Friday, April 20, 2018

This Black Earth: jumatatu m. poe at GIBNEY

jumatatu m. poe
(photo courtesy of the artist)

Inspired by the hot brown granules in both desert dirt and beach sand, terrestrial is an examination of humans as earth and Black humans as having a long, continuing terrestrial history that far precedes—and will outlive—the past five centuries of white supremacy’s specific oppressions. From beneath packed ground, vocal composition and choreography are unearthed to magnify the epic truthsliesfantasiesmemoriesdreams underneath the hot brown skin tones of the performers.
--from promotion for terrestrial, a work by jumatatu m. poe

Curated by dance artist Marýa WethersGathering Place: Black Queer Land(ing) continues at the Lab at GIBNEY this week with, terrestrial, a three-hour performance installation by jumatatu m. poe. Between 6pm and 9pm, audience members may come and go throughout the performance, but the door only opens for these transitions at 15-minute intervals. The Lab is also known as Studio A, the lobby-level sliver of space in which GIBNEY has often programmed intimate performances. Capacity is quite limited, and most seating is floorbound around the perimeter with just a few chairs available.

terrestrial's floor is covered in rumpled cloth that can slip under dancers' bare feet--and your feet, too, as you approach or leave your spot; take care. Once, I saw poe deftly catch and right his balance; at another moment, dancer Samantha Speis deliberately played with that slipperiness. This shifting surface is, I think, important to one's experience and understanding. A changing terrain can be treacherous and/or an opportunity to be shaped by one's intelligence and desire.

In any case, the mobile cloth is a marvelous sculptural element in poe's installation. Embedded in it are five round mounds of what appears to be rock salt the light olive-green of peridots, gemstones associated with ancient Egypt, the strength of the Sun and the banishment of toxicity. Interestingly, while I was there at least, none of the dancers' or viewers' movements disturbed these carefully-tended mounds. Even when Speis briefly rested her hands atop one hillock's curve, only a few crystals escaped their circle.

poe, Speis and Brazilian vocalist Rodrigo Jerônimo--who also moves while the other two also often vocalize--perform essentially naked except for scanty, clear plastic wrappings. The wrap around poe's neck rustles as he moves and quickly brings to mind the situation of a creature stuck in a discarded shopping bag.

For the most part, the three did not directly interact--at least, during the time I watched--as they trod and plodded along individual pathways. Their often restrained, internalized, localized movements betrayed a condition of being limited in available space, though occasionally fighting that limitation (Speis's sudden agitation, arms and long dreadlocks flying, for instance). Their eyes looked sightless and strange; red contact lenses?

Their voices expressed bodily experience with gruff, primal directness, but they did not "speak" to or with one another. Land masses unto themselves, then?

In one passage, as performers curled up on the floor, maybe dreaming what would come next, the space erupted in an extended crescendo of Black vocalists--most, perhaps not all, women. The editing here is incredible, as if rapidly switching among a host of radio channels to capture dozens of these voices trilling, soaring, swooping, ululating and keening, each caught at the choice moment. (And, yeah, some of you might play a mental game of "Name That Tune.") There's no specific credit given for this brilliant, spine-tingling collage; I'm assuming that poe created it. Tayarisha Poe is credited with the elusive, splintered video design, and Asami Morita contributed delicate, alluring light effects.

One final note about this GIBNEY presentation:

While poe granted permission for terrestrial to be reviewed, he does not consider it to be a finished piece but, rather, an ongoing process of discovery.

terrestrial continues tonight, starting at 6pm, and will conclude tomorrow, Saturday, also starting at 6pm. Tomorrow's performance will be preceded by a 4:30 talk. For Friday ticket information, click here. Advance tickets for Saturday are sold out; for wait list information, click here.

Gathering Place: Black Queer Land(ing) concludes with performances by I Moving Lab (Apr 26–28). For information and tickets, click here.

280 Broadway (enter at 53A Chambers Street), Manhattan
Subways: 4/5/6 to Brooklyn Bridge-City Hall; N/R/W to City Hall; 2/3 to Park Place

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Sergio Pitol, 85

Sergio Pitol, Inventive and Honored Mexican Author, Dies at 85
by Paulina Villegas, The New York Times, April 19, 2018

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Friday, April 13, 2018

92Y presents a tribute to Arthur Mitchell

Arthur Mitchell
dancing in George Balanchine's Agon
(photo: Martha Swope)

presented by

Arthur Mitchell--who, in 1955, brought Black excellence to Balanchine's New York City Ballet as a principal dancer and, in 1969, founded historic Dance Theatre of Harlem--is, at age 84, a stone-cold hoot. Sure, it took a couple of folks to help the man to his chair at 92Y's Buttenweiser Hall today but, as soon as he took that seat, he took control. Just ripped control right out of the hands of Donna Walker-Kuhne, veteran arts marketer, billed as moderator of his conversation with Ford Foundation president Darren Walker. Make no mistake, Walker-Kuhne can handle herself. But, at least for the moment, there was no handling Mr. Arthur Mitchell.

There was so much he wanted to tell us, you see. And he wasted no opportunity to admonish the young students lining the floor in front of the first row of audience seating at this sold-out event.

"Pull your feet back!" he ordered a few.

"Don't upstage me, dear!" he warned a scurrying Catherine Tharin, Fridays@Noon's curator.

"Darren is one of my role models," he told us. "I need someone to educate me in the business part of dance."

Well, thank goodness there's a reason to keep Darren Walker around!

When Walker-Kuhne finally took the reins, posing a question about diversity in the dance field, Mitchell held to what seems to always be his primary focus--discipline.

"Very few people know what [diversity] means," he said.

