Saturday, September 16, 2017

#PUNK it out, Africa! Nora Chipaumire at FIAF

Nora Chipaumire, above,
and below, with Shamar Watt at far right, in #PUNK
(photos by Elena Olivo)

#PUNK is the first part of a triptych titled #PUNK 100% POP*NIGGA, a live performance album that confronts and celebrates three sonic ideologies: punk, pop, and rumba, explored through the radical artists Patti Smith, Grace Jones, and Rit Nzele. -- from program notes for #PUNK

Nora Chipaumire--a Zimbabwe-born dancer with intensity to rival any other performing artist plus, I see, the ability to land herself an interview on CNN--has made her sinewy body more than the instrument of her forthright ideas. It is a force to be reckoned with and, like her incisive mind, a force that will roll up on you the second you merely think about messing with it.

In #PUNKcompany nora chipaumire's new piece for Crossing the Line 2017 at French Institute/Alliance Française, she's joined by Shamar Watt, native of Jamaica, who danced in her sensational and controversial trio, portrait of myself as my father, for BAM's Next Wave 2016. His participation in this new work makes it a duet, a fact that does not appear in the press release that I was issued, just as his bio does not appear in the program (although his name, as performer with Chipaumire, does). I don't know what all this means but, just like the unusual set-up of space and audience for the show, the presence of this killer dancer turned out to be an exciting surprise.

So, they're doing punk now...but with an African twist because Black. And because punk energy is pure joy and indomitability, and that's how Chipaumire sees today's Africa and, likely, the world's future.

The space evoked a humid, airless dive with just a few chairs for folks who needed them--regrettably, nobody advised me about this--and, otherwise, just standing room in front of the performers' territory and above it in a low balcony (where I hung out). Notable faces in the crowd signaled this as that show that everyone in contemporary dance knows they've got to be at (if not in Brooklyn at Bausch).

We had to be on our feet, most of us, because Chipaumire and Watt were all about turning this evening into a rave-up with fans clapping and whooping. "Come up! It's a motherfucking party!" cried Chipaumire as some of us took a second too long to step up to the balcony. We then hastened to comply just as we would all go on to comply with everything the two exhorted us to do.

The performance itself amused me for the way it relentlessly lashed together typical moments of lift-off and climax in rock music performance without delivering anything in between. Chipaumire and Watt always seemed to be startin' somethin' and goin' nowhere in particular, but givin' it all they got. Repeatedly calling out New York! Are you ready??? Counting up 1, 2, 3, 4!!! Or Uno, dos, tres, quatro!!! Literally reminding us, now and again, that they're introducing introductions. Declaring "I am a world-class African nigger" (Chipaumire) or goose-stepping (Watt) to rev up (or scandalize) the crowd.

In #PUNK, Chipaumire riffed on Patti Smith's iconic lyric "Jesus died for somebody's sins but not mine" from "Gloria." She changed the "somebody's" to "your," which makes perfect in-you-face political sense in #PUNK's context, and she kept threatening to go back to Africa and telling us what she'd do when she got there.  "Watch me!" she cried, and I kept hearing James Brown's yowl.

"Watch me! I'm in Africa now!" And, yes, she seemed to have flung every cell of her body home in an altered state. You don't want to cross this woman.

Or Watt. Both dancers were in full command of their lunging, twisting bodies and voices despite the extreme demands of the work (particularly on those strained voices) over the hour or so. I could hardly believe that Chipaumire had anything left for the (lengthy) post-performance conversation moderated by choreographer Ralph Lemon and joined by Congolese dancer Faustin Linyekula, who has three premiere works featured in Crossing the Line.

Two choice moments from that conversation:


"I'm a particular kind of Black body. I'm an African body. We hold things differently. I'm acting out against everything but more about having love, joy, having the freedom to act out, having the time to act out."

"The joy. People know how to live. They're there [Zimbabwe] partying all night, and there's a lesson in that. Life is short. You could die tomorrow. It should be worth it."


"Maybe joy is another way of acting out your rage. I'm here to stay. Maybe this body will be crushed, but there will be other bodies."

"[Euro-centered thinkers] will have to wake up and realize that the world has moved on. We are creating our own world on our own terms. Africans are experts in precarity and re-inventing ourselves."

#PUNK has closed. For information on other Crossing the Line events--now through October 15--click here.

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