Nora Chipaumire

A leg suspended in the air, almost unnoticeable at first, yellow caution construction tape, a ladder, an unidentified structure, a plastic bottle containing liquid (water?) hanging and dripping, and the audience on four sides. This is how it begins. It feels chaotic, dense, poetic, contained and somehow distant. It’s as if I had entered a mental and energetic landscape and was allowed to enter on the provision that I come without a translator. In the dark, fumbling, a viewer can find her own way into the material and mythology of Miriam.

There’s disorientation that one feels at times watching this piece in the often dimly lit space. The darkness is itself a character in Miriam. And tonight, I remembered how much I love listening in the dark, the layers of diverse music and text creating a richness and also the quieter moments when something emerges slowly, and instead of missing an image or action in another area of the stage, there is that wonderful feeling of inclusion that defies proximity or sight, sound touching multiple places simultaneously.

The suspended bottle becomes illuminated like a little moon overhead as the piece begins and Okwui Okpokwasili enters the space wearing platform shoes, a black evening dress, partially constructed wings, and some other flashy flourish. She enters through the exit door, flashlight in hand percussive stomping as she surveys the audience, scanning and walking the perimeter and four sides. The energy of this beginning is a nice flip as the audience is exposed and we see fleeting glimpses of faces and eyes in the flash of the headlamp. The piece begins its build in density quite quickly and layers of text and sound crescendo and merge. It is hard to keep up with the words and I find it becomes more of a cacophony of sound at times. At other times the text clear and powerful.
I could say this piece is as much a work about sound as it is a dance. There is a rhythmic intelligence underlying the work, a musicality that plays with punctuation, fragmentation, chaos and density. And there are places where the sound is gorgeous, like when the two performers voices merge for a short time and in Nora’s vocals I recognized those iconic traditional Zimbabwean sounds. The sounds are rich, as well as repetitive and tiring, soft and lulling. Omar Sosa’s work is powerful, and is able to waft through Nora’s relentless sound work in a way that is integrated. A call and response between live and recorded that adds textural layer. Lovely and deep, Nora’s vast voice ranges from soft coos and laughter to guttural utterances from deep within.

Both her power as a dancer and vocalist are incredible. But at times I also tired of the vocal repetition, was this intentional? To press onto the viewer in such a way that she senses a kind of oppression? Causing the viewer to desire space or quiet? And then at times, spaciousness does emerge briefly.

The references and parodies inherent in this piece feel layered and at times I want to slow down to distil an image and linger with an idea. Gender and power dynamics; Mother and Mary; spirit and mystery; our relationship to past, present, future; the notion of performativity; the seer and the one seen; objectification; exploitation; dictatorial relationships; freedom and sexual politics; friendship and intimacy, it’s all in there!

The text flits through the space, at times discernable and at times not. The references to a lens of objectification are clear. We are reminded of the traveling “exotic savage” shows of the past the dehumanizing showcasing of human lives (a kind of human trafficking) and their counterparts of today. The sexual lens also infuses the work- the gyrating dance under the red light, beckoning the eye of the audience. But somehow a distance remains in the emotion of the material of Miriam. There is humor throughout all of it even as reality seeps in. And I appreciated this humor and also the rawness, but a part of me was surprised it didn’t feel more emotionally evocative. The directness was there in the text at the beginning and then I felt we lost it for long stretches of time. In this way, for me, the piece became about loss.

One of the most striking scenes in Miriam is towards the end when movement appears much larger than it is where the costumes create a kind of mirage in the dim night lighting that makes the movers seem like creatures, floating and rolling and rising. There is an organic fluidity to these phrases that connect to space and sky more than ground. Perhaps they are ultimately so satisfying because they juxtapose the stream of preceding sequences that were more rooted and grounded and also more wandering - the performers in their own Diaspora, searching as they moved along the perimeter of the stage, finding and losing each other. But in this ending scene they are centered, in a new way in space that feels both abstract and very clear and it is together that they leave us, laughing to wander out the back door, off stage.

I can’t help but wonder, was there something about being in the dark for so long that made me a lazy watcher? That caused me to lose connection to the material and performers somehow? I wonder if the places in the work that felt murky, blurred or chaotic, would have felt clearer with edges that different lighting could provide.
Miriam reminds me of the phenomenon of dusk. As the sun sets and light fades, outlines soften and blur as the hard lines and edges of people, plants and things dissolve. And in that dissolution things become both more connected and integrated with each other (as the boundaries become less and less perceptible) and simultaneously more distant, as our visual mechanism that guides us towards feelings of closeness disappears. The loss of the visual field allows the binding mechanism of sound to permeate and also an odd sense of being suspended in the sustained in-between space of almost dark and almost light.

- Lauren Tietz

Movement art in Public, YES!
I must admit I am biased; I have worked with most of these performers in some capacity so I arrived at the viewing with a lot of love! Nevertheless, I believe for many people viewing Cripping The Streets, that it conveyed a true sense of comradery and joy, which was hard to not fall in love with. It’s a work that celebrates the wide continuum of the language of dance, and in its depth causes the viewer to widen her own definition of dance. 

