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IMPRESSIONS: August Henderson / August & Co. in "Transverberation" at Triskelion Arts

IMPRESSIONS: August Henderson / August & Co. in "Transverberation" at Triskelion Arts
Kristen Hedberg/ IG @kristen.hedberg

By Kristen Hedberg/ IG @kristen.hedberg
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Published on April 13, 2024
"Transverberation" Photo: Jean Sonderand

August & Co

Artistic Director: August Henderson
Performers: August Henderson, Jack Blackmon and Ragin Smith
Producer and project manager: Nikky Robinson
Lighting and projection designer: Jean Sonderand
Lighting board operater: Anna Wotring

Transverberation sweeps viewers into an experience of intimacy, reflection, and acceptance. The 70-minute work premiered at Triskelion Arts from March 28 - 30, 2024, with raw, authoritative performances by August Henderson, Jack Blackmon and Ragin Smith. 

A program note reads that “transverberation,” or religious ecstasy, is a tradition within Judeo-Christian mysticism in which a subject receives the piercing, fiery love of God. At the forefront of the work are the three performers, who shed figurative and literal layers in order to reach a final point of self-acceptance. Their characters shift through dominant and submissive roles in relation to one another, all the while striving towards an existence that is void of “past habits” or “sins.”

"Transverberation." Photo: Jean Sonderand

Billowing, translucent sheets drape from the ceiling to the stage, creating a maze of pathways the performers can dart through. The sheets compliment the draping, white cloths which the performers wear above nude colored undergarments. As the work progresses, both the cloths and the sheets will be ripped away.

Videos project across the larger sheets throughout the piece. The videos flicker through pictures of religious symbols, run-of-the-mill snapshots of nature and train commutes, and erotic scenes of love making. Lights beaming behind the sheets create silhouetted images of the dancers, who twist and contort in front of them.

The relationship between violence and ecstasy simmers. The cast navigates lines between pleasure and pain, consent and consequence. Smith lies on the floor, doused in red light. She convulses, her limbs tangled in her costume’s fabric. A video projects scenes of love-making on a large sheet behind her, the video tinged in green. Henderson and Blackmon move slowly in silhouette on the opposite side of the stage, a live partnership. The scenes appear personal, private, and ripe with exploration.

"Transverberation." Photo: Jean Sonderand

Striking visuals appear as the lights starkly shift to magenta. A techno, club-like song fills the space as the trio entangles one another. They crawl, slide, and pulse, a vibrant contrast from the work’s darker beginning. Blackmon dances with particular fervor, channeling a confidence and pride, before Henderson and Smith pin Blackmon to the floor. They tie Blackmon’s hands with rope behind their back as the narration proclaims, “Devour me whole, in the name of all that is holy.”

In the latter half of Transverberation, an emphasis is placed on acknowledging and advancing from the past. Henderson’s character in particular admits to feelings of shame, leaving them agonizingly uncomfortable in their own skin. Their movements, deliberate throughout, arrest to a quieter stillness. Blackmon hurtles through the space, escaping from the advances of lovers or demons. Smith maintains an anchoring presence, bridging her companion’s frenzied relationship with a vulnerable softness.

As Henderson sits cross-legged, reflecting, Smith and Blackmon bring out another white sheet along with water and a paintbrush. They paint text on the sheet in bold, capital letters: “SAFETY IS A CHOICE I CHOOSE NOT TO MAKE.” They then write, “DISGUST,” as the voice recording admits, “I disgust myself in so many ways.”

By the work’s conclusion, the performers tear down all of the sheets from the ceiling. The stage, suddenly wider and emptier, bears witness to Smith and Blackmon rolling out a large, plastic sheet on the floor. Blackmon, dripping with a red liquid, embraces Henderson, covering them with implied blood. It is a turning point to which Henderson’s character desperately craves to be “cleaned.”

"Transverberation." Photo: Jeane Sonderand

The work dissolves on a peaceful note. Henderson, Blackmon and Smith sit side by side center stage, gazing upstage. The narration emphasizes, “I am not my feelings. They are my navigational tools…I am learning to love myself without conditions…There will always be more to do…I am the creator of my own reality…Inshallah. Amen. Ase.”

Transverberation’s bewitching, arousing content sheds layers, revealing the artists‘ barest cores. Their transformative experience leaves them anew, inviting viewers to consider how they too can love themselves unconditonally.

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