IMPRESSIONS: Angie Pittman and Johnnie Cruise Mercer at Danspace Project
March 2, 2019
Came Up in a Lonely Castle
Creator: Angie Pittman // Performers: Angie Pittman and Anita Mullin
Costumes: Athena Kokoronis of The Domestic Performance Agency // Music: For All We Know by Donny Hathaway
(process memoir 4): The word, the spirit, and Little Rock
Choreographer, Dramatist, Director, and Performer: Johnnie Cruise Mercer
Collaborating Artists and Performers: Shanice Mason, Adrianne Ansley, Thomas Tyger, and Mikaila Ware
Music direction/re-innovation: Monstah Black // Costume curation: Trebien Pollard
During a shared evening at Danspace Project, Angie Pittman and Johnnie Cruise Mercer both premiered works that explored spirituality. While the dances feature similar themes, the way their makers consider faith couldn’t be more different.
Contemplative and sparse, the power of Pittman’s Came Up in a Lonely Castle lays not in its end result. Rather, it’s how it gets there. Lying on her back, the 28-year-old choreographer looks like a schoolgirl daydreaming at clouds while collaborator Anita Mullin, the founder of the Harlem Smooth Movers, a line dancing group, leans against a doorway. We watch them in rest — or is it distress? — for a considerable period. Is there more here than what lurks beneath its enigmatic surface?
Mullin eventually begins a pensive, snaking line dance. Her shoulders slope as she stomps her white-sneakered feet. Through pursed lips, she whispers a subtle beat. The scene is unusual, devoid of line dance’s usual music and lacking an ebullient group of participants. Joy, however, is still present. Albeit, it stays at a simmer with a faint smile creeping across Mullin’s face as if she’s keeping a pleasurable secret.
When the artists finally come together, they project a quiet strength. Mullin, sure-footed, revels in the beat while her partner is exacting and serious. Pittman assumes a wide fourth position and flexes her wrists back and forth emphatically. Together they ball change and swipe their limbs. Pittman’s long, graceful arms carve into bowed positions; Mullin gestures like a maestro.
If, day to day, growth feels frustratingly incremental, Came Up in a Lonely Castle, with its periods of silence and stillness, reminds us to take a long view of the imperceptible powers —whether that’s a god, a mantra, or an inexplicable force — that propel us forward and shape us.
If Pittman looks inward for forces greater than herself, Mercer’s exploration gazes outward to unknown dimensions. In (process memoir 4): The word, the spirit, and Little Rock, it’s as if a heavenly ray of light zaps the ensemble, sending them into sixty minutes of exuberant, full-bodied dancing. Mercer himself is a spark plug — his body resounding melodically as he percussively skims the floor.
His work is part of a series that will eventually be performed as an epic — Mercer writes, “each process-memoir connects like planets/worlds in a shared solar system- think like the Marvel Universe.”
The dance certainly feels like sprawling worlds that collide with ideas and characters. Four performers rove in a flurry of jumps and floorwork. Meanwhile, performer Mikaila Ware mysteriously flits in and out of the background, moaning in a trance-like state and dropping articles of clothing. Long swathes of fabric are unfurled, which later Ware physically wrestles with during a transfixing solo. Toward the end, Mercer’s mother joins him onstage and leads us all in prayer. While several arresting moments appear, there are too many to appreciate in one viewing. (process memoir 4) begs its creators to slow down and revel in its moments of beauty.
Paired together, Pittman and Mercer, who approach inner faith from opposite ends of the spectrum, have created a wide-open, welcoming space for viewers to reflect on their own spirituality. The evening is a communal one.