Sunday, December 3, 2017

Gibney presents Shamar Wayne Watt and Yinka Esi Graves

Shamar Wayne Watt (photo: Natalie Romero Marx)
Below: Yinka Esi Graves (photo: Camilla Greenwall)

DoublePlus presents three weeks of shared evenings for which established artist-curators each choose a pair of emerging artists and mentor them through the creative, production and audience development processes.
--Gibney Dance 
I am very excited about Yinka Esi Graves, a mature, serious thinker and flamenco artist. Shamar Watt is a strong physical performer with a nascent choreographic practice. These artists are both asking questions about the value of human life through different performance forms. What I care about most is how their aesthetics come through. 
Carrying the history and burden of blackness are relevant topics of discussion. But how do time, space and energy capture these issues? With little to no evolution in contemporary politics and economies of race, the body must become a weaponized agent of aesthetics for the artist. Graves’ and Watt’s performative explorations manifest the body as a site for these urgent concerns.
--Nora Chipaumire 

Nora Chipaumire--otherwise known as one of the most exhilarating dance performers of our times--writes that she prefers to avoid calling herself a curator. So let's call her, instead, a practiced eye that allows us all to see further and wider. Fulfilling her role as "eye" and one of the mentors for the DoublePlus fall series at Gibney Dance, she has now introduced us to two exciting emerging artists--Yinka Esi Graves and Shamar Wayne Watt. I attended Watt and Graves's final show in the theater at Gibney's Agnes Varis Performing Arts Center.

When the audience first entered, Watt's Gully spring: Di exhortation was already in motion. His gnarly shadow played across a canvas curtain enclosing him like a shower stall. His mother, Valerie Davis, sat nearby, waiting to sing, play her mini-tambourine and read pointed Scripture passages at certain times during the dance.

Jamaica-born Watt draws his aesthetic for Gully spring from a prophetic spirituality that is, indeed, exhortative, magnetic, formidable. He is both high priest of a religion of his own creation--insurgency, liberation--and its exemplary warrior. For most of the lengthy, engrossing performance, the muscular, dreadlocked dancer anchors himself at the center of a broad, low platform, under the periodic drip of a gallon jug of water, and slowly rotates on his axis, gathering tension and power. He speaks, imparting searing visions to us, his captive congregation. When he stamps, it shakes the ground beneath our chairs, and when he tells us to do something--yes, you just looking on as if this is mere spectacle--he means it.

I have watched dance artists address the frightening toxicity of our times with rituals of healing. I have never watched--and felt--anything that could match this hypnotic intensity.

Watt's sermon? Every valley--or gully, if you will--shall be exalted. It is written. It is coming. We make it happen.

An intermission gave Gibney's theater crew time to reset things for Yinka Esi Graves, but maybe also offered time for us to turn to one another, talk a bit, let some of that tension out.

Graves's Twitter bio reads:

In short: born in london, grew up in nicaragua, guadeloupe, london, part educated in french, studied art history, wanted to make films, now flamenco dancer...

Her dancing has been featured in M. Angel Rosales's film, Gurumbé: Canciones de tu Memoria Negra (2016), a documentary tracing the influence of Africans on Spain and flamenco. She is the first Black flamenco artist I have seen and one of the most exciting flamenco dancers in my experience. I am grateful to Chipaumire for opening my eyes to this artist, and I hope she will return to New York so that we can see more.

Her solea--The fine line por Solea--follows a wistful, delicately sensuous prelude by Guillermo Guilén (guitar) and Ismael Fernandez (vocals). Here the dancer's authority and intensity--which, as I see it, connects her to Watt--lies in the depth and exactitude of shape in her movements, right down to the specificity of each finger. She has her own chosen, deployed power. She sweeps us up in the follow-through of impulse through inclination and gesture. And there's nothing wasted. Nothing just for filler or flash. Such intelligence, such beauty I can only call regal and bow before.

This program has concluded. For information and tickets to the DoublePlus series, click here (Week Two) and here (Week Three).

Gibney Dance: Agnes Varis Performing Arts Center
280 Broadway (entrance: 53A Chambers Street), Manhattan
(map/directions)

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