Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Three questions for Monstah Black

Monstah Black in the dance film, Cotton
(photo by Charles Meacham)

November 6-9, choreographer, musician and club hero Monstah Black brings to JACK the first installment of his dance film Cotton, featuring original songs and choreography, and filmed over nine months in various locations between New York City and Virginia. The 45-minute presentation features Black performing the soundtrack live (which the artist describes as "a meeting of Erykah Badu and Björk with Prince and Grace Jones, in the living room of Parliament Funkadelic"). In the film, Black employs images from slavery and the plantation as a point of departure, modifying the images into positive iconography meant to inspire, empower and rejuvenate those that have suffered its ugly legacy.

Monstah Black
(photo by Charles Meachem)

Three questions for Monstah Black

EYA: When you think back to your childhood, can you point to any strong influence on the artist you are today?

MB: As a child I was heavily influenced by television, my family and the sounds coming out of the stereo. I grew up surrounded by an eclectic mix of music which included soul, folk, rock, funk, the sounds of Catholic church and Southern Baptist church. The most memorable moments, of course, were people saying "Show us how you do that dance." It began as soon as I could hold my balance on two feet. There is also my mom's sense of style/fashion influence and her love for making clothes. Until 6th grade, she made a lot of what I wore. My dad was also great with his hands, particularly food but also enjoyed building projects. So the two of them are very evident in my work.

Those are the more positive moments. I do believe that being bullied is what turned me into Monstah Black. My desire to flip the negative into something empowering is what lead me to reach deeper in an unapologetic way with my expression in movement, music and style. Recognizing at an early age that words like punk, sissy and faggot could work to my benefit if I thought of them as words of endearment. As I grew older my belief in this grew stronger.

EYA: What challenges you most as an artist? And how do you engage with that challenge?

MB: My biggest challenge as an artist is the budget not matching the elaborate visions I have in my head. I've built a career on shaping my dreams by turning mundane objects into something opposite from what it is "suppose to be" used for and applying it to my project. The joke, back in the day, is that I was able to perform at the drop of a hat, and all I needed was dental floss and safety pins to make an elaborate costume. Every project that I do is a step toward aligning the budget with my dreams rather than the other way around. When that alignment happens? Stay tuned.

EYA: How do ideas arrive for you? And what do you first do with them when they do?

MB: I'm a dreamer. In grade school, it was seen as a downfall, a slow downfall. Parent-Teacher meetings occurred to discuss my daydreaming in class, and I still enjoy a good nap where I can drift off into never never land.

These are the places where my projects are revealed to me. I write them down or I record them. Sometimes they come in the form of a bass line, a melody, a sensation, a quality of movement or a look. Usually the sound and look are put into place first. When those two things inspire me as a whole, I close me eyes to feel how they should move, or I investigate my reflection.

There are also those moments when my movement is out of my control, the alignment of the rhythms, bass lines and melodies are harmoniously working together and film/video saves the day, to help me re-visit that place for stage.

I'm proud of being a daydreamer and I'm also proud of slowing things down, taking my time. I think it keeps you looking and feeling young. Besides, it's not as expensive as Botox or plastic surgery.
Virginia native Reginald Ellis Crump, aka Monstah Black, has been creating and presenting work in New York from since 1999 as a performance artist, dancer, choreographer, musician and composer. Known for his cultural grab-bag approach, he enjoys mixing influences and allusions from many sources and traditions. In choreography, he infuses modern dance with shades of disco and funk and the comic, hyper-performative and sometimes confrontational style of address of burlesque, adding a dash of various martial arts and the expressive slow-motion acrobatics of Japanese Butoh. He has choreographed for nightclubs, art galleries, black box theaters, and warehouses throughout Washington D.C., New York City, and Europe. His work has been seen and heard at The National Theater, New York Live Arts, Dance New Amsterdam, Dixon Place, Movement Research, and many other venues. Monstah is also the front man for his band The Sonic Leroy as well as vocalist for the electro pop duo The Blakz. He performs frequently as a guest vocalist for the electro dance band Girls Like Bass.
See Monstah Black's dance film, Cotton, Thursday-Saturday, November 6-8 at 8pm or Sunday, November 9 at 3pm. Get more information and tickets here.

505 1/2 Waverly Ave (between Fulton Street and Atlantic Avenue), Brooklyn

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