I had the extraordinary privilege of attending last night’s performance of THE MOVEMENT. This terrific evening, amazing from top to bottom, was produced by grace shinhae jun, CRW Enterprises, and Rebecca Bryant and Don Nichols [past)(modern performance duo].
THE MOVEMENT was an evening of dance theater. Or was it poetry dance? Or was it a play, masquerading as dance-poetry-slammin’ hip-hop? THE MOVEMENT was all of these, featuring a Greek chorus of twenty-something urban poets, rhythm sections of dance duets, trios, and quintets, heart-stopping and gut-wrenching poetry monologues, full-on jazz choreography, and a percussion soloist (Don Nichols) who could comfortably have shared the stage with the Duke Ellington Orchestra, Miles Davis, or Muddy Waters.
I’ll begin at the beginning – “In this piece, something will be revealed and something will stay concealed” – choreographed and performed by Rebecca Bryant. “In this piece … ” is a brilliant theatrical creation, combining dance, graphics, sound effects, narration, film-like cuts and transitions, a treasure-hunt sense of adventure, and a killer postmodernist story line. Wow!
Onstage, Rebecca informs us she is investigating “how people construct reality”. I straightened up in my seat and took notice. Then she regales us with a cautionary tale of a fifth-grade production of “Macbeth”, letting us know this is when she became a postmodernist. “Reality is subjective” Rebecca declaims, and proceeds to exit stage left. A moment later a new performer appears, dressed as Rebecca was dressed and continuing the dance and monologue as if she IS Rebecca, but “reality is subjective”. This was a great moment.
Throughout “In this piece … ” Rebecca was contrasting, for our edification and delight, the objectives and goals of the “Performer” and the “Audience Member”. A chart takes shape on the scrim, with axes and labels. We’re told that audience interest is based on how well the performer tells her story, and Rebecca concludes forcefully, “by good I mean effective, and by story I mean lie”. My jaw literally dropped.
What about the choreography? Well, in such a dance event ? really performance art ? the actual dancing is a sidebar. Not inconsequential, certainly not, but serving the overall design, purpose, and message (subjective, of course) of the performing artist. The dancing was strong, graceful, supple, and attractive, and most of all, extremely intelligent.
“In this piece … ” incorporates a lot of script. The performer has a lot to say, all of it provocative and of great interest. Importantly, Rebecca Bryant is a very well-rounded stage artist, both a terrific dancer and a terrific actress. When she speaks, she speaks truthfully. She is in and of the moment. What she has to say may not be the “truth”, but that’s the whole point, isn’t it?
OK. Now for the poetry. THE MOVEMENT poets were Ant Black, Rudy Francisco, and Kendrick Dial, comprising Collective Purpose. From the program notes, Collective Purpose is “committed to utilizing creative expression as a means to inspire others to become truth seekers, truth speakers, and positive change agents.” Ant Black “has been called a mastermind of paradox in urban culture”. Rudy Francisco “combines activism and poetry”. Kendrick Dial is “an MC, spoken word artists, and songwriter”. Together and individually, these three very talented poets are a powerful force to be reckoned with.
“On the Fly” was a unique multimedia performance event featuring poetry, live percussion, and dance. The poets – Ant, Rudy, and Kendrick – each possessing a commanding yet caring stage presence – drifted purposefully across and through the stage space, singly and in a group, interacting with the dancers – Rebecca Bryant and grace shinhae jun – in a graceful, loosely constructed pas de cinq.
The poets – spoken word artists – took the audience on a tour of American society, focusing on the mid-1960s and the now. They gave us a painful, shattering overview of Black History in America, as told by those only a generation removed from the water hoses, beatings, and murders done in those places and during those times.
At one early moment in “On the Fly”, on a darkened stage, the three poets stood in an open triangle, the apex forward, with right arms upraised and fists clenched – a tribute to the Black Power salute given by Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Olympics. I gasped in recognition at this living glimpse of history. I had tears in my eyes then and now, as I write this.
Martin Luther King. Coretta Scott King. Betty Shabazz. Gordon Parks. Gil Scott-Heron. The Black Panthers. And back through history to Sojourner Truth. As each honored name was spoken, echoing across time, visions of those troubled yet glorious days raced across my memory. My Dad and I Marched on Washington in 1963. I read “The Autobiography of Malcolm X” in real-time, in 1965. In 1968 I read “Soul on Ice” by Eldridge Cleaver, Minister of Information of the Black Panthers. I was there. I remember. And I’m very grateful to Collective Purpose for reminding us what our collective purpose was, is, and needs to be.
And, finally, “The Movement”, choreographed by grace shinhae jun in collaboration with bkSOUL dancers Lauren Dockweiler, Amir Khastoo, Jacqui Lang, and Lavina Rich. grace’s dynamic, powerful, intensely rhythmic choreography provided the perfect energizing, uplifting, and hopeful conclusion to the evening’s rollercoaster ride. Deep pliés, tight, fast turns and spins, karate-style leg kicks, modern ballet arabesques, and super-strong partnering propelled bkSOUL along sharp diagonals and up, down, around, and through the available four dimensions of space and time. The house was rockin’ and we all were feelin’ the love.
So, THE MOVEMENT was not only a brilliant creative collaboration. THE MOVEMENT sets a new standard for performance art, really a new standard to what it means to be a performer and present a performance. We had the joy of experiencing dance, poetry, and music of the highest order. And, by being present at THE MOVEMENT, we were enabled to share the deeply human experience of memory, pain and loss, and the joy of creation, the joy, heartache, and blessing of striving to be human.
My great appreciation and thanks to each and every artist of THE MOVEMENT.