Impressions of Raja Feather Kelly's "Lyrical Dances for a Lost Generation"
Gelsey Kirkland Arts Center
Brooklyn, New York
Curation: Raja Feather Kelly
Choreographers: Nicole Wolcott, Cori Olinghouse, Gierre J Godley/Project 44, Lisa Fagen Dance Problems, Larissa Velez-Jackson, Melissa Toogood, Jordan Isadore + Edward Sturgis, B.S. Movement, Dante Brown, Colleen Thomas, Cameron Mckinney/Kiruna Dance, Effy Falck + Mel Gallo, and Mersiiha Mesihovic/Circuit Debris
Lighting design: Tuce Yasak
Raja Feather Kelly's evening of curated performance, Lyrical Dances for a Lost Generation, lived up to its promises in almost every way. The eclectic mix of choreographers delivered work that celebrated the moving body — without the potential distractions (nor the potential enhancements) of set design, text and lengthy artist statements. There wasn't even a program. As the event description said, “Lights go up, music goes on, and they dance.”
Lyrical dances for competitions are almost exclusively vapid pastiche, debilitatingly confined to a list of pat moves by virtue of being competitive. Lyrical Dances for a Lost Generation, however, was almost entirely the opposite: Extremely self-aware, willfully ignorant of definitions and so saturated with contemporary culture that I often had trouble keeping up with the inside jokes.
The only, minor, shortcoming was the lack of sophistication among several of the works. However, the brevity of each one, coupled with the expectation that the evening was to be about joy more than anything else, made up for uneven performances.
Kelly functioned as an emcee, starting the evening by strutting onto a red carpet rolled out at the foot of the Gelsey Kirkland Arts Center's steeply sloping house. He spoke about growing up performing lyrical dances on the competition circuit, calling out its whiteness and exclusivity. “Not very many black boys,” he noted. He then led the audience in a rousing rendition of the Star Spangled Banner — the only time in my life that anyone has convinced me its worth it to stand up and belt it out.
Generally, tongue-in-cheek dances fared the best. Cameron Mckinney's Kizuna Dance skewered the “basic bitch,” that close cousin of the carefree white girl. His company of fierce women moved seamlessly between Mckinney's hip-hop inflected choreography and a gesture series of absurdly “basic” mannerisms.
Nicole Wolcott's solo with a fan seemed awfully like a duet. Wolcott traversed left and right across the stage, caught in a wind tunnel — or, loathe to give up the sensuality of flying hair and white noise.
Lisa Fagan Dance Problems presented a duet that began with a blank-faced delivery of respectable modern dance phrases and evolved into absurdity. Each performer used one arm to hold both sleeves of her shirt while the other arm pumped between the sleeves like a giant heart.
In a neat summation of the evening, Kelly's company performed a series of linked phrases, cheerfully borrowed from the likes of Alvin Ailey and Trisha Brown, and re-set to pop music. “I didn't choreograph any of this myself,” exclaimed Kelly. It was an homage to specific moments of dance history, an exercise in revision and an investigation of the history we carry in our own bodies.
When you're the only black boy performing lyrical dances at a competition, how are you aided or hindered in your growth as an artist? How can we subvert the parameters of our own artistic history, for our benefit. When, during Kelly's piece, Miley Cyrus' voice sang “It's our party we can do what we want,” everything made sense.
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