Friday, September 20, 2019

Melanie George reflects on (re)Source, new performance from Maria Bauman-Morales

Maria Bauman-Morales performs (re)Source.
(photo: Kearra Amaya Gopee)

I celebrate the abundance of this essay by guest writer Melanie George on (re)Source, a new immersive dance work by Maria Bauman-Morales co-commissioned by BAAD! and The Chocolate Factory. The solo premieres at BAAD! in its BLAKTINX 2019 series on September 25 and runs nightly through September 28. For more information, click here.

--Eva Yaa Asantewaa


Getting By, Getting Through, Getting Over, and Making it:
Reflections on Maria Bauman-Morales’ (re)Source

by Melanie George


(re)Source is a work of blood and bone, of muscle and memory. It only lives in Maria Bauman-Morales, and will likely only ever be performed by her. In part, because it is an improvisational work, but also because the specificity within the thematic content – America, race, family, identity – can only be assembled by way of her understanding of her origin story and place in the world. She is tethered, literally and figuratively, as she navigates and negotiates her relationship to space, memory, and family lore. Her body is an interpreter of stories, individual and collective, detailed through the supple facility of her movement, and open curiosity of her gaze. I hesitate to use words like earnest and confrontational, as, too often, we associate them with the absence of complexity and nuance, but to deal with race in America is be smothered in complex nuances. The willingness to do so openly (but not fearlessly because our history with race is overflowing with the consequences of fear) is to be vulnerable and critical, for performer and audience. I find the work to be one of meaning-making, not statement-making. In her multi-hyphenate identity – as a queer, woman of color, artist, educator, anti-racism facilitator, womanist, wife, daughter, citizen – her sociopolitical values are realized and transparent so as to not to be proclamations. Lived truth and embodied identity speak volumes.   


As I attempted to locate (re)Source in contemporary art making practices, Maria pointed me toward the work of Amara Tabor-Smith, and her theory of Conjure Art. In Conjure Art, there are no boundaries between the spiritual and artistic practice. In fact, they serve as reciprocal conduits within the process of art-making. In defining the practice, Tabor-Smith explains, “Conjure artists believe in the forces of nature such as ancestor spirits, gods and/or deities found in indigenous cultures and recognize these energies as the guiding forces in their art practice.Through the improvisational score that comprises much of (re)Source, we experience conjuring in real time. On multiple occasions in rehearsal, Maria noted that her deceased father had joined her during runs of the piece. This is not metaphor or allusion. In crafting (re)Source Maria makes room for her elders and ancestors to dance with her and through her, to receive impulses that guide choice-making during the performance. I was particularly struck by adaptation of Doug Varone’s “room reading” exercise to prepare to rehearse. As her line of inquiry is steeped in exploring non-proscenium spaces, she is negotiating her relationship to the stage and inquiring about the role of agency on uneven terrain. Her practice is guided by relationships to people, to environment, to identity. So, of course, there is a need to engage with all of these things before diving into the dance. 


For those inclined to over-academise the art-making process (I, too, can be guilty of this), the identification of Conjure Art is fundamental to receiving (re)Source as it is intended, rather than applying erroneous models to interpret it. Please note my identification of the academy. This is purposeful because of its predisposition to valuing Western-normative art-making models, and its function as a gatekeeper in our field. What does it mean to accept this work on its own terms? What is our role and responsibility in engaging with this dance? First, we must allow the artist to define the landscape of the work. In (re)Source, Africanist elements are centered, as is the importance of storytelling. This must be the terra firma from which we start our journey with the piece.  Maria is highly conversant in several dance languages. Chiefly, she values the weight, rhythm, dynamism, and spirituality that we recognize as essential to an Africanist movement lexicon. Her training in capoeira informs her movement vocabulary and is instrumental in her strength and use of space.  Additionally, she employs elements of movement abstraction that we associate with the choreographic tools of post-modernism. In her work, I see the intersection of multiples ways of knowing and claiming contemporary dance. Within one movement there may be a composite of physical textures, alternately competing and co-existing. In centering the names and stories of her ancestors - purposely keeping black folks present and visible in the work -  she is also centering her art-making practice. All are resources toward the making of the work. All are valid and do not require defense.


