By Roberto Warren
The program consisted of three solo works by Wanjiru Kamuyu of WK Collective, Rachael Ahn Harbert, and “radical child”, performed by Alexander Dones.
The first piece, “Spiral”, performed by Wanjiru Kamuyu, was actually a reconstruction of a work originally created in 2005. The work explores the affects and effects of the imposed Western patriarchal idea of beauty standards while interrogating the acceptance and assimilation of and to these standards through old and new values that arise as a reaction to that dominant cultural context.
Ms. Kamuyu enters wearing a leotard, and a full Victorian-era skirt. Hung from the ceiling are bird cages with nude Barbie dolls in them. There is also one nude Ken doll in one of the cages. Talk about Western symbols of beauty. The skirt is iconic. A symbol of patriarchal Western beauty. Moving slowly, like a cat, with high extensions, she seems content with this image she has. But then she begins to clutch at the skirt as if to question herself. She pulls the skirt up and examines her feet and legs. Are her feet good enough? Are her legs good enough? She then begins to explore her social and emotional space. Test the waters of the Western illusion she is beginning to realize she has been living. She even develops a swagger, spiraling her body left and then right. Flipping her hand across her shoulder as if to brush off any negative commentary about her “image of perfection” and then turning to look at her shadow on the wall as if to reaffirm her image to herself. She bows to her shadow. She embraces herself. But then reality begins to set in. The movement becomes jagged and percussive as the conflict builds. With a fury and rapid fits of rebellion she fights her way out of the skirt…that symbol of Western “beauty”… But she can’t seem to break away. Is it Afros or hot combs? She smiles at the audience…or a potential suitor. “Hi how are you? Do you think I am beautiful?” Then the skirt comes off. She begins to discover herself. But no sooner than that happens she goes through Western-defined sexual rejection. The lights go dark and the real struggle and questioning begins.
Under the skirt she has been wearing ruffled bloomers. Another Victorian-era symbol. Under the symbol there has been another symbol. A cacophony of whispers and laughter ensues in the soundtrack. Yes…there are critics everywhere. But this is then overridden by the angelic voices of an African children’s choir. A reminder of who she really is…and slowly…she begins to accept that.
The second piece, “Stand Still”, danced by Rachael Ahn Harbert was a preview of an evening-length work in the making. Ms. Harbert starts out by introducing herself to the audience…literally….and then she gets 14 volunteers from the audience to join her in the dance space. They become part of her dance landscape, which also consists of mirrors, two large and rectangular, and one small and round. All on the floor, along with a 3-minute hourglass. She then gives each of the 14 audience members onstage a small round mirror to hold. And because the piece is called “Stand Still”, she instructs the audience members to do just that.
In the first section of the piece, which she called “Death”, wearing a flesh colored top and shorts, she somersaults onto the floor, landing on her back, and uses her finger to monitor her pulse rate at her neck…and while the 3-minute hourglass runs out, she dies. Watched by 14 impassive onlookers.
In the next section of the piece, which she called “While You Were Sleeping”, she binds her 14 onlookers. In the center of the Art Lab J dance space, there are three poles. Seven of the onlookers stood on either side of the center pole, and between the two end poles. She strings a black rope around all three poles, gliding around, behind, and between her onlookers, totally immobilizing them. After all, when you are told to “stand still”, you are verbally being immobilized. You are being prevented from moving in space. But the ropes and poles also resembled telegraph wires. It could be said that if you are being told to “stand still” you are not to communicate with your fellow man. But at the same time, the people doing the immobilizing are free to move around, behind and through you.
In the last section of the piece, “Hall Of Mirrors”, she used the mirrors on the floor to beg the question, if you are looking at the floor, you see the floor, but if there is a mirror on the floor, and you are looking into it, are you seeing additional space? Can you move in that space? Indeed, and with her 14 “onlookers” holding mirrors, were they also seeing additional space?
The third piece of the evening, “play” was performed by radical child. Danced by Alexander Dones. With music by Samuel Beckett and Richard Wagner. What happens when you listen to the voices in your subconscious mind? And how are those voices compounded by what you hear in your conscious mind? Mr. Dones turned himself inside out. He dove headlong into this labyrinth of confusion, moving powerfully about the room. The voices took him into the air, onto the floor, into turns, put smiles on his face, frowns, and periodically caused him to hook himself in his mouth and pull his head back in supplication. If you pay attention to and react to everything your hear, your actions become frenzied. One action leads to another, and they don’t always lead you down a logical path. Life can be like that. And Mr. Dones showed that.
Kudos to Joori Jung and the staff at ArtLabJ for allowing such cutting-edge dance work to be presented in Detoit.