Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Being necessarily here...with Marjani Forté

Dancer-choreographer Marjani Forté (left) and members of her company LOVE|FORTÉ A COLLECTIVE
(photos: left, Ian Douglas; top, Wah Ming Chang, Open City Magazine)

This up-and-coming troupe will present a world premiere in March at Danspace Project.

In recent months, the American media and people, responding to a series of well-publicized tragedies, have opened up a new--although not always entirely helpful--conversation around trauma, mental illness, and public safety. For dance artist Marjani Forté, who has been considering these issues for some time, these discussions don't always lead us back to a significant source of mental distress and imbalance--the daily collision with injustice faced by millions of people marginalized by the mainstream culture. 

"We need to have a deeper conversation around who we are as a country in regards to our history around race and our systems that have been constructed around that history," the choreographer says.

During curator Ishmael Houston-Jones's historic Parallels platform at Danspace Project (February-March 2012), Forté showed a work-in-progress called Here... which she describes as an "observation of mental health in the face of systematic oppression," the impact of racism and economic inequity. Feedback on that 20-minute preview, she says, provided insight into the value of making space for "the full picture of resilience, survival, and healing." The resulting evening-length work--retitled being Here...--opens at Danspace Project on March 21 for a two-night run.

Marjani Forté (photo by Ian Douglas)
Last winter a friend and I encountered a young woman on the Q train in New York City. She was young, slender, beautifully dark skin and curly hair, bright colors and denim pants. She was ranting. She spoke about a time she should never have known about. At no older than 25, this woman spoke like an 80 year old man, about the American Flag. “..You don’t know about the blood on that flag,” she said, as she described her trauma. She carried on in this way across the Brooklyn Bridge to Midtown Manhattan. Then her voice began to change. She developed an accent, deep, thick, and broken. Finally captivated by her, my friend made eye contact with her and winked. The young woman winked back! I sobbed, my friend and I sobbed together.
I felt time pause, and in that moment, she reflected my own journey, my fight for balance, equality, and health. She inspired me to make this work, a story of connection and healing.
--Marjani Forté 

We rarely expect concert dance to tackle an issue as weighty and complex as the roots and consequences of mental illness in American society. But Forté, best known for her performances with Jawole Willa Jo Zollar's Urban Bush Women, is no stranger to social engagement or art that addresses difficult social concerns. Inspired by her interviews with women from the Yale Program for Recovery and Community Health, Forté aims, in being Here..., to "tell one story."

"The most powerful art pieces that I've seen have caused me to ask and generate my own questions about myself and how I'm implicated from telling one story," she says and notes the Benh Zeitlin film, Beasts of the Southern Wild, written by Zeitlin and playwright Lucy Alibar. 

"That movie tells one story about this one community through the eyes of this one child and her journey into adulthood. In that one story, they address the isolation of this community, the power and assets that this community has  without being defined by mainstream culture or government. They address this community's own set of values. They address how mainstream culture comes in and can completely dismantle this community by placing its values on a community that had been self-defined. They address poverty. And they also address how one person takes all of this in and owns her own self-worth and power inside of it.

"So, the way that I'm avoiding getting too complicated in my own thoughts around these issues is, I'm focused on telling one human story, hoping to affirm recovery and regeneration.

"I want people to step into one mind and the facets of that mind."

See being Here... at Danspace Project, Thursday-Friday, March 21-22 at 8pm. For complete details and ticketing, click here.

St. Mark's Church in-the-Bowery
East 10th Street at Second Avenue, Manhattan

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