IMPRESSIONS: BlakTinX Presents "leave the room," "Arthur Avilés Live!," and "Dancing Futures: We're Getting Closer" at BAAD!
BAAD! in the Bronx Continues to Speak Out for Artists, Justice and Diversity
Artists in lead photo (L to R): Luis A Lara Malvacias, Nicolás Dumit Estévez Raful Espejo, marbles jumbo radio, and Jasmine Hearn
leave the room
If you’re homophobic, leave the room
If you’re a racist, leave the room
If you feel annoyed by someone’s abilities or limitations, leave the room
So intones Priscilla Marrero standing with mic to lips. While Marrero reads in a matter-of-fact cadence from a white piece of paper, the eponymous opening act of the “leave the room” performance challenges the listener to take stock of personal prejudices, distortions, biases, and impaired judgments. Dressed in green pants, orange shirt and black rimmed-hat, Marrero goes on:
If you hate poor people, old people, young people, indigenous people, South Americans, Central Americans, North Americans, Arabs, Africans, Asians, Europeans, foreigners of all places, disabled people, faster than you people, slower than you people, darker than you people, lighter than you people, the sun, the moon, the environment, if you believe your way is the only way, leave the room
This invocation, written by Luis A Lara Malvacias, expresses the ethos of BAAD!’s founder choreographer Arthur Avilés and founder playwright Charles Rice-González. The viewpoint is instilled in the organization. Located in a decommissioned church, BAAD! is flanked by the rumbling elevated 6 subway and an aged cemetery. Since its visionary founding in 1998, the organization has produced and supported thousands of underrepresented artists.
Championing the artistry of women, people of color, immigrants and those in the LBGTQ+ community, BAAD! spotlights injustice. While our current beleaguered civil rights are a primary concern for many Americans, Avilés and Rice-González, for over 24 years, have actively spoken out through the work of the artists they support.
BAAD! produces a full year of remarkable, irreverent, and scrappy festivals and series. The gutsy programming, though uneven, takes chances on artists known and unknown, newly introduced and established. In the fall and winter 2021, the BlakTinX Festival, highlighted the confluence of African-American and Latino artists, presenting 18 events. This reviewer attended many, but my IMPRESSION focuses on the three dance performances: leave the room, Arthur Avilés Live! and We’re getting closer.
At the conclusion of Marrero's leave the room overture, the audience is asked to consider (for two minutes, as timed by Marrero's iPhone) whether to stay and watch or leave the room. We remain put, and thus the program begins.
CLUTTER, the first dance presented, is performed by the choreographer Malvacias and husband Jeremy Nelson. It offers a purification ritual in an ephemeral white dreamscape inhabited by scattered tripods, gleaming white projector lights, and two white-clad performers. Their loose costumes, draped with long fringe, swirl with the softly turning movement. To the sound of lapping water and one-note drone, flicking fingers travel overhead and around the body. The movements build in intensity then subside, bringing to mind shamanic practices.
Reiterating the movement, a split screen film flashes behind the performers spitting rapid-fire, indistinguishable images. The kaleidoscopic effect is dizzying. As the oracular dance progresses, removal of costume layers reveal new attire festooned with small reflecting mirrors. A final projection echoes the mirrors , small, white triangles caught in a mesmerizing, revolving band of white, followed by a cloud filled sky.
Changing the tone completely, Jasmine Hearn, the noted choreographer and dancer in N I L E : Loose / Luc Changes, bounds onto the stage with an Apple laptop ready to play. The selected track is The Battle is the Lord’s, an American gospel song by Yolanda Adams. This music supports Hearn’s freewheeling, weighted movement accentuated by shifting panels of diaphanous, fawn-colored fabric.
Arms swirling overhead, deeply lunging, folding to the floor, arching to the ceiling, rising again, rushing corner to corner, Hearn does not hold back. Their flawless technique allows them to move with spontaneous abandon. A section of costume is removed during the chorus, "You’ve got to hold your head up high", revealing a sensuous semi-naked body beneath a gossamer sheath. Soon thereafter, Hearn dons a black-sequined, long-sleeved bib-like garment over her dress as Sam Cooke’s You Send Me accompanies abbreviated steps.
Constantly covering space in wide-legged twirls, the dress is removed as hips shake. "Woman may get weary, wearing the same shabby dress," croons Cooke. Shabby, indeed! There is nothing shabby about this elegant, bald-pated dancer and their chic garments from Domestic Performance Agency. Their celebratory expressiveness is balm for troubled times.
marbles jumbo radio in Super Still Life; photo by Richard Rivera
The episodic tale, Super Still Life, follows. Well-stocked with numerous objects scattered throughout the stage, the choreographer, marbles jumbo radio, crawls beneath a silver sheet while the set designer circles the stage to the sounds of vibrating guitar strings. This obtuse work, aiming for poeticism and intriguing in parts, would benefit from greater clarity. Despite the care with which the work was constructed, its development remains stubbornly flimsy.
A most compelling and thoughtful work, Nicolás Dumit Estévez Raful Espejo’s Remembering El Consultorio completes the program. Dumit Estévez, performer, writer and artist, combines his artistic talents and studies of trees to tell the story of our Covid sorrows and pandemics of the past. This sensitive and soulful dance artist is an observer who reminds us of our impermanence.
