BLACK GIRL: LINGUISTIC PLAY
September 28, 2015
Camille A. Brown & Dancers kicked off The Joyce Theater’s fall season this past week with the world premiere of Artistic Director Camille Brown’s “Black Girl: Linguistic Play.” The title of the work proves quite apropos, though Brown faced mixed responses initially. “I got everything from high fives to people laughing in my face to people who were really angered by it.”
The action begins in an inviting space of play, designed by Elizabeth C. Nelson. Pianist Scott Paterson and electric bassist Tracy Wormworth sits upstage, opposite a wall covered in colorful chalk designs. Different leveled platforms cover the stage as mirrors hang from above, later highlighting the dancers’ footwork.
Brown and an ensemble of five dancers take to the stage in a series of duets. From stomping, quick footwork in the forms of steppin’ and tap, to playful dance battles and a “jig-a-low” cheer, the work also transitions through the struggles and nurturing moments of friendship. The movement throughout is very gestural and rhythmic, aiding the storytelling aspect highlighted by each duet. The dancers appear grounded in the energy of the work, naturally exuding clarity in character as they all play themselves.
Ultimately, what Brown’s created in this dance-play is a journey of sisterhood, built on the memories of her and her dancers and offering a dynamic look at the identity(ies)of black girls. It’s relevant, it’s honest, it’s vulnerable, and by the sheer number of audience members who not only remained in their seats for the following dialogue with the company, but also participated—it’s impactful.
Along with collaboration with her dancers, Brown credits Shapeshifters: Black Girls and the Choreography of Citizenship by Dr. Aimee Meredith Cox and The Games Black Girls Play: Learning the Ropes from Double-dutch to Hip-hop by Dr. Kyra Gaunt as large influences of this work. The company’s Black Girl Spectrum Initiative workshops to date have also served as a great source of research and inspiration.
When moderator L’Heureux Lewis-McCoy asked for words that commented on the experience we all shared in watching “Black Girl: Linguistic Play,” reflective, positive, identity, freedom, connection, and constraint were but a few. A work intended to spark conversation about race and stereotypes, Brown noted her own fears in the process, “Am I going to show up for myself?…And also, who is really going to show up for black girls?”
Following the lively discussion between the audience, Brown, and her company, she offers a closing call to action for black girls and beyond. “Just keep doing your work. Yes, you must have confidence in who you are, but you will thrive through your work and through the brilliance you have to offer. No one can take that away from you.”
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY – Jenny Thompson