Witnessing Hip: 12 x 1
By Thea Nerissa Barnes
I saw Hip: 12 x 1 on Saturday 30 November. The theme of the evening was to spotlight the eclectic line of African, Caribbean and black British dance and capture the essential “hipness” of its practitioners. Having “hipness” though is definitely just a starting point to describe the dance works presented in this program. Sitting in the back to the left of centre so I could have my panoramic view of the stage and a soft light to write my notes, the Howard theatre did have a noticeable electric buzz. The gathering was like a city meeting of dance makers and aficionados gathered in this corner of the African Diaspora to witness, acknowledge, and respect the dance work that all its members do. Choreographers, professional dancers, scholars, managers, friends, movers and shakers were present.
Hip: 12 x 1 illustrated a diversity of singular approaches to the composition of a dance solo and as lights dimmed and a long silence, I witnessed the telling of experience as only these dance artist could do. How do you make a dance solo? What choices are there and the guidance behind decisions to share the result of time spent examining self and the circumstance a person finds her or him self in? Each solo, some choreographed by the dancers themselves, found its source in lived experience that was then visualised through movement. Hip: 12 x 1 actually presented 14 solos by artists who each in her or his own way encapsulate a phenomenal amount of embodied knowledge. Synthesis and manipulation of movement nuances, sense and sensibilities learned in the Diaspora that individualise contemporary dance and classical ballet vocabularies offered altered significance. The use of African/South African, Caribbean, and streetdance lexicons of moves and moods also illustrated the breath of movement expression used to achieve singular modes of art practice. For me Hip: 12 x 1 illustrated how a person can take embodied knowledge and weld it to exemplify her or his life. These solos illustrated how “I” have lived, what “I” have seen and how “I” have dealt with the joy, the teachings, the pain, tolerance, my satisfaction or diss-ing, my fight to be all that “I” am.
Namron’s “Missing” is a reflection on his son who is missing. As Namron sat on a chair centre stage, turned his head from side to side with searching gaze and with a cane rose and moved into postures relating elder to youth, I empathised with his loss and sensed that this work was a metaphor illustrating a part of his life that was dear but now only remembrance.
Francis Angoli’s “Dancing Proverbs-Hidden Meaning” with music by Black Enigma travelled along a corridor of white light interpreting text that was not known to me. I longed to read the words that had inspired such clarity in African dance that took Angoli into the floor and in the air with intricate polyrhythmical and polycentric movements. Despite this I admired Angoli’s dance, sculpted movements from his chosen lexicon of movement that revealed the complex configurations of his individualised intrepretation.
Melanie Teall spoke as she moved in her choreography “The Invitation”. Some of the words I missed but those I heard indicated a conversation in which a woman shares her apprehensions and her need for reciprocation when offering self. Teall’s movements were 3 dimensional and like surround sound her arms and legs reached, bent, and soared in every direction in a lyrical but somehow punctuated way. Teall’s expressing spoke through the sensibilities of contemporary dance and with soft music playing underneath her voice at times a whisper, I felt as if I were ease dropping on a pray.
Alan Miller’s Physionyx had live singers, Zena Edwards and Randolph Matthews dressed in white standing in the upstage right corner. At first Miller’s static poses mimed the words but I soon understood the movement choices that illustrated a particular effort. It is an effort to be all things to everyone, and even more of a demand to change muscles and thinking so much you almost forget who you are. I can empathise with the effort of embodying several lexicons of movement with their diverse aesthetic requirements. The anguish when my efforts are not respected no matter how “well” I achieve them. It can drive a person mad as Miller illustrates as he moves on a diagonal performing a ballet phrase, a contemporary dance phrase, a Caribbean/African movement phrase in increasing speed that for me was a metaphor for a scream. Miller’s plaintive reach towards the end was for me the period at the end of his testimony of embodied knowledge illustrating itself in an effort to examine experience.
Diane Mitchell moved in silence at first then the music of Nina Simone and Cyro Baptists accompanied her. “Know Di I” is a Rastafarian text and signifies just what is says; know your “self”. Mitchell used a skirt poetically manipulating postures that signify her experiences of woman-ness. Mitchell’s moves tap her contemporary and Caribbean dance expertise and conjure familiar images of myself and other sistas who despite neglect and disrespect manage to stay gorgeous and glow as we turn a walk into a sassy, defiant strut.
Tippa does Ragga in his own way, Jamaican Dance Hall culture that has sources in 1980’s Reggae sound and rhythms. With Africa in the root Tippa’s moves have varied sensibilities that seem American city, streetwise and electronic. Flashing lights and Michael Jackson moves with tick, wave, body locking, Tippa flowed in and out of the Jamaican Dance Hall vocabulary. His stride is attached to Jamaican shores but touches the varied street dance sensibilities of the African Diaspora.
