We audience members are always getting attached to companies and individual performers — it’s one of the deeply human pleasures (and pains: life spans in dance can be so brief) to be gotten from following a live art form.
But what about falling for a series? Thursday night in St. Mark’s Church, where Danspace Project presented the New York premiere of Trajal Harrell’s latest and final live iteration of a series he has been developing for about five years, I felt in a way as if I were at a farewell party. The emotion was both charged and bittersweet; I’ve grown attached.
The work, “Judson Church Is Ringing in Harlem (Made-to-Measure)/Twenty Looks or Paris Is Burning at the Judson Church (M2M),” and the series are an examination of an imagined meeting, in 1963, of the Harlem voguing and Judson Dance Theater movements. The series will include one more work in the form of a publication, but this is, apparently, the final live piece of the puzzle. (Some enterprising institution should present all six performances en masse; New York loves its marathons.)
In “M2M” Mr. Harrell flips the original question, asking, “What would have happened if one of the early postmoderns from Judson Church had gone uptown to perform in the voguing ballroom scene in Harlem?” (In earlier shows the voguers have come downtown.) It isn’t a question to be taken literally but rather, as the program note explains, as an invitation for “a third possibility” to be created “here and now.”
Still, it’s fun to indulge in a bit of literalist interpretation, as “M2M” gets off to its stripped-down and repetitive start. Dressed in filmy black, togalike shifts designed by Complexgeometries, Mr. Harrell, Thibault Lac and Ondrej Vidlar occupy three seats in the church sanctuary. They sit upright at first, barely moving, repeating snippets of song lyrics — “Don’t stop the dancing” — and other phrases over a recorded soundscore like high priests (or priestesses) involved in a deadly serious ritual. There is something both severe and innocent about it all; you can almost imagine a trio of Judsonite performers as artsy wallflowers, holding the line for their avant-garde principles (“No” to spectacle and the star image and all that, as Yvonne Rainer’s manifesto called for) as ravishingly costumed voguers swirl around them.
But, of course, the Judson folks liked to party, too. And one of Mr. Harrell’s propositions is that Judson and voguing shared many of the same values, as fellow politically minded experimentalists pushing identity and the performance of identity into new territory. And both groups delighted in the possibilities of movement — the many everyday, marvelous things that the body can do.
One of these things is walking. Whether one struts down a catwalk in heels or jogs across a loft floor in sneakers, the basic mechanics are the same.
When these three men finally rise, to the dimming of lights, it is for a glorious and extended deployment of hip-angling, arched-feet fierceness.
“Conceptual dance is over,” Mr. Harrell chants.
“Work,” the others echo.
The voluptuous physicality offers a release of tension at once pedestrian and glamorous, and it is worth the long wait through what preceded it.
More than that — the waiting is essential. Much of the work’s power lies in all of the places it doesn’t go, and all of the space it gives its audience to ponder and question. Restraint and minimalism can be just as sexy and intriguing as vivacity and flair. Combined, they present a seduction impossible to resist.
- Faith Evans, Chris Tucker and Sinbad Lead the Harlem Fall Event Calendar (harlemworldmag.com)
- Akon And Ryan Beatty In Harlem For Concert (harlemworldmag.com)
- Harlem’s Tap-Dancing College Student (harlemworldmag.com)