Performing Arts: Dance
May 16, 2022
Ugemdi Ude’s I know exactly what you mean, presented by Danspace, was a dance about lying. Upon entering the historic St. Mark’s Chruch in-the-Bowery the audience wandered past a large printer, a dormant and tantalizing detail that would eventually pay off, before finding their seats.

Exquisite in the simplicity of its premise and the rich depth of its execution the show began with the performers, Selah V. Hampton, Symara Johnson, and Ogemdi Ude, sitting on the steps beneath the arch in St. Mark’s sanctuary. Projected above them were distorted music videos, collaged movement and color from which bodies and faces emerged.

These figures were perhaps Ludacris or Lil’Kim whose sounds, among those of other hip-hop performers, DJTONYMONKEY used to score the show. As the performers began to speak—recounting stories of adolescent untruths into handheld mics—their words replaced the projections with fragmented texts, print overlaying itself to the point of illegibility as their stories interrupted each other.

These words were in excellent literary company; the performance’s program cites Toni Morrison and Suzan-Lori Parks as inspirations for using fictitious storytelling as a method for healing Black Americans. On this Ude writes that “we are addressing the fissures in personal and collective memory that a traumatic event creates. When we don’t remember, we fabricate to make sense out of what we do”. These themes are elevated by a narrow lane of design decisions, lights and costumes alike stick to the colors orange and black.

The dancing itself was excellent, each of the performers demonstrated not only technical skill in hip-hop and modern technique but also the affective components of the performance.

The choreography, sometimes riotous and others molasses-slow, found impressive shifts between joyous movement, plucked out of a wonderful nightclub in sync with the music’s pounding beat, and a raw vulnerability that felt equally melancholy and sharp as if it could have physically wounded the performers as they danced it.

Climactically, the printer began to spit forth its ream of paper, which fell to the ground in folds, grasped and stretched— but never torn— by the performers as their voices rose cacophonous against the thrumming music.

All the stories that had been told throughout tumbled from new mouths bringing into question the factuality of the narratives, even as they clarified Ude’s promise that “lying can often help us make sense of an essential truth”.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Noah Witke Mele

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