Monday, September 07, 2015

Black Choreographer Festival Here & Now Bustin' Out of February

August 15, 2015 BCF Summer Festival @ Laney College

As I stood in the hallway, just enjoying the afterglow of great art – simply fabulous performances from start to finish, Dr. Albirda Rose speaks of visitations from ancestors – lots of them. Kendra Kimbrough shares her recent dreams about the importance of the work she is doing, passing it on. I am just listening as I wait for the Internet reception, then the phone dies. I find $20 and buy Delina Patrice Brooks’s book, “An Open Love Letter to Black Fathers: A Choreopoem,” much of it performed during the first half of the amazing Summer Showcase “Celebrating Legacy.”

Antoine Hunter’s "Black Music is Repetition" and "Our Brother Dying" with Paunika Jones were both amazing work. Antoine spoke to me earlier this week about his brother, Aaron Hunter’s death. He was shot and killed during an armed robbery. No, not in Oakland, in Lafayette. Just 36, the man in five years, got his GED, AA, and BA degrees and was just admitted into a graduate program. He left behind, besides a brother and sister and parents, five children. Antoine told me how the police and media wanted to paint Aaron as a criminal, that he was a drug dealer and deserved what happened to him, as if anyone deserves a violent end to his life. Later reports told a fuller story.

Slander, this slander on the one year anniversary of Michael Brown and the #BlackLivesMatter, Hands Up, Don’t Shoot, I Can’t Breathe. . . scenarios and the latest, woman killed over a contested traffic stop. Well really, ? was killed because she was not cowered by white supremacy . . . we see the trauma of all this in the character Antoine creates in “Our Brother Dying,” to Max Roach’s We Insist! Abby Lincoln’s wail opens the work, which was banded from commercial radio. The cover was too inflammatory and who was this woman, wailing over the death of black people? Even then, before #BlackLivesMatter, Max Roach’s revolutionary music was saying it really loud—I am black and I’m here to stay!

In the first piece, Antoine is on stage both using ASL and dancing, the word “Repetition” scrolls across the back wall, a canvas filled with words which turn into scrambled letters juxtaposed with the ocean covering the shore, waves rolling toward us. Dressed in dark slacks, he slips on a tie and the stage goes dark and we move into the next scene.

Clearly this black man is in despair; however, a black woman character, dressed in tutu and on pointe clearly has other ideas. He is not going to be sacrificed; she helps him up and through a series of movements . . . shifts the trajectory towards hope.

Paunika Jones’s appearance from the wings is unexpected and necessary; similar to the way girls need their fathers, even imperfect ones, even fathers who have spent time in prison for horrific deeds, especially fathers who admit they’re not perfect, yet try hard to disentangle themselves from the heterosexual programming which kills something precious and worth preserving in their souls – souls reflected in the eyes of their daughters who are watching. Antoine believes in Paunika’s “woman goddess,” who believes in him and together he stabilizes himself enough to walk, dance, continue . . . if only on the other side, which in the last work, “Our Brother,” is porous. His life energy, a libation is poured in multiple directions—Aaron Hunter, now an ancestor.  Ashay! Ashay! Ashay-o!

“Motherless Child,” choreographed by Robert Moses, with Crystaldawn Bell was lovely. The dancer lived the song which was for some reason not at all sad. Sometimes mother’s die, but this does not mean the child has to give up hope and die too. Bell’s character danced for the mother she did not know; she danced for the person she grew into without this tangible presence. The soul of mother fueled the movement. No one is really motherless. For nine months she had her, and for this character, who is not dismayed or discouraged, this is enough.

Lots of strong womanist work this evening (smile).

“Disequilibria” (Work in progress) by Raissa Simpson featured lines (elastic bands) stretched across the stage which the dancers interacted with as the narrative—stories about gender and race, naming and misnamed, silences and spaces without silence, we watched the characters navigate tight spaces, narrow definitions, with difficulty and ease when they stepped from the social constraints or just refused to believe in the barriers, which then opened up to more possibilities.

Yes, it was abstract. “An Open Love Letter. . .” (excerpt) was about the most literal work this evening, even the opening work, “At the Playground,” (choreographers: Phylicia Stroud, Marianna Hester, and Ebonie Barnett) which featured some amazing young women from the company, On Demand— How complex can it get on the playground, right? Well according to the girls who performed, from the tiniest to the tallest, deep stuff happens on the playground, as it should.

The playground is the best locale to work through the difficulties and the dancers certainly possessed the perfect tools, creativity, rhythm and talent. The girls were so articulate, even when I got lost in the conversation. I knew I just wasn’t listening correctly. I need a diction lesson (smile).

“Drop-bend” (premiere) by Gregory Dawson, parts 2 and 3 following the premiere of DENT in February. With a visual landscape as well as a musical one, the choreography set between and within the ideological subtleties. I don’t remember DENT, but Drop – Bend interrogated automation verses freedom. How long will people put up with following the prescribed course before literally busting loose?

Can’t hold down the rebel spirit – there are large gestures and bold movements. Just as things are about to deteriorate the terrain shifts to percussion and a soloist rewrites the script—this is followed by lovely work with three male dancers, followed by the company. The gestures grow large and hard to ignore, like the music, like change for the better.

Drop Bend Dent will be performed at ODC Theater, 3153 17th Street, San Francisco, November 20th and 21st 8 p.m. and November 22 at 5 p.m.

To listen to an interview visit: