IMPRESSIONS: Nick Cave’s “The Let Go” at The Park Avenue Armory
June 27, 2018
Conception/Installation: Nick Cave
Movement Director: Francesca Harper
Music: Vy Higginsen’s Sing Harlem Choir, Jorell Williams and Darrell Nickens
Artistic Collaborator: Bob Faust
Sound Designer: Garth Macaleavey
How often do we have the chance to publicly witness men as vulnerable and beautiful — especially Black men, who are often presented by the media as policed and derided figures?
In Nick Cave’s The Let Go, a multi-week event that includes a ritualized performance, artistic responses to an installation, and open dance parties, we celebrate and are energized by a large cast that includes an ensemble of young male performers, many whom are of color.
Mylar streamers hang from the 80-foot ceiling of the Park Avenue Armory’s grand Wade Thompson Drill Hall. They swoosh about like clothes on a dry-cleaner’s conveyor belt. Before the show commences, audience members romp through their iridescence taking selfies as the art ensnares them in circles of colorful light. Once the whirr of streamers halts, one group of performers, called practitioners, dress another collective of artists, the young, male cohort, in Cave’s signature Soundsuits.
Part costume, part sculpture, the suit acts as protective armor - thwarting judgement of the wearer's skin color and looks, as well as speculation of their class and sexual orientation. Cave created his first Soundsuit (made of sticks, twigs, and street debris) in response to the violence of the Los Angeles police officers beating Rodney King on March 3, 1991. Since then, Cave has created several iterations: sleek aliens adorned in sparkles, shaggy cartoons without faces, and movable gardens.
The Let Go Soundsuits conjure up images of psychedelic wooly mammoths or tie-dye Muppets with neon rods, mops and staffs poking out this way and that. While they're wildly beautiful — one is unlike the rest — the Soundsuits are more than spectacle. They have superhero powers. Enshrouded in the Soundsuits, the men can just be.
The act of dressing is ceremonial but not stuffy. Several pairs of practitioners and men, who become Soundsuit performers, begin an intimate ritual of putting on the elaborate sculptural costumes. One practitioner gingerly untangles a heap of cotton-candy-pink raffia on a Soundsuit performer, while someone else smooths out a strands of neon green hair on another costumed figure. Some of the dressers rest their hands on their suited-up counterparts’ broad shoulders, a gesture suggesting the transference of good will.
Singing led by soloist Ahmaya Knoelle Higginson — her voice at once controlled and rollicking — reverberates through our bodies. Sounds of keyboardist Darrell Nickens, baritone Jorell Williams, and Vy Higginsen’s Sing Harlem Choir ring out through the cavernous hall. The choir hits a collective high note while one of their singers lays out into a deep back bend. Weaving through the other performers in serpentine fashion, the chorus energizes all those who lie in their path: the Soundsuited figures, the practitioners, and even us, the audience.
Francesca Harper, who designed the performers' movement with Nick Cave, features simple, yet potent, choreography — mostly walking patterns and spins. Those in Soundsuits cascade and unwind uninhibited, like kids on the playground. Their actions encapsulate innocence, wonderment and freedom.
In our often strident and divisive times, The Let Go encourages joy and communal participation. The performers activate the hall, warming it up for us. As they exit, we can take over the party and dance unified among the shiny rainbow-colors — a great closing to the end of Pride Month.
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