Thursday, December 10, 2015

Dancers are the music: Urban Bush Women at BAM

Members of Urban Bush Women
perform Walking with 'Trane.
(photos: Julieta Cervantes)

In Walking with 'Trane--performed this week at BAM Next Wave by Urban Bush Women and inspired by the genius and spiritual force of John Coltrane--dancers are not simply people dancing to music. Dancers are music, in turbulence and in silence.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of Coltrane's masterpiece, A Love Supreme, and the 30th anniversary season of Urban Bush Women, founded by award-winning dancemaker, educator and activist Jawole Willa Jo Zollar. When developing Walking with 'Trane, Zollar and collaborator Samantha Speis conceived the piece as an album of two "sides" divided by an intermission.

Side A--"JUST A CLOSER WALK WITH 'TRANE," with Philip White's electronic score--opens with one supple, wriggling figure suspended in a faint wash of light against darkened space and thrumming sound. Little by little, dancers assemble on the stage, integrated and attuned to one another but each pulsing her or his own instrumental, multidimensional voice. These musical lines are never straight. Flat is not flat; flow, never one way. Destinations only open up more directions of travel.

Looming, dynamic video projections play across a translucent scrim, evoking the smokiness of a music club. Or the keys of a piano. Or a sheet of lines awaiting notes the dancers will live. Or, thrillingly, the sensation of railway tracks receding from a speeding train/'trane transporting everyone--dances and watchers--into new times and places. Speis takes a masterful solo, and Du'Bois A'Keen introduces a flavor of hip hop to his crisp, clear moves, forging an up-to-the-minute connection to Coltrane.

With the side winding down, we hear recorded voices reflecting on Coltrane's music. The final speaker's words set the stage for Side B, "FREED(OM)," a title inspired by the searching, all-embracing nature of Coltrane's spirituality.

He was free. His music was free. 
He was expressing freedom.

Composer-pianist George O. Caldwell's live music for this new section is infused with themes from A Love Supreme and carries the dancers into a space of expansion and transcendence. There's a panoramic photo of the inside of a jam-packed music hall projected against the back of the stage, giving the illusion of the performers dancing their music for this crowd. Indeed, the UBW dancers savor freedom of movement in the open space of the stage, the dancing here feels expansive and celebratory. The quirks and questions of the earlier movement in SIDE A have dispersed which, I must admit, made me value them so much more and miss them.

The dancers of Urban Bush Women are Du'Bois A'Keen, Amanda Castro, Courtney J. Cook, Chanon Judson, Tendayi Kuumba, Stephanie Mas, Love Muwwakkil (understudy) and Samantha Speis.

With dramaturgy by Talvin Wilks, lighting design by Russell Sandifer, costume design by Helen L. Simmons-Collen and video design by Wendall Harrington

Walking with 'Trane continues through Saturday with performances at 7:30pm. For information and tickets, click here.

BAM Harvey Theater
651 Fulton Street, Brooklyn

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