Yvette Perry Campbell presented “Holding On”, a work illustrating her personal dilemma of balancing motherhood with her aspirations in dance. Campbell’s embodied knowledge is vested in American contemporary dance with that Alvin Ailey edge. For me she danced defiance and with empowering reaches with her right arm, to the sky, to the Creator, or maybe its a reach to save her dreams, she seemed to proclaim, “I will not fail my child or myself”.
Stewart Arnold performed “Redemption” with Somesh Henry playing guitar and singing Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song”. Sitting on a black box centre stage, Arnold began with an open white shirt. Bondage and suppression are overcome as Arnold moved from the limitations of the box to the openness of full stage and similarly leaving the “white” shirt balled up on the floor. These solos indicated for me what “we” have been through revealing autobiographical, first person statements interpreting inspirational passages or about real-life angst. Displaying the struggle and offering a way out each solo is testimony of how to endure. The music perhaps not the best choice or maybe the physique not delivering the message intended but all were evidence of existence in the African Diaspora. Digging it (this existence) or ripping it apart, each tells a life story, an inspiration, or an incident that needed to be danced about. Metaphor or abstraction each solo exemplifies embodied knowledge of Africanised vocabularies to portray something felt in a singular life.
In the second half Sheron Wray’s solo presented 3 statements, each needing a different arrangement of the lilac velour that she wore as wings, veil, and coverlet. This solo also presented a singular interpretation from a woman’s perspective that with the lilac velour dress accentuated Wray’s power as a contemporary dance artist. Modulating her dynamics from poetically interpreting the spiritual music of Derek Bermel to varied postures of strength and resolve to inevitable passing away, Wray used her embodied knowledge to illustrate her sense of the music.
Andile Sotiya admits that his solo “Migration” is still a journey. Sotiya though is a powerhouse of intense unwavering focus and brick house physical strength that doesn’t allude to uncertainty. Sotiya embodied knowledge of contemporary dance supports his vocabulary to literally fly through the air and jumps not inches but feet with arms that work just as good as his legs. As the solo progressed though I am led to believe that even though every move is confident, Sotiya is wandering in this landscape, reaching and focusing in every direction. This place is his imaginary Kalahari/Sahara desert and he seems lost with the backdrop, wings and the audience a mirage that does not offer direction.
Brenda Edwards’ “I cry alone. Always” with music by Lady Blacksmith Mamboza was lyrical and pensive, Edwards bending and arching further than is thought humanly possible. Edwards embodied knowledge has a strong ballet leaning but incorporates the polycentric aspects of Africanist movements, her legs doing one thing and arms expressing another. With black tutu and hooded shirt Edwards was the black swan respecting the memory of William Louther and honouring Namron an acknowledged father of dance.
Noel Wallace’s “Xcon Icon” was a theatre work, lights, staging, and movement brought together to make one statement. A huge Frankenstein of a “white” man carries Wallace cradle like from upstage centre to centre stage. This “white” man partners or is it manipulates this “black” man who is feminised by the black slip, a silver bra, and red lipstick. Wallace pokes fun, mimics sexual acts, then seemingly escapes to do his ballet thing while the “white” man stands by. Eventually the “white” man beckons the “black” man and as the two move up stage I imagine “black” man is only allowed to “be” because of “white” man, “black” man is “white” man’s id, the personification of secret yearnings or as willing clay be a siren for dance making.
Zena Edwards accompanied Jane Sekonya choreography “Day 1”. With a beam of intense red light enhancing full body ripples of Sekonya’s torso and Edwards reading, then vocalising, Sekonya transformed into something felt. This was a deep female knowing and feeling, Sekonya’s body waves like a metonym for a secret sensing, the quality of which I could feel in a liminal way of knowing.
Benji Reed pushed an office chair towards a centre special of white light and did, as only Reed can do, his particular body popping and stand up comic skit. You can marvel at his skeletal joint and muscular flexibility then laugh uproariously at his vocal text dissing those folk who use ballet to define the grade, qualify and support monetarily what they believe is dance. Even Reed’s direction to the audience to make the rhythm we clapped sexy by modifying the emphasis of the clap makes Reed an accomplished performer who has spent years perfecting his craft.
There was much experience present in this part of the show, cathartic moments, neurosis, tenuous moments, rage, and sarcasm. For me the whole evening plucked many emotional strings on both sides of the fourth wall. The artists had bits of embarrassment, exaltation, fudged moves, overshooting, and triumphant accompanying occasional mishaps of live theatre. Regardless, each solo illustrated a point, communicated an inspiration, taught through example or explained through caricature. The solo dance has many varied compositions and Hip: 12 + 1 delivered multiple configurations. Witnessing the curves, muscle flex, hearing the music or spoken voice, breathing, height of jump, nuance of gesture tells you the time spent refining, curtailing and augmenting to make a vision come true. I saw the experience, the in-depth study to perfect a particular way to move. The dancer’s instrument is his or her body but in these solos the “person” is the canvass upon which the dance maker draws a dance that personifies instances of living.
<small>[ 12-05-2002, 18:30: Message edited by: THEA NERISSA BARNES ]</small>
THEA NERISSA BARNES