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The Dance Enthusiast Asks Jaamil Olawale Kosoko about "Chameleon" as part of Live Feed at New York Live Arts

The Dance Enthusiast Asks Jaamil Olawale Kosoko about "Chameleon" as part of Live Feed at New York Live Arts
Melanie Greene/Follow @MethodsDance on Twitter

By Melanie Greene/Follow @MethodsDance on Twitter
View Profile | More From This Author

Published on February 27, 2019
Photo by Erik Carter

Jaamil Olawale Kosoko’s Chameleon

New York Live Arts 

Live Feed series

March 1, 2019 at 6 p.m.


The body holds memories that movement can dislodge and shift. Jaamil Olawale Kosoko’s Chameleon peels back the shapeshifting and the illegible nature of fugitive Black realites to reorganize its significance in current states. Conversing across digital soundwaves, Kosoko offers the following considerations into the process and development of his newest work

Melanie Greene for The Dance Enthusiast: How is developing Chameleon in Chelsea informing the work?

Jaamil Olawale Kosoko: It feels like a homecoming. When I first started making a life for myself and producing work in New York, it began at New York Live Arts (formally Dance Theater Workshop). Now, I'm able to enter this space in a different way as an artist.

The Dance Enthusiast: Do you feel Chameleon reflects how your body holds memory particularly in relationship to location or space?

Jaamil Olawale Kosoko: It feels important, which is why I name each environment, each installment. I try to be precise in naming the environment inside of which the work will occur. It is a way of signaling that this is a dynamic experience that will happen in a specific place due to certain parameters, circumstances, and resources provided in that particular place. It's a way of chronicling the work to allow it to be a specific acknowledgment of itself in each place. It allows for a kind of archival practice to occur as the piece is being developed and getting its legs. A way of being explicit about the way the work is maturing.

A man clad in shiny brown fabric poses
Jaamil Olawale Kosoko; Photo by Imma Asher

The Dance Enthusiast: What is the lineage of Chameleon, and what other locations has the work had space to develop and grow?

Jaamil Olawale Kosoko: Los Angeles, Chelsea (this is the 2nd installment), and Troy (NY). We’re also going to South Africa. This work may be more on its legs than I'm giving it credit for by the sheer fact that the idea feels strong enough to move. So often as Black artists we are put in this predicament where there is no room for failure. You come out the gate and you're expected to be competitive. Just like a baby that isn't granted an opportunity to just be a baby. I'm pushing against this idea of failure and expectation. What are the ways a project can do the work it needs to do without added pressure of perfection. I don't know what the formula is yet, but I think, I'm getting close to it.

I know that this chameleonic proposal has something to do with how I engage with themes of failure and resource and support. So much of what Chameleon wants to be and will be is a direct manifestation of that kind of resource the project is provided.

The Dance Enthusiast: There is a beautiful way you're talking about location and how the work becomes the thing that it is referencing. It’s very unique and powerful when a work is able to actually be the thing that it is without saying it's the thing. Can you say more?

Jaamil Olawale Kosoko: It helps me having conversations like this because I learn what is landing conceptually. It's helpful to know what people see and recognize. Inside the theoretical framing of each piece I make, there comes deeply personal and hard topics centered in identity, identity politics, aesthetics of the body, and the ethics of all these.

As a movement artist, the conceptual feels just as relevant, if not more than, the actual vocabulary that's placed on stage. I never want to present something where the technique gets in the way of the content.

A man in sunglasses kneels among shiny fabric
Jaamil Olawale Kosoko (head obscured) and mayfield brooks (with sunglasses); Photo by Terrance James

The Dance Enthusiast: Speaking of content, how is Chameleon related to your history, Blackness, or memory?

Jaamil Olawale Kosoko: I’m thinking about Ntozake Shange’s choreopoem, Audre Lorde’s biomythography, and more liberatory ways of being inside of a process. Allowing myself to lean into them ravenously and gifting myself the opportunity to do that has been incredibly healing. I center Black joy, and we can't make work about Black life and not actually execute some of the same principles inside of the making that we're trying to stage essentially.

My work rises from lived experiences. It's a conjuring. I'm in conversations with artists like Dana Michel, Marjani Forte-Saunders, and Okwui Okpokwasili . . . . incredible women who are creating these disruptions that are forcing us to re-calibrate and re-contextualize how we view, understand, and witness the body and why we convene to do that. The work I'm doing isn’t new, per se; it's part of a greater lexicon of artists and practice. 

An exciting component about my inquiry is the criticality of it. I know there are beautiful, talented dancers all over the world, so I'm always having to interrogate what is it about this particular proposal that is dynamic and critical that creates a need for it to be positioned inside of a creative economies and ecologies outside of its home base.

Chameleon is genealogical blood memory and I'm leaning into narratives of my mother and things that haunted me as a child and continue to haunt me. Understanding memories leads me to investigate black feminist praxis and theoretical framework that blows open themes of the biomythography and choreopoem. I cannot acknowledge my mother's life and history without doing that research alongside it.

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