(re) Source is not a sentimental work. Maria may be conjuring her ancestors, but she is doing so in the age of Trump, Brett Kavanaugh, and the rising tally of Black trans women’s deaths this year. There is little time for sentiment when you’re gathering your tools for survival. She sees (re)Source and her family history as “a microcosm for race relations” in this country. Within that history are black and white relatives, and white relatives that owned enslaved black people. Maria reckons with the weight of that knowledge through movement and text, and aligns it with the jarring shift in our political climate since the ascent of Donald Trump as a political figure. There is great responsibility in telling personal truths about one’s family. Maria endeavors to make the labor visible, but in doing so she does not wallow in the impact of that labor. Instead, her role, part oracle and part griot, is to synthesize the contrasting content into a locking archive. The set, which functions as installation, immersive theatrical design, and interactive playground for the performer, is both obstacle and portal. A series of interwoven strings and chairs resembling a human sized cat’s cradle, the bonds can be tenuous, supportive, pliable, or binding. Alternately highlighting positive and negative space, they function as a metaphor for taking up space, holding space, and moving through it. The seating arrangement interlocks so that perspectives are varied, but no one sits alone. Interdependence is also a theme of the work. Though it is a solo performance, through conjuring and the seating arrangement, Maria is never, truly dancing alone. (re)Source invests in telling truths about race. By design, the audience is implicated in her navigation of this content.


“Resources are tools. I want to make transparent that 
‘I am because we are’. 
I have resources because people have gone through worse.”
  • Maria Bauman-Morales
Though I am writing about (re)Source, I feel it is important to note Maria is developing this new piece concurrently with another evening-length work, Desire: A Sankofa Dream. The processes for the productions are not related. Solo vs. Group. Fantastical vs. Non-linear Improvisation. Personal history vs. imagined biography. Though they are wholly individual works, the continuum between the two productions encapsulates a core underpinning in Maria’s artistic identity: Interconnectedness and the continuum between the intrapersonal and interpersonal. It feels significant that she is working on these dances concurrently. The duality of honoring the individual and the group is an Africanist element that is a resource for how she makes meaning in the world. This speaks to a larger, overarching theme in her work: Life as practice, and an embodied investment in the survival and thriving of black and brown folks. The processes used in the making of her art are enacted in comparable ways in all areas of her life, notably through her work with Urban Bush Women’s BOLD program (Builders, Organizers and Leaders through Dance) and as a facilitator of Anti-Racism training with the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond. The various roles Maria plays an artist-activist are not discreet from each other, they are in dialogue, as she is openly and actively in dialogue with us.

Melanie George is an educator, choreographer, and scholar. She is the founder of Jazz Is… Dance Project, and the Audience Educator and Dramaturg at Lumberyard Center for Film and Performing Arts. She is honored to be the Dramaturg for (re)Source.

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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, September 14, 2019

Look around us: 600 Highwaymen presents "Manmade Earth"

Teen performers in Manmade Earth by 600 Highwaymen,
presented by Crossing the Line Festival
at The Invisible Dog Art Center

Manmade Earth
by 600 Highwaymen
Crossing the Line Festival
at The Invisible Dog Art Center

We would like you to think about who is surrounding you. How you feel surrounded by the people around you.
-- Performers of Manmade Earth 

Abigail Browde and Michael Silverstone (known, together, as 600 Highwaymen) spent a year building Manmade Earth with eight American teenagers of various cultural backgrounds, including immigrants from Malaysia, Somalia, Egypt and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The work incorporates movement and text with a modular set design by Eric Southern and Deb O deftly utilized and reconfigured by the performers.

Audience seating is arranged in rows at the sides of a long strip of performance space--like a high-end fashion runway--covered in off-white canvas. Performers, one by one, introduce their participation with a model-like solo turn under the lights, whether in contrasty athletic-wear or a delicate, elegantly-draped hijab. The audience gazes at each young stranger as one and then another proceeds to voice a series of questions to the unseen Other that might be us.

Questions asked without emotional expression, with the matter-of-fact manner that models employ on their walks. When speaking, each one gestures or strikes poses with no motion wasted. The audience looks on, listens, tries to figure them out.

Some of the questions:

"Do you think I look smart?"

"When you look at me, what do you see?"

"What makes you laugh? Do we all laugh at the same things?"

"Does that seem fair? Is being fair important to you?"

"Should I take my shoes off before I come in?"

"Should I eat with a fork or my hands?"

"Do you wish that things were different? Do you want me to change?"

There are some "This is..." statements, too, in a section before these individuals shift gears, folding the canvas into a protective tarp so they can laboriously mix and produce a round slab of cement for which there is no apparent use.