To Mitchell, it brings thoughts of the multitude of dance techniques and performance skills today's dancer must possess--everything from ballet and tap to a strong, projecting voice.  Speaking of projection, everyone--from audience members with mumbly questions to the moderator of the concluding panel--got a tongue lashing for not speaking up!

Next up, Darren Walker offered that "diversity is about excellence" and that excellence has the potential to lift everthing from dance troupes to major corporations and foundations like Ford.

"It does not correlate with a loss of quality," he argued. Rectifying the chronic inequality in our society and establishing social justice should be the ultimate goal of philanthropy. However, today's philanthropists, many of them flush with Silicon Valley success, have not yet turned attention to the arts.

"But the arts are what make it possible for us to be empathetic," Walker said. "Without empathy, we won't have justice."

Both men lamented the decline of arts education in our nation's schools, and Walker offered the example of how pressuring New York mayor Bill de Blasio led to his establishment of universal pre-K. Why can't we have a similar push for more arts activities in all our schools?

"You've just implemented the most complicated thing you can do--add on a new population of students," Walker said. "But we lack the political will for an arts policy that puts arts education in every classroom. We have to hold our political leaders accountable to get to that goal."

The program stretched Fridays@Noon's usual ninety minutes to a full two hours. It included an enjoyable slate of performances: Paunika Jones (Mitchell's Balm in Gilead), Rasta Thomas (Flight of the Bumble Bee by Vladamir Angelov after Milton Myers), Jones and Jamal Story (Doina by Royston Maldoom), and Maria Kowroski and Amar Ramasar (the duet from Agon by George Balanchine, made famous by the extraordinary Mitchell and Diana Adams and controversial for that interracial casting). A panel, facilitated by archivist Gillian Lipton, featured remarks by Anna Kisselgoff (former chief dance critic of The New York Times) and remembrances from Lydia Abarca Mitchell (DTH's first prima ballerina), Sheila Rohan (soloist) and Tania León (conductor and composer).

For information on upcoming 92Y Harkness Dance Center and Fridays@Noon events, click here.

1395 Lexington Avenue (between 91st and 92nd Streets), Manhattan
Subways: #6 to 86th or 96th Streets

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mayfield brooks: improvising while Black at GIBNEY

mayfield brooks
(photo: Amar Puri)

I spent some time this week drifting back into that intriguing realm that Reggie Wilson's Danspace Project platform opened a few weeks ago (Dancing Platform Praying Grounds: Blackness, Churches, and Downtown Dance). Back with native people of stolen lands and enslaved people of the Middle Passage, back beneath the physical and psychic layers that make up present day Manhattan--this time, though, instigated and guided by mayfield brooks who calls her/their dance practice Improvising While Black.

With the three-part IWB: Dancing in the Hold, brooks opened a new series at GIBNEY called Gathering Place: Black Queer Land(ing), curated by Marýa Wethers as a place of "intersection among blackness, queerness and indigeneity." This series will continue with performances by jumatatu m. poe (Apr 19–21) and I Moving Lab (Apr 26–28).

The design of brooks's IWB: Dancing in the Hold breaks the framework for presentation. It is not one thing; it is different things. People gather not to just watch people do stuff but possibly do stuff themselves. Anything originally planned for one point in time might easily show up in another. And we all bring ourselves to it because it can't exist without us. In essence, this truly is Black space.

IWB: Dancing in the Hold is a performance in three parts investigating mayfield brooks’ ongoing project, Improvising While Black (IWB), which uses dance improvisation as a tool to create atmospheres of care and inquiry while listening to ancestral whispers of the middle passage.

Part I, P(a)rLAY, is an invitation to Black-identified artists to participate in an improvisational dance workshop and performance exploring IWB’s improvisatory techniques including speaking in tongues, wandering practices, somatic awakenings and partner work.

Part II, Dancing in the Hold, is an evening-length performance exploring underwater textures like shipwrecks and contaminated seaweed while embracing Black queer ancestors, Black rage, brilliance and joy.

Part III, Process(Ion), is a durational performance installation exploring gestures of Black revolt, poetics of oceanic abyss, spontaneous readings of Afropessimist scholarly texts and a procession to the African Burial Ground in Lower Manhattan.

P(a)rLAY was my second time taking a workshop with brooks--the first, hosted by Movement Research at Abrons Arts Center. Once again, I was amazed by how one gifted teacher's gentle invitations can quickly lead to profound revelations.

brooks has been spending time visiting, contemplating and drawing inspiration from the nearby African Burial Ground memorial. We visited as well, on a windy late afternoon, the twelve of us, and took away impressions for the work we would do together back in the Black Box studio. We also wrote letters to ancestors known and unknown, and learned meaningful things in the writing that perhaps we would never have attained any other way.

I will not be able to attend the durational event, Part III, tomorrow. However, I did return to GIBNEY's Black Box last night for Part II, Dancing in the Hold. I witnessed the entirety of it through a shroud of silver. Because I was a spirit. Because brooks asked nicely. Because two of us from the P(a)rLAY workshop showed up/said yes. So, into the depths where inky dark and screams and whimpers are broken by bioluminescence. Where a switched-on, unrestrained brooks is joined in liberation by South Africa's outstanding Mlondi Zondi.

It's late in the day now, but tickets might remain for tonight's show. Try for them!

For information and tickets for mayfield brooks's events tonight and tomorrow, click hereFor information, tickets and series passes for Gathering Place: Black Queer Land(ing), click here.

280 Broadway (enter at 53A Chambers Street), Manhattan
Subways: 4/5/6 to Brooklyn Bridge-City Hall; N/R/W to City Hall; 2/3 to Park Place

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