Dumit Estévez, a slight man, stands barefoot at the edge of the stage on a bed of flowers. Wearing the uniform of a doctor, he speaks into a standing microphone and recalls his experiences in his native Dominican Republic, studying in medical school and working in a clinic called El Consultorio.
Black humor plays its part: a bar in Santo Domingo awards drinks to the teller of the most sorrowful story. “I’m pregnant and lost my job.” “I was diagnosed with an incurable cancer.” After hearing these depressing tomes, Dumit Estévez chants the cleansing refrain, “Breathing in through our noses and making an audible sigh through our mouths. Ahhhh.”
"Ahhh," the audience follows along.
Three Sorrows are recounted: #1 the polio epidemic thought to be spread by innocent cats who are killed by the thousands in the early part of the 20th century; #2 the 1980s HIV transmission, death from AIDS, and unclaimed Haitian bodies used for dissection in anatomy class. “Having sex can be a death sentence. Saliva, sweat, semen, tears, blood, no one knows how HIV is transmitted.”; #3 Covid which should pass like the other diseases, but instead, it stays. Cats are supposed to get the virus from humans. “I run for safety in the South Bronx to my cats," says Dumit Estévez."
After each named Sorrow we breathe in and sigh out.
A video slowly traces the length of a pine tree while Dumit Estévez sways from side to side. His cats, on the video, meow. “It’s okay, I’ll feed you in a bit,” he coos. As the cats purr, we feel better.
Naked Vanguard: Legacy in Motion: Arthur Avilés Live!
Arthur Avilés is an authoritative mover known for his unabashed freedom and ready ability to summon wells of emotion. As a dancer in the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company he was lauded worldwide. After leaving the company, Avilés embarked on his choreographic career. Coming of age when homosexuality and cross dressing could place a person in danger (as it still may in some places), Avilés throughout his career danced unashamedly in the nude (costume credit: Mother Nature) or brazenly in full-skirted, flouncy dresses. His mother, Daisy, a traditional and religious woman, takes part in the Maevas discussion with her son. She says several times, “I love you no matter what.” Finally, Avilés asks, “What does that mean, no matter what? It sounds as if I’ve done something wrong.” Later he states, “It’s important that I’m in touch with my queer soul freely and for you to accept me the way I am.” Clearly, it is difficult to swim against the tide, but Avilés triumphs over prejudice and questions of identity and authoritatively leads the way for others to follow.
Arthur Aviles in an original costume by Liz Prince while presenting Super Maeva de Oz; photo by Paula Lobo
The 12 dances on the Live! program range from Swift/Flow (2006), a compendium of Avilés swirling movement vocabulary to Untitled #1 after Martha Graham - excerpt (1994), inspired by Graham’s Seraphic Dialogue, to Rumination for Aileen (2021), a dance for college mentor Aileen Passloff. Excerpts and full dances are viewed on screen and danced live.
Nikolai McKenzie Ben Rema in an original costume by Liz Princen while performing Arthur Aviles's Arturella; photo by Paula Lobo
To interpret early dances and inspire new works, the worthy talents of Jamaican born dancer, Nikolai McKenzie Ben Rema, are tapped. In addition to his accomplished dancing, Ben Rema is a thoughtful speaker who recounts his desire to move away from colonization by focusing on the liberation of his body and mind from notions of the utilitarian, appropriation and profit. Avilés’memorable peripatetic signature dance, A Puerto Rican Faggot from America (1996), seen on screen, morphs into Ben Rema’s live performance of A Jamaican Batty Bwoy in America -excerpt (2021). Toward the end of the program, both men dance nude (Avilés’ beautifully honed body 26 years later has hardly changed) while they dip, turn, lunge and leap over the entire stage with abandon.
Avilés’ entertaining banter of commentary and description runs throughout the evening loosely stitching the dances together. Most memorable, however, is his honesty as a performer, his willingness, along with partner Rice González, to take chances on artists with wildly varied perspectives, and the support he generously gives to his community, his hometown, the Bronx.
We're getting closer
For over 75 minutes, We’re getting closer, danced by three committed performers, Bree Breeden, alexander diaz (also the choreographer and a Dancing Futures cohort) and Anya Clarke Verdery, strings together sophisticated songs-with-meaning and instrumental jazz tunes one after the other.
alexander diaz; Photo: Jacqueline Zilberg
Based on a run-on sentence of fascinating concepts, the dance meanders. Any one idea would yield fodder for an entire dance: how the brain works for us or against us; the concept of the "inner voice" ; how the brain manages verbal information; how it’s stored; how we use the language in our minds to write the stories of our lives, and on. Despite the peregrinations of this dance, something sweetly authentic comes through.
diaz’ growing pains as a choreographer are awkward and evident , yet forgivable. The hope is that he learns to hone as he evolves.
Growing from the vision of providing arts uptown, BAAD! — a respected dance and ideas center for children, parents, artists, and activists— partners with established organizations and has become established itself. With a small but energized staff, particularly Marcus Gualberto, Deputy Director, and two dynamic artist leaders in Avilés and Rice-González, BAAD! will continue to uplift women, people of color, the LBGTQ+ community and immigrants for many influential years ahead.