Perhaps it is the quiet ritual of the buckets and water containers and stirring sticks that bears more weight than the actual final product. What seems to come of all this activity--this dedicated teamwork--is an awareness of interdependence. It leads on to the construction and activation of an ingenious environment of corrugated sheets and upturned ladders. There the performers engage in a rapid line game with frequent player eliminations, done in fun while revealing things that cause each of these youngsters to be afraid.

I have no doubt they have all experienced fear, for any number of reasons, but I take note of the focus, poise and precision with which each one of them meets the considerable, if often subtle, demands of Manmade Earth's script and movement.

Performers:

Nur Aisyah
Nasra Ali
Raiza Almonte
Dimyana Angelo
Amanda Barsi
Augustin Bonane
Jeanvier Nkurunziza
Diaaeddin Zabadini

Original music and sound design: Michael Costagliola

Production design: Eric Southern and Deb O

Manmade Earth continues with performances tonight and Sunday at 7:30pm. For information and tickets, click here. For more information on FIAF's city-wide Crossing the Line festival--devoted to the creative work of French, Francophone and American artists--click here.

The Invisible Dog Art Center
51 Bergen Street (between Smith Street and Boerum Place), Brooklyn
(map/directions)

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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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Monday, September 9, 2019

Days of Black Future Past: Black Rock Coalition at The Met


Above: Sandra St. Victor
Below: Shelley Nicole
Black Rock Coalition: The History of Our Future
Metropolitan Museum of Art
photos: Paula Lobo

"Black music has been the taproot of every significant movement in rock music. Sadly, the vast majority of Black artists in rock have been erased from the historical narrative or relegated to footnotes."
--Darrell M. McNeill
When you imagine venues to host one of the badbadbadass-iest rock concerts of all times, do you think of New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art?

Mmmhmmm.

Well, think again, because you missed Black Rock Coalition: The History of Our Future, a MetLiveArts show designed to demonstrate that Black people not only did rock first but they did it best, do it now and have no intention of stopping. Under Darrell M. McNeill's creative and musical direction, the famed Black Rock Coalition Orchestra and featured guests rocked that house last night with a steady roll. All walls and pedestals should be checked for damage.

Named for BRC Orchestra's 1991 album, the two-hour show started off with the pumping Sly Stone hit "Dance to the Music." That funk functioned here like it did when it was new back in 1967--a sure-fire commercial success for David Geffen's CBS Records and, in 2019, an icebreaker like no other. Though the predominantly white Met Museum audience needed the initial permission to dance to the music, as the evening sped along, folks required little prompting to get up on their feet.

The stage of the Grace Rainey Rogers Auditorium was packed, side to side and front to back, with instruments and artists including a revolving cast of standout featured performers--among them, Nona Hendryx, Toshi Reagon, StewCarl Hancock Rux, Living Colour's Vernon Reid and Corey Glover and, led by a commanding Sandra St. VictorThe Family Stand reunited. Yoruba chants and drumming, spoken word, jazz vocals, traditional work songs, gospel tunes, rock and roll and straight-up rock presented a stream of Black genius, all telling a story of determination, improvisation, spiritual depth and lust for life in the face of a long, long stretch of rough times under white supremacy. Times are still rough; the music persists and continues to do its work.

"So what is rock and roll?" Hancock Rux asked, "We begin with juke joints, and women loving women...." He went on to say it's rooted in "trying to find our way home."

Each performance--like vocalist Everett Bradley's unquestionable authority on both "Dance to the Music" and Louis Jordan's "Choo Choo Ch'Boogie"--felt like a sturdy home and one connected, at the foundation, to every other home. Places of rest and reflection, generous nourishment, everyday miracles and jubilation. Hendryx, above all others, took all my heart with witchy renditions of the jazz classic "Afro Blue" and, later, an unexpectedly expanded and capacious "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot." She enters a song at unusual angles, spies just the right, clear path, then guides you through as intensity builds. Reagon quietly took up and met the challenges of Curtis Mayfield's bleak "When Seasons Change" with agility of voice and soul. Stew, with David Barnes on harmonica, updated Bo Diddley's "I'm A Man," making a statement on toxic masculinity from the White House to the church house, from FOX News to NPR. And it was just pure fun to watch Glover rock out again to "Cult of Personality," the show's closer.

An historic one-night only event. So, if you didn't catch it, bummer! But if you love rock, you can still check out Play It Loud: The Instruments of Rock & Roll, at the Met through October 1. Plan your Met visit here.

