Thursday, November 20, 2014

"It's time for courage." Rodabaugh + Orange = DoublePlus

DoublePlus, the smart new artist-curated performance series at Gibney Dance: Agnes Varis Performing Arts Center (280 Broadway), is quickly coming into focus as a space for risk-taking by everyone from maker to presenter to watcher. Without advancing a narrow aesthetic agenda, it is breaking lesser-known artists into potentially wider exposure. More than just a chance for Gina Gibney to host formal performances--still restricted at her original 890 Broadway studios--DoublePlus is shaping up as a contender in the crowded New York dance scene, serving up adventure in a sophisticated container.

Last evening, guest curator Miguel Gutierrez introduced us to the work of Alex Rodabaugh and Rakiya A. Orange.

Alex Rodabaugh with cast of g1br33l
(photo: Alex Escalante)
Alex Rodabaugh channels the archangel Gabriel
(photo: Alex Escalante)
Rakiya A. Orange in her solo, Aziza
(photo: Alex Escalante)

Rodabaugh's ensemble piece, g1br33l, looks like a nightmare that might well start off with spooky space music, cheesy, makeshift costumes, ritual gestures and exhortations to "Breathe and let go" but end in Manson-like bloodshed. Actually, no New Agers are harmed in the making of this movie, but it does veer from Rodabaugh's oft-cited comfort zone into unexpected, suggestive and subversive territory. I think Rodabaugh's channeled alter ego, the archangel Gabriel, might have spent some earthbound time occupying Wall Street as well as a few queer dives. And I found one of his pronouncements intriguing: "We can't change government, but we can change our reaction to government" echoes a familiar spiritual nostrum for all kinds of complicated personal and social ailments. Gabe, as embodied by Rodabaugh, is a modest-looking archangel but with a detectable modern edge, and I think "reaction" might be the word to focus on in that sentence. (Visit Rodabaugh's page here.)

Rakiya A. Orange
(photo: Alex Escalante)

Let me cite the DoublePlus description of Orange's extraordinary solo, Aziza:
...a complicated investigation of self and identity, foregrounded by Stephanie Leigh Batiste’s idea that “The performing black body is material and metaphorical, real and unreal.” Orange’s body becomes a site of infinite feedback, reflecting the gaze of the spectator. She foregrounds her ambiguous status—as a real person, a theatrical representation, and a sociocultural construction—to explore, expose, and explode definitions of blackness.
Orange, when we first see her, dances atop a triangular platform of ludicrous dimensions. It's kind of the size of an American flag folded and handed off to a war widow. But you don't need a lot of space for strip-club moves. Later, she will indeed take the whole of the floor space, and forcefully, but she starts off pinned to this tight spot like the specimen she is for the audience's gaze. And still looks completely in charge. A beautiful woman and dancer, she invites the gaze and is quite good at feeding it while clearly enjoying the rush ride of her powers and savoring music that is nothing short of inviting and wonderful. She's all over a spectrum of being ours and being her own. Her skill, creativity and confidence are clear but complicated by the mundane and exploitative uses to which they are usually put. The world is not necessarily her friend. In silent, strange moments, she might end up upended like a beetle, legs flailing. She seems, at times, to follow ideas and try things out as she dances, raising questions like, Because she smiles, is everything always all right? She seems to be asking questions, too: Is this one thing enough? Is it good enough? How far do I need to go? Can I enjoy this? Can I let you see me enjoying this? Can I let you enjoy this? Who's watching me? Are you WATCHING ME?!!

Orange and Rodabaugh continue tonight through Saturday with performances at 7:30pm. Tonight's show will be followed by a Q&A with the curator and choreographers. For schedule information and tickets, click here.

Gibney Dance: Agnes Varis
Performing Arts Center
280 Broadway (enter at 53A Chambers Street), Manhattan

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