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Being (Black) Me at NW New Works Festival 2016 – Weekend 1 Jun 13, 2016

by Ryan Vinson


There is a minimalist beat. Minimal movement. Stressed face but silly tone for serious words that still come across humorously. Details are included that make me think these stories must be true. Banal details. Heavy under happy. Busy music, restrained bodies. Lives defined by technology. Good and bad and definite. Definitely definite. Ankles. Naked? Can’t direct eyes? Eyes respond to rest of body, which responds to outside stimuli – lights/music. And/or internal impulses. Blood rushing through limbs. Repetitive, stretched, warbly sounds. Industrial. Voice in a metallic cavern. Body echoes. Tremors. Captive. Unyielding to exhaustion. Dress ritual. Transform. Evolve. The human machine. Becoming human. Putting on a show. But still animal. Still defined by skin or fluids or clothing or music or roles or expectations. Clock. Dramatic piano. Quiet faces. Swoops and soft landings. Move through and around each other. Touch but never really. High five? No, wait – They’re waiting for each other. They each have an independence, but they overlap. They follow each other from a distance. Or lead with intention and a conscious power. Power over? Shared power? Variations seem like mistakes – or a rebellion. Who the hell was that singing guy and why were the rest so much less powerful after he showed up?


That’s a lot of people of color in one piece. And they’re using Beyoncé music. And rap. Kanye. Auto-tune. Pop music. I wonder if the rest of the audience is thinking that’s stupid. Like, yeah, it’s enjoyable, but in a specific momentary, cheap way. Like they’re at the club. But in this context, does it have value? Is it important enough? Or is it the soundtrack to a shallow, unrefined perspective? Did they just dab? Does anyone else here know they just dabbed? Am I more alone in this audience than I realized? And they’re tutting. And doing the heel-toe. Is this embarrassing? Are those pity claps? Is that applause solely in support of minority representation? Is the standard lower? Is that standing ovation simply because they did something? These people who aren’t supposed to do things here – or at least not those things, in those numbers, on this stage – are we commending them just for existing in this space? Are some people mad? Does anyone hate that this was allowed here? Are other choreographers and performers thinking that this group had it easy because less is expected of them? Are they bitter and insulted? Or am I the only one thinking these things? Would that make this uneasiness less valid?

I am unable to watch a performance like Bayanihan without this thick filter between me and the piece. I cannot get lost in the world the artists have created. I cannot commit myself to the space they have built. I cannot allow their identities to be defined by their movement and relationships to each other. I can’t analyze their artistic decisions or play my favorite game of trying to make sense of the combined elements they have curated. I try. I try to focus my attention and live in a sort of momentary tunnel vision vacuum, but I’m constantly distracted, tangled in doubts of validity and worth. I see aspects of my identity, intimate and estranged, featured far more blatantly than I’m used to in a spotlight I can’t help but think of as reserved for the more elevated, respectable, intellectual dominant. Even here, in this strange ass art-space where little surprises me, among this loving community of weirdos – even here, I can’t help but wonder if the audience is judging these folks differently, if their love or hate is based on a simplification or some socially acceptable form of prejudice. I pace the maze of my head and feel alien. Am I the only one where I am? Are those people standing and cheering because they were able to watch and appreciate in a way that I couldn’t. The glimpses I caught – between my frenzied anxieties – were thoughtful and present, communal and recovering. But for the most part, I didn’t really see Bayanihan. I wish I could have. And I wish it could have just been seen – by me, by everyone. I wish it were that simple.