*****

Featured Artists:

Nona Hendryx
Fantastic Negrito
Vernon Reid, Corey Glover (Living Colour)
Toshi Reagon
Stew (The Negro Problem)
The Family Stand
"Captain" Kirk Douglas (The Roots, Hundred Watt Heart)
Carl Hancock Rux
Ronny Drayton

Black Rock Coalition Orchestra:

Darrell M. McNeill (bass)
LaFrae Sci (drums)
Howie Robbins (keyboards)
Elenna Canlas (keyboards)
Marcus Machado (guitar)
Marvin Sewell (guitar)
Gordon "Nappy G" Clay (percussion)
V. Jeffrey Smith (saxophone, flute)
Don Byron (clarinet, saxophone)
Bruce Harris (trumpet)
JS Williams (trombone)
Sophia Ramos (vocals)
Shelley Nicole (vocals)
Bruce Mack (vocals)
Everett Bradley (vocals, percussion)
Kelsey Warren (vocals)
David Barnes (harmonica)
Mikal Amin (vocals)

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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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Wednesday, August 14, 2019

The Bessies: honors to Joan Myers Brown and Louis Mofsie

Joan Myers Brown


The NY Dance and Performance Awards, The Bessies, New York City’s premier dance awards honoring outstanding creative work in the field, has announced the recipients of two special awards to be given out at its 35th annual ceremony on October 14.

2019 Bessie Award for Lifetime Achievement in Dance:

Joan Myers Brown, Founder and Artistic Director of the Philadelphia Dance Company (PHILADANCO), in recognition of decades of choreographic influence on and support of the work of Black American dance artists.

Louis Mofsie

2019 Bessie Award for Outstanding Service to the Field of Dance:

Louis Mofsie, Director of Thunderbird American Indian Dancers, whose work has kept Native American dance forms alive for generations of young people.

Join the celebration at Skirball Center for the Performing Arts on Monday, October 14 (7:30pm). Get information and tickets here.

See the full list of nominees and previously-announced awards here.

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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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Monday, August 5, 2019

Disabled Arts on Camera, Part 2: "Vision Portraits" by Rodney Evans

Dancer Kayla Hamilton,
one of four artists featured in Vision Portraits
(photo: Kjerstin Rossi)
Writer Ryan Knighton telling his story at The Moth
(photo courtesy of Vision Portraits)

(2019, USA/Canada/Germany; 78 min.)
written and directed by Rodney Evans


The documentary Vision Portraits introduces us to four dedicated artists whose lives, careers and creative approaches have been profoundly impacted by diminished or lost sight. They include art photographer John Dugdale, our beloved dance colleague Kayla Hamilton, Canadian writer Ryan Knighton and the award-winning filmmaker himself, Rodney Evans, best known for his 2004 narrative feature, Brother To Brother.


filmmaker Rodney Evans
(photo: Kjerstin Rossi)

We visit with these appealing and thoughtful people, the stories and glimpses of the work of the first three interspersed with the story of Evans's attempts to reverse the degeneration of his vision from Retinitis pigmentosa. Evans also wants to share with us how impairment affects vision through occasional images simulating fuzzy or dim sight, narrowed visual range or--as in the case of Dugdale--a nonstop internal light show of spectacular colors and effects.


Self-portrait of photographer John Dugdale

Dugdale's photography, achieved with assistants who adjust lens focus, is deeply poetic, melancholic and moving. When a stroke befell him at the age of 30, taking all but a crescent-like sliver of his sight, he told his mother "What makes you think I'm not going to be taking pictures anymore? I'm going to be taking pictures like crazy now!" I am grateful for that indomitable spirit; the work is so beautiful.

It was also fun to get to know a little about Knighton (author of the memoir Cockeyed), who considers his blindness to be a door onto "a different way of living, a different point of view." His blindness opened a portal to deeper honesty and a wicked sense of humor. If you watch this documentary for no other reason, you will value it for the concise yet uproarious story of the trip he took with his brother to a snake rodeo in Texas. It's a safe bet you'll never set foot at a snake rodeo in Texas or any other state but also a safe bet you'd enjoy hanging out with these guys.





Vision Portraits opens in New York City at Metrograph on August 9 and in Los Angeles at Laemmle Royal on August 23.

