Looking Beyond Your Own Window
Nancy Rosenbaum, associate producer
“if you want to trace yourself back to kings or the pyramids or whatever, that’s nice, but then it’s very important that you turn away from this narcissistic mirror and you begin to look out the window and you begin to realize there are other people out there with different histories, different mythologies, and that your job now is to enter out into the world. Your history, your ideas, is a gift and you’re also in a position where you receive the gift of other peoples’ culture, and that’s the exchange…”
—E. Ethlebert Miller in “Black and Universal”
In the quote above, the poet makes a point about the importance of knowing your cultural history while not being so myopic that you close yourself off to other traditions. After seeing a stunning work of contemporary dance by Brazilian choreographer Bruno Beltrão, this idea is percolating inside me.
Beltrão came up as a hip-hop street dancer in Rio in the 1990s, but over time he grew creatively frustrated with the conventions of a genre that celebrates individual virtuosity and has a predictable soundtrack. He formed his all-male dance troupe Grupo de Rua to push the boundaries of what hip-hop street dance could be if it evolved to include other traditions and movement vocabularies.
Speaking after this weekend’s performance, Beltrão explained that some audiences react negatively to his work because he doesn’t deliver on people’s expectations. He no longer performs, saying that dancing is an intimate act he prefers to do it at home and with people who are dear to him.
All of this has me thinking about the tension between being a follower versus a shaper of a particular tradition. Are some traditions (artistic, religious, cultural) more open to expansion and reinvention? And, if so, what makes them this way? Is it harder to stay open to change if your tradition has been ignored, misunderstood, or devalued? I don’t have easy answers to these questions and wonder what others think?
Marc Sanchez, associate producer
“This project is inspired by the rigor and austerity of religious practices while decrying the barriers that religion creates. We will approach our research as a devotional practice allowing this intension to essentialize our communal purpose. Simplicity and economy can demonstrate how extreme restriction can be turned into powerful kinesthetic expressions. This project seeks to create a performance that is the sum of perfect gestures and total sensory engagement.”
The performance also features original music by Alan and Mimi Sparhawk of the band Low. And, upcoming performances are scheduled at PS 122 in New York, Wesleyan University in Middletown, and the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis.
Going to “Church”
Andy Dayton, Associate Web Producer
While much of the SOF staff was in D.C. last Thursday for Krista’s conversation with E.J. Dionne and David Brooks, a few of us went to “Church” at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. The “Church” I’m referring to is a performance of experimental playwright Young Jean Lee’s play, which the New York Times’ Jason Zinoman described as “an unorthodox contemporary worship service, complete with sermon, praise dancing and a gospel choir.”
It was definitely an engaging experience — at times funny, thought-provoking, stirring, even just confusing. Lee’s parents were converted evangelical Christians, but Lee struggled with her parents’ faith: “I was not a religious person. I resisted and fought through my entire childhood and adolescence.” Writing “Church” was a challenge to herself to create “the last show in the world that [I] would ever want to make,” and what resulted was an ambiguous adaptation of a church service — one that refused to be completely earnest or ironic, but fluctuated somewhere in between.
After seeing the performance, Nancy — who’s been filling in for Colleen during her maternity leave — tracked down this conversation between the creator of “Church” and playwright/director Lear Debessonet. The two women touched on how Christianity is often encountered in contemporary theater:
Ms. Lee: Most of what I’ve seen up until this point has been critiques and making fun. Christians are just not taken seriously at all, which is what my show came out of. But I have a feeling there’s going to be a big wave of theatrical stuff dealing with evangelical Christians over the next year.
Ms. Debessonet: I think the downtown artistic community is realizing we don’t really have the option of dismissing [evangelical Christianity] anymore. This is a force in our world. There are so many millions of people that do believe this, and for us not to even attempt to engage them or understand what’s driving them seems irresponsible artistically.
Meredith Monk and Ann Hamilton Ascend at the Walker
Kate Moos, Managing Producer
It is possible that Meredith Monk is not entirely of this world, but I am very glad that she is visiting us on earth. She and the visual artist Ann Hamilton have collaborated to create a riveting and beautiful performance at the Walker Art Center entitled “Songs of Ascension,” which opens tonight and runs through Saturday.
I was able to attend the dress rehearsal last night, curious to know whether this might be a show for us, and indeed the haunting vocal acrobatics and evocative use of film create a compelling sensation of the soul in movment — I would say, “spiritual propulsion,” if it made any sense.