gesture of compassion. That light also looked as if it might be seeping from within her, softly brightening wherever her body landed.

She passed me as she left the space for the final time, and I would have tipped my hat--had I been wearing one--to a masterful performer, secure in herself and her vision.

Lighting design: Kathy Kaufman
Sound and projection design: Chloe Alexandra Thompson

Other Animal continues nightly through Saturday, November 2, with performances at 8pm. For information and tickets, click here.

Danspace Project
131 East 10th Street (and Second Avenue), Manhattan


DISCLAIMER: In addition to my work on InfiniteBody, I serve as Senior Curatorial Director of Gibney. The postings on this site are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views, strategies or opinions of Gibney.


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Sunday, October 27, 2019

"THE DAY" arrives

Cellist Maya Beiser with Wendy Whelan
performing The Day
(photos: Hayim Heron, courtesy of Jacob's Pillow)

by Maya Beiser, Lucinda Childs, David Lang and Wendy Whelan
October 22-27

In all honesty, when I hear that the events of September 11, 2001 inspired a piece of art, I note and then turn away from that detail, hoping for an alternative reason to connect. The excellence of THE DAY's principal collaborators--cellist Maya Beiser, dancer Wendy Whelan, choreographer Lucinda Childs and composer David Lang--drew me to The Joyce this week for this work's New York premiere. (I went, in particular, for Beiser, and please hurry to her site's video page and share my new obsession.) Thinking back now, I find myself drifting between certainty that THE DAY reflects a moment in our history and, at the very same time, wavering certainty about what my eyes and ears testified as I gazed from my seat in the audience. Thus, for me, it might be the perfect evocation of the experience of witnessing 9/11.

Performed without intermission, the interdisciplinary work consists of two parts--The Day and World To Come, named for music previously composed by Lang for Beiser--and contemplates the aftermath of a soul's separation from its body. The width and height of the Joyce stage, backed by Joshua Higgason's video projection, contribute to THE DAY's monumentality and hallucinatory depth of field and dreamy elusiveness.

In the opening part, Beiser and Whelan occupy separate, opposing territories--cellist and cello crowning a translucent incline; white-draped ballerina starting off artfully perched on a stool as if posing for a fashion shoot. Sara Brown's minimalist, abstract set--angled lines suggest subtle demarcation--works in tandem with the strength, and severity, that Childs' ideas bring out in Whelan's deft improvisations which, at times, evoke an iconic rendering of the architectural proportions of the human body. She creates, and exists within, pristine, divine abstractions.

Lang crafted the voiceover text for Part 1, Beiser writes in her program notes, out of numerous statements crowd-sourced from the Internet, each phrase completing his own phrase "I remember the day I...." Each statement is separated from the next by six seconds, giving the text a hypnotic rhythm, like a prayerful litany, and I found it fascinating to find that he had carefully alphabetized the statements.

I stopped speaking. I stumbled. I switched. I talked. I talked to myself sternly.

Each statement, taken out of context, could sound as if it captured a mundane moment in time. But, in fact, Lang intends each to mark a significant turning point in a person's life. Carefully strung on a silver thread of breath, each statement takes its moment to shimmer in light before giving way to the next. So, in a way, each is extraordinary but no one surpasses any other. Each stands in as a symbol of human consciousness, symbol of human experience--and, it is painful to remember, a single loss out of many.

Some of the sonic and visual atmospherics of THE DAY tease the audience while also being unsubtle--a long, muffled, engine-like roar; two white lengths of fabric suspended from the stage's fly space suddenly rippling to the floor; the video speeding bodies into spectral visitations blurred across an interior space; Whelan increasingly wrapped by shroud-like fabric as her body rolls down the incline.

But the music. Beiser's strong, exacting control of her instrument; the energies generated and invoked in her playing. This mastery at the core of THE DAY anchors everything, gives everything else here a reason for being.

Sound design: Dave Cook
Lighting design: Natasha Katz 
Costume design: Karen Young

The Day concludes today with a performance at 2pm. For information and tickets, click here.

175 Eighth Avenue at West 19th Street


DISCLAIMER: In addition to my work on InfiniteBody, I serve as Senior Curatorial Director of Gibney. The postings on this site are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views, strategies or opinions of Gibney.


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Saturday, October 26, 2019

For Colored Girls...yesterday, today, tomorrow

Cast of the 2019 production of Ntozake Shange's
For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When The Rainbow Is Enuf
at The Public Theater
(photo: Joan Marcus)

October 19, 2019

When, in the mid-1970s, I first saw Ntozake Shange’s Black feminist choreopoem For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When The Rainbow Is Enuf--back then, if I recall, all the letters in that title were still stylishly lower-cased--my Greek-American boyfriend emerged from the theater in a state of shock and horror. As for me--a colored Caribbean-American girl for whom the queer rainbow was yet to be enough--I relished the sheer moxie of it.

