Thursday, December 15, 2016

BAM Next Wave: Reggie Wilson's NY premiere of "CITIZEN"

Reggie Wilson/Fist & Heel Performance Group
performs Wilson's CITIZEN at BAM Harvey Theater.
(photo: Sally Cohn)

Early on in CITIZEN--new to New York from Reggie Wilson/Fist & Heel Performance Group for BAM Next Wave at BAM Harvey--a striking French Romantic portrait of Jean-Baptiste Belley momentarily appears on the backdrop behind one of Wilson's dancers. Belley, born in Senegal, was a slave, a rebel in Haiti's revolution and, during the French Revolution, was elected to the National Convention. If you knew none of those facts, you'd surely guess at the import of a Black man, in 18th Century dress, meriting such painstaking and forceful portraiture.

Belley's image remains visible for only a short time, long enough to impress but not long enough to get you thinking too much about his history. Wilson--ever the researcher and voyager--has taken care of all of that, including making the trip to Versailles to see the actual painting. He has also thought about race and what it means to find oneself in a society not perceived to be home. ("What does it mean to belong, and to not want to belong?") But he sets the viewer free to be with the work without necessarily having to puzzle out any of that.

While we cannot un-see Belley, and he might continue to haunt some of us, everything else we do see appears to atomize Wilson's research and musings. They spread out and form a texturous fabric of clear, repeated gestures and movement patterns sometimes assigned to specific performers and ultimately, beautifully, taken up by all. The work runs just a bit over an hour and, in that time, we're immersed in and transfixed by this living texture that signals individual portraiture without ever delivering big, obvious narrative details about characters, even in Altor Mendilibar's poetic cinematography. I got caught up in Anna Schön's sinuosity and toughness and wondered how Wilson picked that particular combination of traits to highlight in one body, but I would never expect to pinpoint their exact source or his reason.

It's as if Wilson beckons us close to a painting to look at the minute brush strokes and maybe even the chemical and molecular makeup of the paint because, after all, that's how the artist delivered the goods, how the artist told the story. That's how Wilson tells his story.

Along for Wilson's latest postmodern journey into the African diaspora are some adroit and interesting performers in addition to Schön--Yeman BrownRaja Feather KellyClement Mensah and Annie Wang.

Lighting: Christopher Kuhl
Costumes: Enver Chakartash

CITIZEN runs through Saturday with performances at 8pm. For information and tickets, click here.

BAM Harvey Theater
651 Fulton Street, Brooklyn

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