Friday, February 10, 2017

"a fragile son": Matthew Rogers solos at JACK

Dance artist Matthew Rogers
Below: performing a fragile son
(photos: Nika Brunova)

Startlingly clear images from a fragile son--a solo performed by dancer-choreographer Matthew Rogers at JACK--have lasting power. I can attest. I woke up in the middle of the night, and they were right there, in my mind, complete and fresh.

There's something nondescript about Rogers himself. Take the fair, wispy, wayward tresses that, at times, blur his delicate, Southern white guy features. But, lit by Tuce Yasek, he can bring things into focus and bury them deep in the mind even as they retain their enigmatic nature.

He opens by first trotting up to a riser opposite the audience and telling us a few things about his family--related to Thomas Jefferson on his granddad's side; the men marked by a rare genetic disorder that thickens their palms and limits their fingers' flexibility. That "son" is part of the title implies we'll likely be dealing with father-son stuff, and "fragile" points to some sort of fault line.

Before the piece began, Rogers personally handed each of his watchers a copy of a missive that begins "Hlelo Dad," nearly every word containing misplaced letters. It's written to a long-absent father, ultimately an act of taking account of, and responsibility for, his own life and happiness.

Some of the indelible imagery involves a thick rope drawn out straight across a diagonal, a rope like an orderly measurement of time, the unfolding of a path. Then rippled, wriggled, lashed, its oscillations invoke a rodeo act, expert and--since we are so close to the performer in this intimate space--a little unsettling at times. Whistling through the air, the rope also calls up images from slavery.

There are also cords, the red of blood and undeniable bloodlines, sometimes stretched between Rogers and an audience member willing to hold an end. Sometimes Rogers wraps himself in the grip of a cord then unwraps his body. It is a slight, wiry body with sufficient knowledge of itself to be deliberate and surprisingly graceful; to tumble hard and flail loosely; to bound up steps as nimbly as "Bojangles" Robinson; to offer itself up as a blank sheet for audience members to mark; to be naked and fragile.

In the genesis of a fragile son, there might have been some work around a literal father, or a lineage of fathers of fathers. But the piece moves in less than literal space and, if you will, can take in the whole idea of place and home, the whole idea of heritage, the whole idea of white patriarchy and masculinity, and what it means to be a body, a mind and a spirit moving in and out of orbit of those ideas.

A few years ago, Rogers uprooted himself from his familial roots in Virginia and his more recent dance roots in New York--dancing in the work of major artists such as Tere O'Connor, Ivy Baldwin and Pavel Zuštiak--and relocated to Slovakia and Germany. Traces of that relocation and possible struggles around it move through a fragile son.

Curated by Stacy Grossfield for her Images//Landscapes series, a fragile son continues through February 12 with performances tonight and Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 3pm. For information and tickets, click here.

505 1/2 Waverly, Brooklyn

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