As it happened, one of my editors had already given the boyfriend a look-over and quickly summed him up as “not mature enough for you,” but it took me a bit longer to figure that out for myself.

That Shange, though. In For Colored Girls, she had handed me a clue. She handed so many of us a clue.

She had dreamed forth seven women who, through experiences of pleasure and of struggle, figured things out for themselves. Adorned in a rainbow of colors--each in blue, brown, orange, red, yellow, green or purple--her “colored girls” burst into the consciousness of early 1970s New York and proceeded to spin a web of influence in the theatrical arts that has never come to an end. I have since seen Shange’s aesthetics reflected in performers and choreographers I dearly love like Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, Maria Bauman, Andrea E. Woods Valdés, Sydnie L. Mosley, Camille A. Brown and countless other dance, performance and spoken word artists.

Shange’s choreopoem first hit city bars, then The Public Theater for its formal premiere, then Broadway and then--maybe for worse rather than better--television and film. Now in 2019, welcomed back to The Public--under graceful direction by Leah C. Gardiner and with Camille A. Brown’s vivacious and accessible choreography--these legendary "colored girls" inhabit a small, intimate set-up encircled by audience seating. Gardiner and Brown's fantastic ensemble includes Sasha Allen (Lady in Blue), Celia Chevalier (Lady in Brown), Danaya Esperanza (Lady in Orange), Jayme Lawson (Lady in Red), Adrienne C. Moore (Lady in Yellow), Okwui Okpokwasili (Lady in Green) and Alexandria Wailes (Lady in Purple).

At center: Alexandria Wailes (Lady in Purple)
(photo: Joan Marcus)

Okwui Okpokwasili (Lady in Green)
(photo: Joan Marcus)

With every finger snap, every hand clap, every stomp, every swirl, every satisfied press and slip of hands against their own bodies, Shange’s characters insist that attention finally be paid to Black women marginalized and endangered by racism and patriarchy. Because they have learned to pay attention to themselves. Know themselves. Enjoy themselves. Famously, find god in themselves. They speak the truths life has taught them.

Choreography connects the cast through a percolating, expandable cypher that protects childlike play--the inevitable “Little Sally Walker” clapping game--the embodied relaying of amusing, sexy or harrowing stories and the communal, compassionate laying on of healing hands. Movement turns poetic text vividly three-dimensional; through physical expression, memories become all the more shareable with an audience willing to be moved. Bring tissues. I needed a few.

Scenic design and lighting create an atmosphere of permission (the disco balls at first retracted above the stage), a space for sensory indulgence (those clustered hangings of abstract stalactites rotating through lights of deep colors). Original compositions by American Roots and soul artist Martha Redbone and hits from generations past--”Dancing in the Streets,” “Stay in My Corner”--underscore and heighten the narratives’ driving intensity.

Sasha Allen, an exciting singer,
portrays Shange's Lady in Blue.
(photo: Joan Marcus)

It's time to discover--or rediscover--the joy and potency of For Color Girls. Go and discover Wailes, a deaf actor and dancer of eloquent charm and fluidity who absolutely dazzles. Rediscover Okpokwasili, a star of contemporary dance and performance, whose trenchant, urgent presentation of one of Shange's most famous soliloquies reminds us--us colored girls, at least--that there's still always going to be someone new trying to walk off wid alla our stuff.

Scenic design: Myung Hee Cho
Costume design: Toni-Leslie James
Lighting design: Jiyoun Chang
Sound design: Megumi Katayama
Understudy: D. Woods
Director of American Sign Language: Onudeah Nicolarakis

For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When The Rainbow Is Enuf has been extended through Sunday, December 8. For information and tickets, click here.

425 Lafayette Street (at Astor Place), Manhattan


DISCLAIMER: In addition to my work on InfiniteBody, I serve as Senior Curatorial Director of Gibney. The postings on this site are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views, strategies or opinions of Gibney.


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Saturday, October 19, 2019

From sea to shining sea with Kayla Farrish

A still from The New Frontier
(photo: Alexander Diaz)

The New Frontier (my dear America) Pt. 1
Kayla Farrish/Decent Structures Arts
Danspace Project

I admire the energy burst and largeness and hearty ambition of Kayla Farrish and her premiere at Danspace Project--The New Frontier (my dear America) Pt. 1. The title hints at what will come: "Here I am, a Black woman, a Black woman dance artist, and I'm going to wrap my mind around what it means to take over this venerable performance space for essentially two hours (even with a 15-minute intermission between two "acts," rare for a Danspace Project show), and I'm bringing in my talented folx to grab up and slice through this space like human buzzsaws. I'm going to show you that anything can happen here in this American space. And, by the way, this is only Pt. 1."

