Saturday, March 24, 2018

Wilson's Fist & Heel troupe concludes Platform 2018

Choreographer Reggie Wilson
of Reggie Wilson/Fist & Heel Performance Group
(photo: Antoine Tempé)

My old friend Reggie Wilson put a "post-African/Neo-Hoodoo"* curse on me last night at Danspace Project.

Let me explain.

I'd been taking notes during his opening, hour-or-so Powerpoint talk--the initially-rambling preamble to his troupe's performance of …they stood shaking while others began to shout. Friday's talk, amusingly illustrated and delivered, touched on Wilson's perennial sore point--what he perceives as the chasm between the World of the Written Word and the Land of the Body Moving in Space and Time; the way colonized thinking devalues the power of bodies to communicate knowledge to other bodies. Only a man as accomplished and lovable as Wilson could get away with lecturing his audience on how to look at and analyze his (or anybody's) dances right before rolling out his newest one.

There was--for practical reasons as well, I think, symbolic ones--a break between talk and dance. During that brief turnover, I quickly and roughly jammed my notebook and a fairly new ballpoint pen into my crowded shoulderbag and turned to chat with friends and colleagues. When the houselights lowered for the dance, I reached to retrieve notebook and pen only to find the pen entirely dismantling in my hand, one small piece of plastic flying off onto the darkened floor.

I thought of many things at once:

God, I hope nobody's seeing this and laughing at me.

Oh, boy! Reggie and Tere O'Connor (who once admonished critics to stop writing notes and just look) would get a kick out of this!

I can only ever make out 5% of what I wrote in the dark anyway. So, fuck it.

Then, and only then, was I able to let go.

Reggie's curse.

His rich and complex platform--Dancing Platform Praying Grounds: Blackness, Churches and Downtown Dance--concludes, this weekend, with the beautiful Fist & Heel Performance Group ranging all over St. Mark's space including, quite vividly, the balcony to which enslaved African people were once relegated. His talk inspired a laser focus on that claiming of space and the variety of ways Wilson takes the measure of it, populates it, creates drama with it, brings warmth to it and affects those of us who watch.

If you get a chance to see …they stood shaking while others began to shout--inspired by rhythmic Black Shaker, Yoruba, Black Baptist and Spiritual Baptist worship traditions and a luscious collage of Black music--I think you will appreciate how all of this craft creates a sturdy container for deep, enormous feeling. (That feeling is the neo-hoodoo secret sauce, quietly simmering away underneath it all, unmistakably permitted and, to me, unmistakably Black.) I think you will find space for emerging feelings of your own, and I would imagine--I would hope--that you would not necessarily need to be Black to find and feel them. Certainly, Wilson's multi-racial, multi-ethnic, multi-generational dancers and vocalists--Hadar Ahuvia, Rhetta Aleong, Yeman Brown, Paul Hamilton, Lawrence Harding, Raja Feather Kelly, Clement Mensah, Gabriella Silva, Annie Wang and Michelle Yard--suggest this. Each performer brings palpable individuality--a generously-welcomed selfness--to Wilson's movements, arrangements and scenarios.

This seems a most significant retention from all of Wilson's many years traveling the African diaspora to witness how Black people evoke and fill ourselves with Spirit: the idea that one might come to that work through the door of one's own struggle and dignity and pleasure, in a way that has one's own signature, and that there is room for you just as you are. The strong traditions--of song, of movement--hold space for us to do what we need to do as we find family.

[*Wilson has long referred to his choreographic aesthetic as "post-African/ Neo-Hood Modern Dance."]

Tonight's 8pm show--already sold out--ends the Wilson platform. A wait list will be taken at the door beginning at 7:15pm. No late seating. For information, click here.

For full information on Dancing Platform Praying Grounds: Blackness, Churches and Downtown Dance, click here.

Danspace Project
St. Mark's Church-in-the-Bowery
131 East 10th Street (off Second Avenue), Manhattan

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Oleg Tabakov, 82

Oleg Tabakov, Revered Russian Actor and Teacher, Is Dead at 82
by Neil Genzlinger, The New York Times, March 23, 2018

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Olly Wilson, 80

Olly Wilson, 80, Dies; Composer Meshed African and Western Music
by Richard Sandomir, The New York Times, March 23, 2018

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Friday, March 23, 2018

Kinetic Light opens "DESCENT" at New York Live Arts

Scene from Alice Sheppard's DESCENT
Above: Laurel Lawson
Below: Alice Sheppard
(photo: MANCC)
Dancer-choreographer Alice Sheppard of Kinetic Light
(courtesy of the artist)

Months ago, I saw a raw showing of DESCENT, a work being developed by the disabled artist collective Kinetic Light--Alice Sheppard, Laurel Lawson and Michael Maag. Set up in a smallish GIBNEY studio, it lacked Maag's brilliant lighting and video design but was impressive even then--what with two athletically-strong women in wheelchairs tearing up and down a curvaceous ramp like competitive divas and confronting their desire for each other. Influenced by Rodin's sensuous Toilette de Vénus et Androméde and informed by the collective's interest in matters of disability and race, DESCENT's premiere run at New York Live Arts promised to be a must-see.

Rodin's Toilette de Vénus et Androméde (1886)
(photo: Rain Embuscado)

And so it is.

Strikingly beautiful thanks to Maag with his rotation of deep-colored, earthy landscapes and eye-popping starscapes as backdrop; lighting that conjures the play of moonlight and sun; erotic silhouettes; and ghostly, undulating waters skimming up the incline of the ingeniously-designed ramp.

Strikingly hot thanks to choreographer Sheppard and collaborator Lawson (para ice hockey athlete as well as dancer) who take passionate risks in and out of their chairs, on every surface of the ramp's peak, valley and recesses. Even when woozily swirling in their chairs, hurling themselves from one level of the ramp to another, or zooming one body and chair into the other dancer's grasp, these performers appear to be capable of joining impetuous minds. Their duets "sound" like songs to me, harmonies hard won with an outlandishness and tension about them. Will their union hold? Or will it fracture?

Lawson, in particular, made me see wings while gazing at a streamlined wheelchair and recognize a deity as an elemental force whose fire might range from warming to devastating.

DESCENT is sold out! Performances continue at New York Live Arts through tomorrow night--Saturday, 7:30pm. For information on a wait list for tickets, click here or call the box office at 212-924-0077.

New York Live Arts
219 West 19th Street (between 7th and 8th Avenues), Manhattan

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Sammy Williams, 69

Sammy Williams, Tony Winner in ‘A Chorus Line,’ Dies at 69
by Sam Roberts, The New York Times, March 22, 2018

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