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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, August 3, 2019

LCOOD: Summer fun with Liza, Teicher and talented teens

Ella Fitzgerald

Poster for Bob Fosse's Cabaret with Liza Minnelli as Sally Bowles

Here's a note about my one foray out, this season, to Lincoln Center Out of Doors, a free arts festival that, for many years, I used to haunt. Why only once this time? Well, I am now far less weather-tolerant than ever and quite over Gotham's punishing version of summer. This summer, I happen to be stuck in New York and not without whining. Considering that my notion of staycation definitely includes a ton of outdoor activities, I've been miserable.




But it turned out to be reasonably pleasant last evening as the sun vanished and students from Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts--the Fame school--brought the Fosse in an all-out presentation of the jazz dance master's Sing, Sing, Sing number from DANCIN' (1978). Sanctioned by The Verdon Fosse Legacy, this ensemble performed as if sanctioned by God Herself. Which drew cheers and a standing-O from an army of buddies and family. Which brought unexpected tears to my eyes because young artists with supportive families.

The inspiring Caleb Teicher (Caleb Teicher & Company) followed with a trio of his dance pieces. This snappy size matters duet Small & Tall--Christine Flores and Lindsey Jones, respectively--showed off Teicher's penchant for goofy physical comedy. He's gifted at this himself with a studied finesse to the timing of movements and unique, offbeat detail--all of that making him the unmatched standout in his charming swing piece, Meet Ella. Originally a long, flowing duet with Nathan Bugh, it was presented last night as a quartet incorporating two women dancers, Macy Sullivan and Evita Arce. Sullivan and Arce have carefree gusto and were employed well throughout, but I was a little sorry to see them granted the tender, whirling, orbiting same-sex duet I had originally seen where Teicher partnered co-choreographer Bugh to Ella Fitzgerald's recording of "Midnight Sun." (I'm going to link to that song once again, as I've done before, because if you youngsters don't know it, you're missing something pretty great.) It's not that I don't want to ever see two women tackle this duet. It's that I specifically want Teicher + Bugh + Fitzgerald to dazzle me again.

If you get a chance to see this troupe, may it be in a closer, smaller setting. The Damrosch Park Bandshell isn't the best place for these dancers, though the Bzzz ensemble number--particularly a rousing duet between beatboxer Chris Celiz and tap improviser Jabu Graybeal--overrode the distance.




It was a long night, and I stayed only a few songs into the screening of Bob Fosse's television special for Liza MinnelliLiza With A "Z" (1972). I ducked out while Liza took on "Son of A Preacher Man," a hit for English pop singer Dusty Springfield four years prior. But that and the first few numbers were enough to remind me of beloved Liza's big heart and underscore just how much freedom of expression white artists gained from studying Black people.

Lincoln Center Out of Doors concludes on August 11 and, in the meantime, wants to bring you several more cool performances for FREE. Click here for schedule details.

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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, July 27, 2019

Disabled Arts on Camera, Part 1: Alice Sheppard and Laurel Lawson

Film short Revel in Your Body, directed by Katherine Helen Fisher,
features a duet by disabled artists Alice Sheppard and Laurel Lawson.
It received its NYC premiere this month at Dance on Camera.

(USA, 2018; 5:18)
directed by Katherine Helen Fisher


Top and bottom, left to right: Alice Sheppard and Laurel Lawson
Center: Laurel Lawson
(photos: Jared Serfozo)


Here's a taste of the audio description (click) of dance and film artist Katherine Helen Fisher's exhilarating short featuring two dance superstars, Alice Sheppard and Laurel Lawson of the disabled arts troupe Kinetic Light.

Sheppard and Lawson's collaborative work have always represented, for me, innovation, expansiveness and possibility, powerful expressions of sensuality and joy. In just a little over five minutes, this film captures all of that and in abundance.

The music of composer Missy Mazzoli, deliciously vocalized in the film by Grammy-winning ensemble Roomful of Teeth, welcomes you, the observer, to a percolating and buoyant space. Shimmy Boyle's heady, slow-motion cinematography offers time to appreciate the spatial relationship of body to body, to enjoy the creamy flow of movement of two bodies in wheelchairs. It enters the hidden depths of time and works its way into your system, too.

From Fisher's Director's Statement:
REVEL IN YOUR BODY originated as a creative concept when the dancers shared online a slow-motion iPhone video of them jumping on a trampoline while strapped into their wheelchairs. This was AFTER being told by a well-known editorial photographer that the trampoline frequently used for other dancer photoshoots was off limits to them. This 'no' led these dancers to get their own damn trampoline and find another collaborator… me.
See, it's that #GetOurOwnDamnTrampoline spirit that gets me every single time!

For further information on Revel in Your Body, including future screenings, click here.

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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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