Even before the piece starts, it starts. I took my seat and saw dancers scattered and drifting around as a recording of Sinatra singing "My Way," his anthem to a lifetime of self-assertion. Some decidedly non-official US flags rested on the floor. The intermission is populated by an "intermission entertainment" (a fine solo performed by Dorchel Haqq to the Sammy Davis, Jr. recording of "Mr. Bojangles") and, later, dancers, with homey informality, going about the work of arranging props, set and lights for Act 2.

Resembling less the legendary American melting pot than a full washing machine on spin, The New Frontier includes a soundscape that, along with Frank and Sammy, might touch down now in dreamy Debussy realms or terrains of Nina Simone or hip hop. And a film--set to premiere as its own entity in 2020--fills in gaps between live dancers with looming images of other performers on a beach. That's a smart way to tame the intimidating volume of St. Mark's Church.

Containing multitudes, The New Frontier is, itself, a quilt stitched from two earlier Farrish projects--With grit From, Grace in Act 1; Black Bodies Sonata in Act 2--her film, and the writings of James Baldwin, Audre Lorde and others.

If expanse and dynamic variety are a large part of what makes America (more properly called the United States) America, they are also what makes this interdisciplinary piece off-balance, hard to figure out and, ultimately, less effective as a work of dance theater than it might have been. As a viewer, I sought meaning and coherence and had to settle for individual bits and pieces that drew me in--like a fantastic second-act duet, by turns wheeling, churning, swooning and sensitive, between Farrish and Kar'mel Small performed near a fan-blown stretch of fabric that evokes everything from a silky bed to a rushing stream. Compelling narratives suggest themselves here--nothing terribly obvious, just enough to make us take notice and care. While I enjoyed the skills and gusto of the dancers throughout the evening, I would have liked to care as much about all of The New Frontier as I did about this duet.

Farrish's vocal projection in her spoken parts would benefit from coaching, especially to overcome the challenges of St. Mark's Church and occasional competition from other sound. It was discouraging to miss so much of the delivery of her opening monologue (written by Nik Owens) and other texts throughout the evening. Even so, the implied correlation, here, between the seductions of the American Dream and the seductions of social media feels undercooked and awkward. It felt both necessary and unnecessary to try to tune it in, both sad and a relief to let go and tune it out.

Live performers: Kayla Farrish, Dorchel Haqq, Emilee Harney, Kar’mel Small, Mikaila Ware

Film collaborators and crew: Alexander Diaz, Kayla Farrish, Dominica Greene, Kerime Konur, Rebecca Margolick

Lighting: Carol Mullins
Costume collaboration and design: Athena Kokoronis

The New Frontier (my dear America) Pt. 1 concludes its run this evening, Saturday, with an 8pm performance. For information and tickets, click here.

Danspace Project
131 East 10th Street (and Second Avenue), Manhattan


DISCLAIMER: In addition to my work on InfiniteBody, I serve as Senior Curatorial Director of Gibney. The postings on this site are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views, strategies or opinions of Gibney.


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Tuesday, October 15, 2019

35th Annual Bessie Awards announced at Skirball



Joan Myers Brown

For helping shape American dance over six decades spent choreographing, training, and mentoring dancers at Philadanco. For championing and creating spaces for the work of African American choreographers through the formation of such seminal organizations as The International Association of Blacks in Dance. For doing it all with grace, generosity, artistry, and leadership.


Louis Mofsie

For his tireless and visionary service for more than half a century: preserving and keeping vibrant the dances, songs, and ceremonies of multiple Native American tribal traditions. Serving as leader, teacher, scholar, and emcee extraordinaire with his Thunderbird American Indian Dancers, he has toured to all 50 states, sharing and collecting dances that would otherwise be lost to history.


Laurie Uprichard

For decades dedicated to dance artists and the creation of new dance works. For her stewardship of The Bessies, aiding in their inception and sustaining them for many years after. For being a leader and beloved member of every dance community she has touched.


Nick Cave
The Let Go at Park Avenue Armory

For creating a ritual using colorful full-body masks, a moving stream of mylar, the choral uplift of the Sing Harlem choir, and Francesca Harper’s inspired choreographic structures, the piece invites us to lose ourselves and find each other in this divisive time.

nora chipaumire
#Punk 100% POP* N!GGA at The Kitchen and Crossing the Line Festival

For a radical and passionate blast of sound, movement, confrontation, and choreographed chaos. For working at the intersection of art, politics, and social commentary to create a devastating rendering of the politics of race.

