The evening begins with Nora Stephens introducing herself and her onstage compatriots (Cecilie Beck, Eli Tamondong and Naomi Elena Ramirez) by read-singing from a sheet. Stephens credits a previous work for bringing the collaborators’ together, earnestly looking up from page to audience. “Welcome to our show,” the performers’ harmonize warmly, arms extended in greeting while colorful, glittery outfits sparkle as they move about. They come together in the center of the room and hold flower-like positions. Silently - slowly - the flowers wilt. Within minutes they are in a heap on the floor and begin to transform and undulate as the human bodies roll backwards into the space.
‘Untitled Together’ opened Chez Bushwick’s 2Night Show Artists in Residence Program January 26th and 27th at the Center for Performance Research as part of this winter’s month-long Exponential Festival. CPR’s layout of positing the audience slightly above the dancers in an otherwise traditional seating arrangement accentuates the necessity of drawing our own conclusions from the work. What does it mean to strive for progress with our bodies acting both as limitation and agent in this current political climate? How do we fight responsibly for our right and for the right of others to live without subjugation? In ‘Untitled Together’ - which ends in a karaoke version of George Michael’s ‘Faith’, the audience singing along with the performers as they dance - the answers seem to lie in the title; we figure it out as we go, and we don’t do it alone.
‘A Salient Theme’ starts off with Leslie Cuyjet and Jessica Pretty dancing to an upbeat tune dressed in comfortable, light clothing under a dramatic red glow. The mood shifts from disarming and quirky - as the two stand in the middle of the room and look out from their shared center of security towards us, the unknown - to the abstract, exact and confrontational. Cuyjet, who choreographed and wrote the performance, maneuvers her body with swift, deft movements across the empty stage as an audio recording of her voice relays measured and disjointed words. It’s as though she attempts to define what’s missing using the motions of her body, highlighting a place of vulnerability and tension where language sometimes falters. Soon Cuyjet is reading from a paper she holds in her hand, inserting missing words into the audio. Shifting uncomfortably, she appears hesitant of where to stand as she now verbally engages in a frank and powerful account of her lived reality as a black woman. Cuyjet backs into the wall as a doorway-shaped light illuminates her. She drops the written material and walks away. Across the room the same outline shines around Pretty, who keeps reaching higher and higher above her as both lights fade.
“It seems each step forward brings us back two or three,” Thelma Thomas narrates in stormy budwig’s “This is disaster management.” Behind her six performers (Anastasia Eckerson, Leanna Grennan, Isabella Jackson, Ella Misko, Sara Rodriguez and Tamia Ruiz) dressed as school children in a red and black ensemble engage in somber, ritualistic dance. In her intonation Thomas - a black woman of “eighty-odd” years, according to the narration written by Diana Yates - relays a steady hope. “If you miss me at the back of the bus and you can’t find me nowhere / Come on up to the front of the bus, I’ll be ridin’ up there” she sings while the dancers glide across the floor in pairs, make letter-like shapes with their bodies, and in their random but precise movements seem to conglomerate in focused determination towards a shared goal. The performance ends when they line up to spell “resilience” with the letters on their clothing, chugging water from bottles brought out to them by budwig.
Lorene Bouboushian opens “extent of explosive lament” by describing the space around us, probing the audience to examine the room further by sitting out on the stage to get a better look. Throughout her performance Bouboushian uses a multitude of tools - engagement, dance, narration - to convey the complexity of taking responsibility for one’s place in cultural, social and economic lineage. At one point she covers her face with spaghetti, lets it dribble to the floor then hands it out in chunks to audience members. Bouboushian’s opening description culminates in her asking, “How did you get here today?” - a question proven to be as unknowable as it is basic, and when she beckons, “Come closer” the lights drop - that’s unknowable, bottomless, and ever-shifting, too.
The show was marked by the performers’ engagement with social and political constructs that dehumanize, restrict and control. Each performance held a clear intent of pushing against those elements, in that moment invoking a language with which the audience could do the same. - Polina Riabova
ABOUT PERFORMANCE IS ALIVE CORRESPONDENT, POLINA RIABOVA // Polina Riabova is a Russian-born bilingual poet and writer and co-founder of an independent cooperative record label based in Brooklyn, Borrowed Birds Records. In her performance work she explores the intersection between public and private life and the influence it exerts on our understanding of ourselves and others as well as the complexity of interpersonal relationships and themes of vulnerability using a mix of found objects, visuals and sound.
Alexandra Hammond Polina Riabova