May 15, 2015
We now use “contemporary” as a genre rather than a relation of trends in time. Eventually new nomenclature will be needed for our aesthetic moment. Dance is rarely made without multimedia components; this moment could soon be regarded as “post-analog.” Imagining repertory to teach in future dance history courses, it’s hard to foresee Marjani Forté’s being Here…/this time absent from a syllabus, due not only to the unusually strong integration of her elements, but the integration of her digital Afro-futurism with the past. We typify sci-fi as cheap effects predicting futures allegorizing the present; Forté uses her refined tools to objectify history through memories from an unconfined present. While nature begets structure, imagination begets systems, oppressive and liberating.
Everett Saunders holds ears hostage in binaural sound design. We keep headphones on in regulated auditory perception segregated from individual fields of vision. In Gibney Dance’s Agnes Varis Performing Arts Center, we hear oscillating laughs and cries, futilely coddled by a tender insistence that “it’s ok.” In the headphones, sound spatially situates. Simultaneously, we see from all sides one spritely figure hopping around a morose frame. Specificity of body languages renders them equal candidates for either utterance.
Visuals arouse adventurous associations. Wendell Cooper colors walls with Samuel Cartwright’s drapetomania diagnosis and 20th century anti-drug ads, sequenced with turn of the century ads for toothache-combatting cocaine drops. On their own, they are power-point presentations in social justice class; among the elements, they are our sole concrete connections. Albeit incredibly shameful, it is all we have; we have no choice but to grapple.
The dancing is comparatively simple. Each body wears shimmering skins of silver, gold, and onyx in a fusion of Afrocentric Butoh. Tendayi Kuumba gravitates Ni’Ja Whitson and Jasmine Hearn in orbital relationships. Up close, Hearn’s bare chest does not distract as her silver hue and bubbling gestures construct her an intrepid infant.
It all starts outside. Hearn dodders across the bustle of Chambers St., obscured by cars and a hood. She growls at people and air, quoting scripture and demanding to know what’s in our hearts. We ignore society’s outliers out of courtesy, but we require Hearn to find the piece. The irrational is pedagogical, opening us to take in the work as components of Forté’s choreographic system, systemic as Forté forbids her elements to unfold with structure’s naturalism. During a lecture on addiction, a Jackson 5 favorite loops. It isn’t until after drug propaganda is theorized as decontextualized that we actually hear young Jackson’s voice, duly ripped from context.
The aliens are contestants on a game show, “Systems of Oppression.” They must overcome impossible odds to a ticking clock. What seems redundant fashions fatalistic sensibilities, hearing the rules, knowing the outcome, seeing the clock, and witnessing a promise kept. Hearn stands on her shoulders, pounding feet on the wall as brutally as hands pound a piano’s keys. The lights return, revealing remnants of Hearn’s silver skin. A glitzy substitute for generations of bloodshed, the point remains potent. We’ve come a long way, yet the maze stretches on.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Jonathan Matthews