Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Belladonna*: "Body of Words"

When the spoken word and the dancing body smack up against each other, what these two vital forces can open up, for our experience and consideration, is not necessarily an easy space. The Belladonna* Collaborative, a feminist literary collective, created that dynamic, uneasy space last night at Dixon Place with Body of Words, a fascinating program of four developing works by Lauren Nicole Nixon, Rosamond S. King, Sally Silvers and Alexandra Beller's collaborative troupe.

It was an evening devoted to "performances without boundaries," as its manifesto proclaims, a gathering of "bodies that are both themselves and quoting." The program was curated by Emily Skillings, and Saifan Shmerer moderated the post-performance discussion.

The Beller troupe's finely-wrought, coolly-danced excerpts from other stories gave the most conventional pleasure as an invitation to feel the juicy and intelligent writing of bodies curving, jutting, twisting and springing as they absorb and interpret one another's movements. They seemed to both channel and complicate elusive stories revealed and concealed by the disjointed voice-over text.

Nixon's solo, fresh batch, opened with the charming poet/dancer approachinig the audience, proffering a tray of mini-cupcakes and whispering in each taker's ear. It is a Big Bang of taste (those cupcakes), sound, music (from Brenda Lee to Marvin Gaye and points in between), film clips of Angela Bassett getting vengefully evil in Waiting to Exhale and Nixon's own rambunctious self moving and talking. She is an irrepressible talker, and her piece takes off from her own sense of frustration about secrets, specifically the things family members refuse to say to one another. So much to take in--and Nixon just throws it out there and lets us work the puzzle of it.

King's Spectacle/SPECTACULAR offers a juxtaposition of voguing and minstrelsy, live performance and video, as well as a dead serious, deeply embodied, affecting performance of text that references race and racist objectification. Of the four works, hers is the one in which text and body seem firmly locked together and grounded in purpose and methodology. Spectacle/SPECTACULAR is, at once, satisfying and disturbing, mainly because she happens to be one hell of a performer.

FIX IT--with text and dancing by Sally Silvers (read by Corrine Fitzpatrick) and music by pianist Connie Crothers--makes no attempt to mediate the meeting of elements and make sense of it all. Silvers said it best in the post-performance discussion: "The word 'pinball' comes to mind. Different layers of possible meanings just pinball off each other." And so do the words, the music and her playful dancing.

In my experience, much of this evening demanded that I either hold my ground as viewer--deciding which competing element would get my attention--or simply surrender, in any given moment, to whatever was strongest. When things blended together--as they did in King's solo--I felt that I could settle down and catch my breath, even as I was horrified by what I was hearing. Happily, although sometimes feeling tugged this way or that, I never found myself withdrawing. All of these works will be worth tracking in the future, although I'm most interested in seeing what Nixon and King will do. 

Body of Work also put me in touch with the fact of my own hybridity as a writer in the world of dance, a writer whose understanding of the dance before me starts first in the body and the intuition, not the intellect.

Click here for information on Belladonna*, and here for Dixon Place and its upcoming programs.

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