IMPRESSIONS: Reggie (Regg Roc) Gray and Peter Sellars' "FLEXN Evolution" at the Park Avenue Armory
May 19, 2017
A Collaboration of Reggie (Regg Roc) Gray, Peter Sellars, and Members of the D.R.E.A.M. Ring
Commissioned and produced: Park Avenue Armory
Light Sculpture & Lighting Design: Ben Zamora / Costume Design: Angela Wendt / Music Mix: Epic B
Dancers: Franklin (Ace) Dawes, Martina (Android) Heimann, James (Banks) Davis, Sean (Brixx) Douglas,Calvin (Cal) Hunt, Deidra (Dayntee) Braz, Aaron (Doc) Frazier,Andre (Dre Don) Redman, Rafael (Droid) Burgos,Jason (Erthquake) Cust, Quamaine (Karnage) Daniels, Reggie (Regg Roc) Gray, Dwight (Scorp) Waugh, Shelby (Shellz) Felton, Derick (Slicc) Murreld, Glendon (Tyme) Charles
A New Era of Prosecutor: A FLEXN conversation in the evening of May 19 with Hernan Carvente, Program Analyst at the Vera Institute of Justice; Kim Foxx, State’s Attorney for Cook County, Chicago; Eric Gonzalez, Acting District Attorney, Brooklyn; Rashad Robinson, Executive Director, Color Of Change
Pictured above: Ace (Franklin Dawes) in FLEXN Evolution at Park Avenue Armory.
Modern Dance was born of rebellion. Politics, activism, and protest are not new concepts. However, the way many concerts are marketed in the age of Trump — #RESIST, WALLS and so on — it’s as if social activism in the arts is a brand new idea. Indeed the way FLEXN Evolution was presented at the Park Avenue Armory, one would think that no form of movement had previously been inspired by the life experiences of “the people.” Thank gosh the impresario, director Peter Sellars and the Flexn rock star Reggie (Regg Roc) Gray are on deck to educate the elite subscribers of this venue and to introduce them to real-life social justice workers.
Can we take a break to briefly and incompletely look at activists throughout dance history, many of whom worked with less money and glitz than is provided by the Armory? Isadora Duncan, the mother of modern dance (1887—1927) — a woman’s libber before women’s lib — rebelled against her society, speaking about freedom of the body as she railed against the girdles and corsets that deformed and constricted her sex. She also spoke against the inequity of the marriage contract, and in later days, aligned herself with the Russian Revolution creating dances that celebrated Russian workers. Martha Graham (1894-1991) refused an invitation to the 1936 Berlin Summer Olympics in protest of Hitler’s heinous attitudes toward non-Aryans. She created the anti-facist work Chronicle that year and a year later, Deep Song in reaction to the Spanish Civil War - pieces that continue to resonate today. Alvin Ailey (1931-1989) a poor kid from Brownsville, Texas, created an all Black company — the most famous dance company in the world — and proved that the Black American experience is indeed the American experience. Eleo Pomare (1937-2008) transformed anger at racism into powerful dances that shook his audiences’ soul. Arthur Mitchell, born 1934 and thankfully still with us, shattered the false notion that Black people can’t dance ballet with his Dance Theatre of Harlem. Inspired by Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement, he saw to it that talented Black ballet dancers got places at the barre and onstage (still a huge homework assignment for the ballet world at large.) I haven’t even touched present day artists — Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, Liz Lerman, Camille A. Brown, Kyle Abraham and Mark Dendy, to name a few — who embrace politics, justice, and community building wholeheartedly.
On Friday May 19th, the first part of FLEXN Evolution was devoted to learning names and the job descriptions of accomplished community leaders and attorneys in a deadening 35 minute pre-show chat. Innovative, important, and impassioned as they all were, I came to see the vitality of Flexn, not a poorly integrated talk fest. Why weren’t more of the artists’ stories put up on stage?
After being talked at with plenty of obligatory applause, Sellars rushed through a description of some of the key moves of the art of Flexn: Pausin, movement that looks like a movie being rewound and fast forwarded; Get low, moving on one’s knees with speed, staying humble and under the radar; Gliding sees dancers moving smoothly and through a problem or situation; Bone-breaking has dancers reconstituting or reinventing themselves after they have been broken; Connecting portrays a bond to everyone and to all issues; and finally Groovin, staying in the flow of life no matter what the world is throwing at you. Such beautiful, rich concepts; if only they had been truly expanded upon.
For the next 1.5 hours several of these maneuvers were shared with us, although fleetingly. Sean Douglas aka Brixx's elegant slides and precise footwork as he moved in shadows between bodies frozen on the floor pierced my heart. Derick Dashawn Unique Murrello aka Slicc transfixed me with his tumbleweed-like skimming around the floor, a wounded bird turning and pleading. I was riveted by Dwight ‘Scorp’ Waugh’s solo where turmoil competed with love for his child. While all the dancers were talented, generous, and fully committed to what they were doing, much of their movement — with the exception of a few stellar turns and tricks — could not sustain the length of the performance. One can only watch shooting guns being mimed or people dropping to the floor earnestly pretending to die for so long.
What these artists needed more than anything — more than social justice workers, or directors who are trying introduce us to people we “should” know, more than fancy lights, or glamorous programs, or words from the associate director of the venue reminding us that Park Avenue Armory is aware of the turmoil of Black lives in our world — was a dramaturge or choreographer to transform their physical gifts into effective theater. Their deeply felt true-life stories (which we only read in the programs) should be shared and received by many. There was too much talent on display and too much money behind this production for the slipshod lecture demonstration we received.
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