"Or, An Oral History" first of a summer series - by Rakia Seaborn
Choreographer and dancer Rakia Seaborn recently premiered the first installment of the dance party performance series "Or, An Oral History" in the backyard of her Bedford Stuyvesant garden apartment. As much about dance as the powerful and empowering act of working creatively and collectively in order to engage the personal and political, “Chapter One: The Mixtape” featured Seaborn in a thirteen minute contemporary dance. The artist dressed in a short tunic, a collage of animal, camouflage, and floral print fabric with patches of graphic designs for organizations like the American Red Cross and Barclays Center arena designed by Claire Fleury Atelier. The performance proved a similar combination of various elements, a pastiche of styles and methods brought together to reflect on Seaborn’s lived experience.
Encircled by the audience, Seaborn announced the work as a collaboration, a “not an ‘I’” but “a ‘we’” effort; and while loosely swinging her arms in circles alongside her body, the artist introduced Sarah Donnelly, who is producing the series on behalf of Seaborn’s movement collective RAKIA!, and the photographer Ethan Baldwin, who is documenting her rehearsals and performances. Most notably, Seaborn invited the audience to change the songs playing off a provided playlist and to walk around the space, engaging us in the performance as DJs and partygoers while she danced. With movements sometimes vigorous and sometimes languid, Seaborn grinded, arms whirling high and hips spiraling low to the resonant piano notes of Kanye West’s Runaway. Standing upright with her knees bent and together, she stretched her torso, smoothing her skin from breast to hip with one hand. She crossed the bluestone pavement in an elegant pas de bourrée. Just after someone put on "Try A Little Tenderness" by Otis Redding, she paused mid-stride to slide the back of her left palm across her open mouth, her tongue reaching out to taste her skin. Accompanied by Baldwin, who interwove his steps with hers as he photographed, Seaborn danced as if her life depended on her movements and her movements on her life.
The vitality of Seaborn’s performance makes perfect sense. The artist created "Or, An Oral History" as a barometric reading of her life over the course of a year during which she committed to a daily dance regimen in order to reinvigorate her practice after earning an MFA in Dance from Sarah Lawrence College (2014) and to fortify herself amid the highly-publicized murders of black men, women, and children by law enforcement. Without an institutional framework for support and in the face of systematic oppression, Seaborn harnessed the power of imagination and collaboration in order to make felt her resolution to not only live but to create.
- Uchenna Itam, May 25, 2016
About the Writer: Uchenna Itam is a Ph.D candidate in Art History at The University of Texas at Austin. She specializes in modern and contemporary art of the African diaspora, focusing on embodiment-based practices in photography, video, and installation art. Her dissertation considers site-specific installations created in the United States from the early 1990s to the present that affect the senses of touch, smell, taste, and hearing while engaging with the politics of race, gender, and nationality. Uchenna is a founding member of the curatorial collective INGZ, which collaborates on projects that foster new ways of engaging the visual and political. She has previously held positions at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia; The Phillips Collection; The Smart Museum of Art; and The Pace Gallery. Uchenna earned an M.A. in the Humanities from the University of Chicago and a B.A. in Art History from the University of Pennsylvania.
More Performances are coming up of RAKIA! "Or, An Oral History" on June 19th and July 23rd for more info go to The Dance Enthusiast's Listings