Thursday, May 7, 2015

Premiere by Marjani Forté & Works at Gibney Dance

Tendayi Kuumba in being Here.../this time
below, l-r: Kuumba, Jasmine Hearn and Ni'Ja Whitson
(photos: Alex Escalante)

Here's hoping you're one of the few people who will get to attend being Here…/this time, a new piece by Marjani Forté & Works. One of the few, because the space--Gibney Dance's Agnes Varis Performance Lab, the mixed-use studio right off the downtown center's lobby--seats so few. With a music and media station tucked into one corner and audience squeezed into two others, there's barely room for dancers to gallop through the middle. Yet they do. And how.

being Here.../this time concludes Marjani Forté-Saunders's unusual three-year project, a consideration of racial oppression, its resulting trauma and its consequences of poverty, mental illness and addiction. The work questions how we view these conditions and how our social policy has always, and quite deliberately, failed to confront them. A hefty load for dance, certainly, but Forté-Saunders does not bear it alone. Her accomplished team includes husband Everett Saunders (sound), Monstah Black (costumes), Wendell Cooper (media) and Howard Curry, who performs a pivotal voiceover as a good Christian advocate of slavery. Powerful dancers (Ni'Ja WhitsonTendayi Kuumba and Jasmine Hearn) embody Forté-Saunders's Afrofuturistic aesthetic.

Tendayi Kuumba
(photo: Alex Escalante)

Forté-Saunders gulped when she first saw the space Gibney assigned to her, but limitation turned out to be her best friend. By compressing every element--us included--the tiny lab creates inescapable sensory immersion, as if the entire production takes place within one stressed body, one hallucinating mind. If you can walk out of this show feeling calm and unchanged, see your doctor.

After viewing a prelude out on Chambers Street and in the tiny lobby, audience members enter the studio, take seats and slip on headphones to hear Saunders's vivid 3-D soundscape. His choice splicing of voices, music and sound samples delivers information--sometimes disturbing or satirical, often loud--direct to one's ears and nervous system. There's no buffer, no mediation. Like Cooper's projections, and like the choreography, the sound shifts, and jerks us, from states of crystalline clarity to disorientation, from unnatural excitation to exhaustion. Black's costume design, too, fuses trash and beauty, the right partner for a dance channeling personae who flicker between states of mysterious and mystical nobility, belligerence, frantic struggle, and tenderness.

Kuumba (l) with Hearn
(photo: Alex Escalante)
The choreography--layered in complex, suggestive imagery--can buffet and distort the human body so that you wonder who's in charge. Maybe more than one driver, maybe not of this time or space but all being Here.../this time in this lab, in this pressure cooker, on this sacred and sacrificial altar.

Hearn (l) and Whitson
(photo: Alex Escalante)

being Here.../this time continues nightly through Saturday at 7:30pm. For information and tickets, click here.

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

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