Dance. At its best, I'm amazed by how the form expresses itself. And jealous. As a musician and poet, I'm mostly unable to express as impactfully as a dancer extending an arm upward or brandishing a loosened torso. So much meaning has been inscribed on words and music. It's nearly impossible to conjure something unseen or relatively detached from freighted meaning.
When I discover a musician or writer who can make me think differently about words or notes -- in their combination -- I've made a rare discovery. This may sound repugnantly arrogant but now I understand why a friend, an internationally revered composer and conductor, almost always takes a book with him when he goes to live performances. As rude at it may seem (and I agree, it's rude), I understand his impulse: "I'm probably not going to hear anything new or startling or revelatory. I'll take the book just in case." I don't take books to performances but I do walk out. And I walked out very recently on a performance. A dance performance. There was a black woman singing "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child" surrounded by kids. Retro mammy. Messed-up contextualization. Never mind.
Today's performance by the Zaccho Dance Theatre was really something special. And I won't dilute the experience by writing too much.
The Monkey and the Devil (2008) was inspired by race and racism. I'm not sure if it's always been presented in a space that allows the audience to move as the work progresses but I'm convinced that mobility heightened my adoration.
I'm hesitant to ascribe too much on the piece itself but I'll share how it affected me. The set -- a house divided -- with two hetero couples -- one black, one white. I might be ascribing but they appeared to be couples. Anyhow, the divided and identical sections of the house moved independently and were unable to remain level and completely upright. They sank and sagged, no matter how the two couples tried to level them. There was a catalogue of racist name calling. Some stereotypical role reversal. And repetition. That's what compelled me the most.
Joanna Haigood's choreography loops and, because it's inventive, doesn't tire those watching. She hands the movement loops off between the women and men. We see (and hear) the expression in black and white, man and woman. There's tenderness and scurrying and deliberateness. And it isn't rushed and trying to do too many things.
Charles Trapolin's set design is brilliant. Brilliant. I don't want to imagine the piece without that set.
The two halves of the house mirror each other and in that mirroring I saw myself. My growing up in New Orleans. Constructs of race insinuating itself into my life no matter where I am or who I'm with. Betrayal. Cycles. Occasional hilarity because I see the stupidity of it all. The slavish way I'm resistant (and suspicious of) racial "progress" or the "changing same" as my mother puts it.
Dance theatre is vital these days. Zaccho Dance Theatre gave me something aesthetically inspiring and personally urgent to look at today. Giving thanks for that!