Merce Cunningham with stager Patricia Lent and Merce Cunningham Trust
Night of 100 Solos: A Centennial Event at BAM Howard Gilman Opera House

For bringing Merce Cunningham’s work to new and expanded life on his centennial. Opening his work to the bodies of brilliant dance artists from all genres to create a mesmerizing event brimming with brilliance, generosity, unity, and trust.

Tania El Khoury
As Far As My Fingertips Take Me at Under the Radar/The Public Theater

For bringing the experience of migration and border control to our most intimate place—the body. For filling the audience’s ears with a story of displacement, while drawing the journey on their arm. reaching unseen and unprotected through a wall: a global crisis is brought home in indelible ways.


Leslie Cuyjet
Sustained Achievement with Jane Comfort, Niall Jones, Juliana F. May, Cynthia Oliver, Will Rawls

For her ability to combine technical precision, astonishing energy, humor, and raw theatrical power to consistently illuminate the choreographer’s vision.

Gabrielle Hamilton
in Oklahoma!’s Dream Ballet choreographed by John Heginbotham, at St. Ann’s Warehouse

For bringing her full self to expand the boundaries of a classic American play, and its iconic dream ballet: She is powerfully sensual, fully in control, moving with intelligence, fearlessness, and aplomb.

Taylor Stanley
in The Runaway by Kyle Abraham, New York City Ballet, at the David H. Koch Theater

Combining exceptional technique, clear musicality, and a fierce devotion to the choreography, he brought down the house with a piercingly revelatory solo performed with raw abandon and emotional purity.

Shamar Watt
Sustained Achievement in the work of nora chipaumire

For expressing, embodying, and extending the choreographer’s vision, while remaining forcefully himself. For inhabiting the worlds created with a riveting coiled energy that creates a dynamic and urgent NOW in every work.


Judson Dance Theater: The Work Is Never Done
Yvonne Rainer, Deborah Hay, Lucinda Childs, David Gordon, Steve Paxton, Trisha Brown, and Simone Forti, curated by Ana Janevski at the Museum of Modern Art

A critical and pivotal exhibit featuring live performances that shined a light on a moment of radical invention in the history of American modern dance. Placing the work in the larger social and political context in which it was made, and giving it new relevance in the current moment.


Conrad Tao and Caleb Teicher for More Forever by Caleb Teicher at Guggenheim Works & Process

Employing an unexpected mix of timbres—a toy piano, a computerized harp, the sound of scraped sand—composer and dancer introduce sophisticated sounds into the tap landscape. The improvised score pays homage to the very roots of the dance form, as it enriches the possibilities for its future.


Design Team: Jeanne Medina and Ni’Ja Whitson (Costumes), Gil Sperling featuring artworks by Wangechi Mutu and Gavin Jantjes (Video), Tuçe Yasak (Lighting)
for Oba Qween Baba King Baba by Ni’Ja Whitson, co-commissioned by Danspace Project and Abrons Arts Center

For its innovative use of projection and light, using ceiling, wall, floor, audience, and dancers’ bodies as vessel and canvas. For mixing live performance, recorded and live video, and shape-shifting costumes to create a world of beauty, power, myth, and reality.

BESSIES JURIED AWARD (Presented in July 2019)

Alice Sheppard

For boldly and authentically inventing new movement vocabularies full of supercharged physicality and nuanced detail. Working with gravity, mechanics, human connection, and momentum, she creates work of power and empowerment.


Daina Ashbee

For using the elemental female body itself as a means to excavate and expose layered histories of violence against women. Using repetition, painful ritual, and raw and resilient bodies, her work draws the viewer into a journey of insistence and transformation.


If you missed the awards show, catch it on Sunday, November 17, at 8pm on WNET’s ALL ARTS, a broadcast channel, streaming platform and website dedicated to arts and culture 24/7.


The NY Dance and Performance Awards have saluted outstanding and groundbreaking creative work in the dance field in New York City for 35 years. Known as “The Bessies” in honor of revered dance teacher Bessie Schönberg, the awards were established in 1984 by David R. White at Dance Theater Workshop. They recognize outstanding work in choreography, performance, music composition, and visual design. Nominees are chosen by a selection committee comprised of artists, presenters, producers, and writers. All those working in the dance field are invited to join the NY Dance and Performance League as members and participate in annual discussions on the direction of the awards and nominate members to serve on the selection committee. For more information about The Bessies, visit

The 2019 Bessie Awards Steering Committee, responsible for setting policy and providing oversight for the Bessie Awards throughout the year, is comprised of Cora Cahan, Beverly D’Anne, Jeanne Linnes, Stanford Makishi, Nicky Paraiso, Carla Peterson, Gus Solomons jr, Paz Tanjuaquio, Judy Hussie-Taylor, Laurie Uprichard, and Martin Wechsler.

The 2018–2019 Bessie Awards Selection Committee: Ronald Alexander, Elise Bernhardt, Charles Vincent Burwell, Diana Byer, Tymberly Canale, Alexis Convento, Parijat Desai, Maura Donohue, Boo Froebel, Angela Fatou Gittens, Diane Grumet, Brinda Guha, Joseph Hall, Mai Lê Hô, Iréne Hultman, Celia Ipiotis, Koosil-ja, Fernando Maneca, Lydia Mokdessi, Harold Norris, Craig Peterson, Doug Post, Rajika Puri, Tiffany Rea-Fisher, Susan Reiter, Walter Rutledge, George Emilio Sanchez, Andrea Snyder, Sally Sommer, Risa Steinberg, Carrie Stern, Catherine Tharin, Tony Waag, and William Whitener.


DISCLAIMER: In addition to my work on InfiniteBody, I serve as Senior Curatorial Director of Gibney. The postings on this site are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views, strategies or opinions of Gibney.


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Friday, September 27, 2019

La Mama hosts the great Germaine Acogny

Germaine Acogny, "Mother of Contemporary African Dance,"
(photo: Thomas Dorn)

by Germaine Acogny and Mikäel Serre
FIAF's Crossing The Line Festival
La MaMa Ellen Stewart Theatre
September 26-28

SOMEWHERE AT THE BEGINNING--a US premiere for Crossing The Line Festival by renowned Senegalese/French contemporary dance artist Germaine Acogny and director Mikäel Serre--unfolds as if it were dreamt, a full-sensory haunting both sustained in time and elusively fluid in nature. A rich soundscape makes the viewer feel surrounded, engulfed. Visual design tucks things far out of reach or behind layers of other images, or suddenly zooms them large or slips them back into darkness, seriously messing with rational sense of space.

Its fascinating and troubling text, adapted for the stage by Serre, is often spoken in French by Acogny while also running in English as supertitles. If you do not comprehend French, this regularly pulls your gaze up and away from the stately moving sculpture that is Acogny.

You make your choices here; they're difficult, disruptive, regretful and the only ones you're allowed. At almost every turn, she and her creative team suspend us in a phenomena from which we cannot turn away. Even the smell of baby powder and the tickle of tiny, airborne feathers will eventually reach our unguarded selves.

A stage-spanning string curtain serves as a scrim onto which ghostly images may be projected and into which solid objects (and our beloved dancer) can be swallowed out of sight as if dragged below waves.

Like the simple props that will gather dramatic meaning--an open notebook, its white pages reflecting light; a pillow the dancer hugs to her chest, a heavy rock--Acogny contains the brooding power of history, of secrets, a complicated narrative with webs of connection to the Greek Medea and the tragedy of today's refugees seeking safety in Europe.

One surprise discovery, among many, in a diary--the words "Power is passed down from woman to woman." How to access that inheritance? Does it come from things--a set of formidable butcher knives passed along to the wrong person? Or is it knowledge, the force of truth about oneself that can purge the evil wrought by colonialism, patriarchal religion, racism, male supremacy?

Now in her 70s, Acogny--choreographer, performer and educator--has been called "Mother of Contemporary African Dance." Watch as she makes startling use of Johnny Cash's recording of "Hurt" with its evocation of self-inflicted pain and "empire of dirt," and you will grasp why this artist can claim worldwide reverence. Do not miss her historic performance at La MaMa.

Concept and direction: Mikäel Serre
Choreography: Germaine Acogny
Set design: Maciej Fiszer
Costumes: Johanna Diakhate-Rittmeyer
Music: Fabrice Bouillon "LaForest"
Video: Sebastien Dupouey
Lighting design: Sebastien Michaud

Talkback moderation: Okwui Okpokwasili
Translation: Courtney Geraghty

SOMEWHERE AT THE BEGINNING runs through tomorrow evening at La MaMa with performance at 7pm. For information and tickets, click here.

For information on other events in Crossing The Line, an annual presentation of French Institute Alliance Française, click here.

La Mama (Ellen Stewart Theatre)
66 East 4th Street (between Bowery and Second Avenue), Manhattan


DISCLAIMER: In addition to my work on InfiniteBody, I serve as Senior Curatorial Director of Gibney. The postings on this site are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views, strategies or opinions of Gibney.


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