Saturday, February 25, 2012

Vernon Reid: Imagining Africa

As Black History Month winds down--where does the time go?--Danspace Project continues tracing the handsome spectrum of choreography by today's Black dance makers in its Parallels platform. Meanwhile Dixon Place is hosting Vernon Reid's Artificial Afrika: A Tale of Lost Cities, an hour-long, multimedia piece that could have been designated a Parallels outpost, one even farther downtown from the mainstream. The veteran guitarist/Living Colour founder/Black Rock Coalition co-founder combines forces with Zimbabwe-born dancer-choreographer Akim Funk Buddha and DJ Leon Lamont.

Artificial Afrika collages an Africa of memory, imagination and speculation (as opposed to reality), and one of its most striking props is a large-headed, caricatured sculpture of James Brown, presumably crafted somewhere on the continent. We all gaze at Africa through our particular filters, and Africa gazes right back.

When Reid opens the piece by recalling a visit to Sudan ("as foreign to me as Berlin, Germany") his unnecessary addition of "Germany" gives just the right note of formality and distancing to establish his sense of difference as an American and estrangement from the Motherland. Lamont goes one step further: He has absolutely no interest in visiting Africa. He's from St. Louis, he says, where simply holding a barbecue is the solution to every possible problem.

The evening opens, promisingly, in a swamp of sound and imagery--Reid working the guitar; Lamont working the computer; Reid's video splashing across the back wall. This swamp, one hopes, will eventually issue coherent form and focus. But that video itself--primordial delirium, silk dyed and moonstruck, a florid, inexhaustible acid trip--proves to be the only fully realized, satisfying element. Besides music and visuals, the work includes text written and delivered by Reid and Buddha and Buddha's performance. We all know that Buddha's dance expertise encompasses an unusual range of styles, but it's not clear why he has interjected a long passage of Balinese dance here.

Artificial Afrika's interesting premise deserves a fighting chance. The text might have helped to elucidate matters and hold things together, but Reid's words, in particular, were too often indistinct, hard to make out. And this is not the first time that vocal sound has been disappointing at Dixon Place.

Artificial Afrika had an early advocate in the dance artist Niles Ford, who passed away on January 14. Ford brought Reid's idea to Ellie Covan, Dixon Place founder/artistic director, and these performances, produced by Gabri Christa and directed by Christa and LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs, are dedicated in his memory.

Final show tonight at 7:30pm. For tickets, click here.

Dixon Place
161A Chrystie Street (between Rivington and Delancey), Manhattan

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