Performers represent a diverse field of abilities and disabilities revealing the often under-represented range of a dancer’s identity. Yet in using those charged words, ability and disability, I recognize the flawed thinking that is so routine in our cultural perspective. The human mind (or one aspect of it) is so wired to categorize and in so doing to separate and make, albeit at times essential (for survival) but at times false distinctions between people and things. And it is the nature of this piece that begins to dissolve these boundaries and allows for a deeper viewing, a wider lens of inclusion, which is what we all long for ultimately as humans. Disability, ability, limitation, challenge, tendency, preference, privilege - when we widen this field of evaluating it is clearly a continuum, much more so than a binary of either/or. And yet the reality remains, that viewing dance happening in a wheelchair say, initially might appear outside our scope of dance. But upon further investigation this difference becomes an interesting element, (like differences in tempo preferences or body type) not an impediment, and not the primary focus of our seeing. What then captures our awareness is of course, the universality of dance.

There is a level of care, focus and playfulness the performers bring to this piece that is so refreshing in the dance world. The energetic focus they bring is essential with so many competing sounds and images simultaneously occurring in the street. And still the focus does not interrupt another stream of pleasure that flowed so beautifully through this piece. The connection between the performers that was so bright, committed and nuanced. Even with only three rehearsals and compositional scores designed with simplicity, complexity isn’t sacrificed. It is this simplicity and Olivia O’Hare’s thoughtful and creative direction that allows for real time improvisational material to emerge without becoming muddied. There are also moments of what seem to be pre-composed phrases that emerge and flow through with ease, without feeling superimposed.

At the beginning the audience was privy to Olivia’s direction for the performers through the warm up sequence at the beginning of the dance. Busses stopped and passengers emerged and pedestrians walked and gazed, while performers sensed their breath, followed a movement impulse and found stillness. After the first dance O’Hare gave us instructions to walk to the next location, an intersection at Second Street where performances lasted for the duration of a green light. The short clear beginnings and endings were lovely parameters for material to rise instantly while pedestrians became performers in that space. It was delightful.

Eventually the audience moved to City Hall to watch performers in two groups of trios perform with Michael Joplin’s improvised DJ sound tracks, a really fun and fantastic element in the mixture of making in the moment. The whole thing was charming, both lovely and fierce and at times surprisingly moving.

- Lauren Tietz

Errin Delperdang 12 Steps
Restrict Support

Upon further reflection of Errin Delperdang’s 12 Steps, my mind continues to return to the relationship between restriction and freedom, between parameters and creativity. I am also contemplating a naive notion of freedom being an unbounded wide-open space and how often that notion falsely ignores the human necessity for structure. Structure creates support and support allows for both freedom and creativity to emerge unbidden, a certain kind of freedom can only exist with the support of clear boundaries. We often need something to push against. In fact, in biological terms, we always do, we are organisms that emerged from this phenomenon, and our bones and structures grew because of compression and gravity, not in spite of it!

The methodical, utilitarian elegance of 12 Steps, set on the steps of city hall seemed charged with these ideas. In different ways multiple pairs of dancers and one central trio each continued with their unique undertaking that bonded one performer to the other. In this way, Delperdang has invented a challenge or condition of resistance for each pair. The challenge itself then provided a kind of movement honesty. Rather than building choreography from a purely aesthetic perspective, instead Delperdang chose to focus on physics as one of the guiding forces behind the choreography.
The piece began with a dancer (Kelly Hasandras) emerging from the side with a long rope attached to her partner (Danielle Casey), who is acting as an anchor (they later change roles) to her progression through space as Kelly ascends and descends steps, rolling and spiraling, walking and pulling.

Another really interesting set of parameters was seen in the trio where Delperdang is central and two other dancers assist in directing her movements through the use of a crutch to direct the bending of a knee, the lifting of a limb, the tilting of her torso etc. It creates a mood of patience and curiosity and as a viewer I had the sense of being educated about a certain kind of movement progression, a cause and effect process that is straightforward and nonetheless still interesting to witness it unfolding.
I must admit I am often drawn to this method of developing dance, rather than trying to defy physical limitations, a choreographer can expose them. And it was this device that seemed to allow for a discovery within the parameters of the challenge.

There is a language of alertness and spaciousness of time as well as space in 12 Steps that provides a level of clarity, deeply satisfying to witness. It isn’t frenetic, but present and steady and this flow was both lovely and mesmerizing. This slower pace and depth of field allowed time to settle into watching the passage of time as one would while watching the ocean and horizon, and an internal rhythm and inner logic emerged that was also beautifully supported by the rich vocals that moaned and rolled and beckoned, a voice that continued to layer over itself.

One nuance I particularly loved was when Jude Hickey was carrying Lisa del Rosario on one side of his shoulder and torso. Del Rosario’s torso was upright traveling regally to different areas, traversing the space, her face clear and surveying. It seemed she was riding his support the way a rider on horseback might in such a relaxed yet alert state, scanning the horizon patiently. And then, in several instances she gently touched the top of his head and as her body turned, subtly directing his gaze, his body did as well, turning below hers a second later from the silent communication of touch. Something of that moment was deeply satisfying.

There weren’t forced relationships between pairs in this work, there was a sense of pairs (and trio) operating simultaneously but often separately from other pairings. There was no invented drama, or clear narrative, but just the sheer task at hand engaged in so directly.

The work culminated in an energetic shift as the entirety of the group seemed to become aware of itself, moving simultaneously at different levels on the steps. And then again we felt the passage of time, with Hickey and del Rosario scanning the audience and landscape with a clarity of purpose that was not overtly serious nor was it pedestrian, but something in between that remained engaging. 
- Lauren Tietz