Saturday, September 29, 2018

"What Remains": Claudia Rankine and Will Rawls collaborate

from What Remains,
a new work by Claudia Rankine and Will Rawls,
premiered this week at Danspace Project
(photo: Julieta Cervantes)

“One thing about being black in America—you have to curtail your movements, to live in such a way that what the white gaze projects upon blackness will not end your life,” says Rankine to The New York Times. “So you’re always thinking, can I walk at night?…Can I have my cell phone out? If it glitters, will someone think it’s a gun? At what point can I just be?”
Adds Rawls, “One never just happens to be black, even in the most abstract dance…Whiteness in our society — and this is something Claudia talks about, too — is the space that produces the conditions and terms against which all other lives are measured and enabled or disabled. Dance doesn’t escape those power dynamics.”
-- Danspace Project publicity for What Remains

At what point can I just be?

A few years ago, I read poet Claudia Rankine's Citizen: An American Lyric and felt immediate, grateful identification in her detailing of both the overt and the deceptively subtle aggressions Black people endure, every day, in our society. Racism--within white, patriarchal supremacy--is the American condition, something that does not go away because a Black president gets elected. In fact, as we certainly recognize now, such an unexpected shock to the system only wakes and further enrages the persistent many-headed Hydra.

Upon hearing that Rankine, as writer, would team up with dance artist Will Rawls, I knew, at once, that we should not expect anything as straightforward as Citizen. Rawls--winner of the 2017 Bessie for Outstanding Emerging Choreographer--comes from that sector of dance that embraces the oblique, the abstract, the elusive, that leaves pin pricks and cracks and often big gaping holes in the fabric of a work for the light--and, ultimately, the viewer's mind--to get in.

What Remains--co-presented by Danspace Project and French Institute Alliance Française for FIAF's Crossing The Line Festival--would not be Citizen. And I'm going to be danged honest and tell you that part of me rolled my eyes when I thought about that. The other part of me, though, was chill and is now glad all of me got there.

Rawls has a dream team of collaborating performers for this work--Jeremy Toussaint-Baptiste (also his sound designer and composer), Leslie CuyjetJessica Pretty and Tara Aisha Willis. Draped by designer Eleanor O'Connell in funereal black and haunting St. Mark's sanctuary with its stained glass windows also shrouded in black, they have been described as "a resonant, ghostly chorus."

What they most appear to be are embodiments of the undead spirit of resistance. Nimble, resourceful and unruly, they rise from unshapely, ungainly lurching and stumbling and gentle, quiet harmonizing to steadily refine and define themselves, both physically and vocally, over a solid 70 minutes of un-curtailing their movements. There are musical surprises in this séance that delighted the hell out of me and an ingenious synergy of space, darkness and scattered lighting that transforms the church into mutating dreamscape. I won't spoil any of this for anyone lucky enough to get in to see the final show tonight.

Yes, if you were to have a house haunted by not one but a whole batch of brilliant Black artists--pent-up spirits reclaiming their time at the mic or piano bench--I imagine you might have something like Rawls and Rankine's What Remains. Something more tickling than scary...at least to a Black woman like me. I can imagine some people might find all of this deeply frightening.

Creative Consultant: John Lucas
Production design: David Szlasa

What Remains concludes tonight with a show at 8pm, with no late seating. Tickets are sold out, but a wait list starts at the door beginning at 7:15. For information, click here.

Danspace Project
St. Mark's Church
131 East 10th Street (at Second Avenue), Manhattan
(map/directions)

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