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Friday, July 31, 2015

Hamilton and Zachery at University Settlement's Performance Project

André M. Zachery (left) and LaMont Hamilton
(photo: Layla Zami)

The dance series Five on the Black Hand Side/Dapline! draws its title from the practice of the dap ("dap" meaning "dignity and pride"), a spectrum of elaborate gestural greetings and supportive hugs between Black men. Visual artist/photographer LaMont Hamilton and André M. Zachery of Brooklyn's Renegade Performance Group have curated three programs that can be seen as commentary on, as Hamilton has written about one of the works, "Not 'Black Lives Matter' but blackness as matter moving throughout the space; real and present."

Last evening, the series opened with three works that approached this embodied Black presence in different ways, each with a flavor of dreamlike timelessness.

Oxana Chi
(photo: Layla Zami)

Oxana Chi (Oxana Chi & Ensemble Xinren) comes to us from Germany, a dancer of Nigerian and Eastern European origin. A chart of her dance background would look like a spinning globe--from ballet and Cunningham and jazz to Javanese and Egyptian dance. Her solo Neferet iti, performed to live music by Layla Zami and a recorded score by Gilbert Trefzger and Abdoul Aziz Sinka, dares to draw visual and kinetic elements from different cultures, too, in a quilt-like, multi-textured performance. Her Central American plumed headdress, her yellow-gold harem pants, her hip thrusts and shimmies, her archer's bow draws, Masai jumps, capoeira maneuvers, vogue hands and dervish spins add up to a heady mixture. She believes it all works--you can see that--and makes it work. A somewhat delicate presence, she is, nevertheless, a woman writ large, claiming concert dance space for a diverse and teeming world, blessing that space. I don't claim to understand the two theatrical sneezes--clearly not real afflictions--that punctuated sections of Chi's performance. Perhaps the audience was meant to respond by offering its own blessing.

Hamilton collaborates with sound artist Jeremy Toussaint Baptiste on Evil Nigger (pt 1), a hallucinatory performance in which he sits behind a small table covered in a drop cloth and smears his dark chocolate face and white dress shirt and tie with a succession of gloopy paints--white, red and black. He is flesh-and-blood canvas, wrecking convention, striking out for something unknown in what starts off, it might appear, as a sendup of blackface and veers out of control. Like the droning, distorted music, the streaks and splotches and ungainly blends of stark, gleaming wet color eventually turn him into a still object of art fading from our view as the lighting slowly drains away.

The dap originated in the Vietnam War/Black Power era with Black GIs and spread throughout African American communities as a way for Black men to express cultural identity and support. In Zachery and Hamilton's ensemble piece, Dapline!, six men of color perform a fugue-like imagining of military discipline and, at the same time, reveal a tight community responsive to the pain, frustration and momentary failures of its members. The idea of the dap is addressed both in spirit and, later in the piece, in technical execution. The viewer marvels at the unity and elegance of this corps of men, the clean architecture of their shifting arrangements and movements in space, the softness and tranquility that can emerge when masculinity is unshackled, given more than one narrow definition. We watch some of the daps performed in slow motion, skin sliding over skin, our eyes absorbing the beauty and meaning of these silent interactions. These are duets; one quite fanciful interpretation unfolds like a stretchy, twisting tango. If I could have anything reconsidered about Dapline!, it would be its duration. Portions of it seem unnecessarily repetitious and drawn out. Rounding out the program, it makes for a long evening. But this important work is given magnificent and affecting performances by its dancers--Brian Henry, Andre Cole, Johnnie Mercer, Malcolm McMichael, TJ Jamez and Stephen Galberth.

Five on the Black Hand Side/Dapline! continues this evening with guest artists Candace Thompson/Nehemoyia Young and University Settlement's New Youth Movement Collective (NYMC). On Saturday evening, the series concludes with Laurie M. Taylor/SOULMOVEMENT and Hamilton and Baptiste's Evil Nigger (Part 2). Both programs include performances of Dapline!, not to be missed.

For information and tickets for tonight and tomorrow's performances, both at 8pm, click here.

Speyer Hall
University Settlement
184 Eldridge Street (between Rivington and Delancey Streets), Manhattan

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