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Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Davalois Fearon and the politics of race in dance

Davalois Fearon in Time to Talk

Sometimes, there's the story you intend to tell, and then there's the unintended story you wind up telling.

Davalois Fearon--a powerful dancer acclaimed for her many years with Stephen Petronio--has struck out on her own. In recent years, she has developed earnest multimedia pieces like Consider Water (2017) and the new Time to Talk, running this week at Mabou Mines. The background of Time to Talk--Fearon's literature cites research in "American history, dance history, racial identity formation and systemic racism"--has yielded a work that slightly gestures at the toxicity of these massive, interlocking entities. It hovers around what it means to train, professionally perform and be seen and critiqued performing dance in a Black body. And we know that's what the Jamaica-born Fearon has done exceptionally well--the irony of the piece being that you readily see she's a woman who excels at whatever she sets her mind to doing. Her supple, sculptural, forceful body is equipped to ace every form of movement--from ballet barre to twerking--even when built-in, exaggerated imperfections show she's unhappy and unfulfilled by the expectations that others put on her.

There's the distraction of her mastery, a mastery undercut by only partially-disguised misery and resentment. I get it. But the main story it's actually telling me--and underscoring any number of times--is the familiar one about how Black people take whatever's available to us and make it shine like the sun. We've been doing that from way back and do it still. And then other people copy what we've done, often profiting from it.

With prompting and accompaniment from her husband, jazz musician Mike McGinnis, Fearon makes various attempts to find the right genre of dance that's "appropriate" for her to do. As an interracial couple, they seem to have mined their own situation and conversations for material. Unfortunately, this creates some imbalance: He's an accomplished artist in his own right but not an actor; his awkwardness, when not working a sax or clarinet, weakens their interactions and gives Time to Talk an amateurish feel. I believe their good intentions, though, and I believe they need still more time to nurture depth, breadth and incisiveness in the work.

Fearon cites her Jamaican upbringing as a shield from racism. She experienced colorism in the Caribbean, for sure, but admits it was only when she entered grad school at a Midwestern university, a few years ago. that she discovered what Blacks face in the US on the regular. Her experiences in Milwaukee shocked her.

Fearon's aims to spark audience dialogue and follows each performance with a talkback with McGinnis and guests. Last evening, she included representatives from the NAACP and the Anti-Defamation League. I counted just a few Black people in the room--including myself and Fearon's own understudy. It was disheartening to hear no one actually acknowledge the systemic nature of American racism (not just how people getting to know one another better will cure things). It also made me tired to hear most of the talking--at great length and intensity--issuing from white men.

But, again, the story you didn't intend to tell is sometimes the one that rolls out even so.

Time to Talk continues through Thursday, March 29 with performances at 9pm. For information and tickets, click here. For tickets by phone call 212-352-0255 or 1-866-811-4111.

Mabou Mines Theater
150 1st Avenue (between 9th and 10th Streets), Manhattan

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1 comment:

Eva Yaa Asantewaa said...

This comment was kindly sent to me by Peggy Schwartz who was unable to post it directly here and asked me to do it for her:

"Your statement in the Infinite Body today is one of the most eloquent, lucid and helpful pieces I’ve read about writing about dance! Every college professor who requires students to attend and then write about concerts should read this. And I love your 'one word' — 'Gratitude.' I learned so much from my brother Chuck, especially to understand in my bodymindheart, how important to 'give thanks, give thanks, give thanks!'"

Thank YOU, Peggy!

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