Friday, September 20, 2019

Melanie George reflects on (re)Source, new performance from Maria Bauman-Morales

Maria Bauman-Morales performs (re)Source.
(photo: Kearra Amaya Gopee)

I celebrate the abundance of this essay by guest writer Melanie George on (re)Source, a new immersive dance work by Maria Bauman-Morales co-commissioned by BAAD! and The Chocolate Factory. The solo premieres at BAAD! in its BLAKTINX 2019 series on September 25 and runs nightly through September 28. For more information, click here.

--Eva Yaa Asantewaa


Getting By, Getting Through, Getting Over, and Making it:
Reflections on Maria Bauman-Morales’ (re)Source

by Melanie George


(re)Source is a work of blood and bone, of muscle and memory. It only lives in Maria Bauman-Morales, and will likely only ever be performed by her. In part, because it is an improvisational work, but also because the specificity within the thematic content – America, race, family, identity – can only be assembled by way of her understanding of her origin story and place in the world. She is tethered, literally and figuratively, as she navigates and negotiates her relationship to space, memory, and family lore. Her body is an interpreter of stories, individual and collective, detailed through the supple facility of her movement, and open curiosity of her gaze. I hesitate to use words like earnest and confrontational, as, too often, we associate them with the absence of complexity and nuance, but to deal with race in America is be smothered in complex nuances. The willingness to do so openly (but not fearlessly because our history with race is overflowing with the consequences of fear) is to be vulnerable and critical, for performer and audience. I find the work to be one of meaning-making, not statement-making. In her multi-hyphenate identity – as a queer, woman of color, artist, educator, anti-racism facilitator, womanist, wife, daughter, citizen – her sociopolitical values are realized and transparent so as to not to be proclamations. Lived truth and embodied identity speak volumes.   


As I attempted to locate (re)Source in contemporary art making practices, Maria pointed me toward the work of Amara Tabor-Smith, and her theory of Conjure Art. In Conjure Art, there are no boundaries between the spiritual and artistic practice. In fact, they serve as reciprocal conduits within the process of art-making. In defining the practice, Tabor-Smith explains, “Conjure artists believe in the forces of nature such as ancestor spirits, gods and/or deities found in indigenous cultures and recognize these energies as the guiding forces in their art practice.Through the improvisational score that comprises much of (re)Source, we experience conjuring in real time. On multiple occasions in rehearsal, Maria noted that her deceased father had joined her during runs of the piece. This is not metaphor or allusion. In crafting (re)Source Maria makes room for her elders and ancestors to dance with her and through her, to receive impulses that guide choice-making during the performance. I was particularly struck by adaptation of Doug Varone’s “room reading” exercise to prepare to rehearse. As her line of inquiry is steeped in exploring non-proscenium spaces, she is negotiating her relationship to the stage and inquiring about the role of agency on uneven terrain. Her practice is guided by relationships to people, to environment, to identity. So, of course, there is a need to engage with all of these things before diving into the dance. 


For those inclined to over-academise the art-making process (I, too, can be guilty of this), the identification of Conjure Art is fundamental to receiving (re)Source as it is intended, rather than applying erroneous models to interpret it. Please note my identification of the academy. This is purposeful because of its predisposition to valuing Western-normative art-making models, and its function as a gatekeeper in our field. What does it mean to accept this work on its own terms? What is our role and responsibility in engaging with this dance? First, we must allow the artist to define the landscape of the work. In (re)Source, Africanist elements are centered, as is the importance of storytelling. This must be the terra firma from which we start our journey with the piece.  Maria is highly conversant in several dance languages. Chiefly, she values the weight, rhythm, dynamism, and spirituality that we recognize as essential to an Africanist movement lexicon. Her training in capoeira informs her movement vocabulary and is instrumental in her strength and use of space.  Additionally, she employs elements of movement abstraction that we associate with the choreographic tools of post-modernism. In her work, I see the intersection of multiples ways of knowing and claiming contemporary dance. Within one movement there may be a composite of physical textures, alternately competing and co-existing. In centering the names and stories of her ancestors - purposely keeping black folks present and visible in the work -  she is also centering her art-making practice. All are resources toward the making of the work. All are valid and do not require defense.


(re) Source is not a sentimental work. Maria may be conjuring her ancestors, but she is doing so in the age of Trump, Brett Kavanaugh, and the rising tally of Black trans women’s deaths this year. There is little time for sentiment when you’re gathering your tools for survival. She sees (re)Source and her family history as “a microcosm for race relations” in this country. Within that history are black and white relatives, and white relatives that owned enslaved black people. Maria reckons with the weight of that knowledge through movement and text, and aligns it with the jarring shift in our political climate since the ascent of Donald Trump as a political figure. There is great responsibility in telling personal truths about one’s family. Maria endeavors to make the labor visible, but in doing so she does not wallow in the impact of that labor. Instead, her role, part oracle and part griot, is to synthesize the contrasting content into a locking archive. The set, which functions as installation, immersive theatrical design, and interactive playground for the performer, is both obstacle and portal. A series of interwoven strings and chairs resembling a human sized cat’s cradle, the bonds can be tenuous, supportive, pliable, or binding. Alternately highlighting positive and negative space, they function as a metaphor for taking up space, holding space, and moving through it. The seating arrangement interlocks so that perspectives are varied, but no one sits alone. Interdependence is also a theme of the work. Though it is a solo performance, through conjuring and the seating arrangement, Maria is never, truly dancing alone. (re)Source invests in telling truths about race. By design, the audience is implicated in her navigation of this content.


“Resources are tools. I want to make transparent that 
‘I am because we are’. 
I have resources because people have gone through worse.”
  • Maria Bauman-Morales
Though I am writing about (re)Source, I feel it is important to note Maria is developing this new piece concurrently with another evening-length work, Desire: A Sankofa Dream. The processes for the productions are not related. Solo vs. Group. Fantastical vs. Non-linear Improvisation. Personal history vs. imagined biography. Though they are wholly individual works, the continuum between the two productions encapsulates a core underpinning in Maria’s artistic identity: Interconnectedness and the continuum between the intrapersonal and interpersonal. It feels significant that she is working on these dances concurrently. The duality of honoring the individual and the group is an Africanist element that is a resource for how she makes meaning in the world. This speaks to a larger, overarching theme in her work: Life as practice, and an embodied investment in the survival and thriving of black and brown folks. The processes used in the making of her art are enacted in comparable ways in all areas of her life, notably through her work with Urban Bush Women’s BOLD program (Builders, Organizers and Leaders through Dance) and as a facilitator of Anti-Racism training with the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond. The various roles Maria plays an artist-activist are not discreet from each other, they are in dialogue, as she is openly and actively in dialogue with us.

Melanie George is an educator, choreographer, and scholar. She is the founder of Jazz Is… Dance Project, and the Audience Educator and Dramaturg at Lumberyard Center for Film and Performing Arts. She is honored to be the Dramaturg for (re)Source.

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DISCLAIMER: In addition to my work on InfiniteBody, I serve as Senior Curatorial Director of Gibney. The postings on this site are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views, strategies or opinions of Gibney.

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1 comment:

Alex said...

thank you for sharing this. i wish i could see the piece!

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