Bodies Converse in The Good Dance

Dancers in "The Good Dance - dakar/brooklyn", photo by Antoine Tempé

The Torah, the Bible, and the Koran are Good Books in the West.  But since earth-based, African traditions turn to the body as a moral and spiritual guide, choreographer Reggie Wilson wonders if there can be a Good Dance.  Dancers from his Fist & Heel Performance Group and Andréya Ouamba’s Senegal-based Compagnie 1er Temps use their bodies to try and write one.  The Good Dance – dakar/brooklyn, which opened at the Brooklyn Academy of Music on Wednesday evening, is a cross-cultural exploration of the choreographers’ relationship to one another, their distinct backgrounds (Wilson grew up in Milwaukee after his family migrated from the Mississippi Delta, while Ouamba is Congolese), the rich histories and cultures of the Mississippi Delta and the Congo River, and the use of the body as a moral compass instead of text.  Literal and more subtle expressions of these themes combine to create a work that is vivid and strong, yet still evolving and uncertain of its journey.

Moving through a sea of plastic bottles partly filled with water – symbolizing a natural resource trapped within a manufactured vessel and disconnected from its roots – the eight dancers blended Wilson’s structural style with Ouamba’s improvisational approach to convey rhythms that range from a propulsive, driving energy to a sleepier, meditative stretch.  Musical choices including Aretha Franklin, Robert Belfour, and Franco & Le Tpok Jazz enhanced the ebb and flow of the piece’s pace.  Whether performing in solos, duets, or as an ensemble, the dancers erupted with fluid, sensual movement that attempted to push beyond the boundaries of the water bottles.  Sometimes they threw their bodies into a pile and successfully pushed the bottles into a corner, while in other instances, they laid still amidst the sparkling mess, or watched from the sidelines as others navigated these uncertain waters.  Literal interpretations and metaphors abound.

The gorgeous lighting design by Jonathan Belcher and Carrie Wood shifted between shadows and yellow or red light, creating a sense of time passing, or migration to a new place.  Indeed, the dancers brought the audience along on their journey, but it isn’t over.  These bodies are still writing.  It seems that Wilson and Ouamba’s exploration of their backgrounds, the Mississippi and the Congo, and the body is ongoing, and perhaps The Good Dance evolves as well.  Like any good book, you can return to a good dance, find something new and marvelous, and see where it takes you.

The Good Dance – dakar/brooklyn will be performed again tonight and Saturday at 7:30 PM at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

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