Can the bereft heal by seeking the embrace they’ll never feel again? Can a person’s shattered identity mend when reunited with a lost loved one? Such hopes may be delusions, says choreographer T. Lang. But Post Up, Lang’s multimedia dance work exploring grieving and loss, suggests that a person can build a stronger sense of self in the course of seeking.
Post Up ran last Friday through Sunday at the Goat Farm Arts Center’s Goodson Yard. It is Lang’s second work at the Westside venue after her Mother/MUTHA in 2012. Both works drew from personal experience and referenced African American history; they reflect the Spelman College dance professor’s ongoing interest in issues surrounding identity, history and community.
Lang was motivated by her desire to reunite with her deceased father; she also found inspiration in Heather Andrea Williams’ book Help Me to Find My People, which features stories of family separation during slavery and the post-Emancipation spate of newspaper postings by freed people who sought lost family members.
These experiences and stories generated a compelling movement vocabulary. Lang fused various American dance influences into a rhythmic and propulsive language that served as an emotional vehicle for Lang’s eight dancers. Their powerfully moving performances seemed to express deep grief, the desire to seek lost loved ones and the need to connect with others for support.
Immersive multimedia projections by Deigratia Daniels created stunning imagery while composer John Osburn’s electronic score added atmosphere. But the eight dancers’ expressiveness and fierce attack were the heart and strength of the production.
A scrim of soft, transparent mesh outlined all four sides of the square stage placed in the middle of the large space, separating audience from stage. Electronica music combined contemporary and traditional African sound. Its penetrating pulse softened; the voice of a female jazz vocalist came on as dancer Indiya Childs stood, dimly lit in a beige bra and shiny red leggings. Small impulses started from the spine and traveled to her upper body and shoulders, as if sensing the voice’s breath, rhythm and texture. On all four scrims, images of stars and galaxies cast across a black void created a sense of immeasurable distance.
Child’s spine began to pulse gently with the music’s chiming rhythm. Rays of intense, bright light shone on her chest and upper body — it looked as though the light was radiating from her heart. Small pulses became spine isolations. They grew faster and faster — with the uncontrollable quickness of sobs. Images of galaxies flew across the scrim.
Dancers entered and exited. They moved in different groupings — at times solos against an ensemble; at others times, duets emerged. In each pairing there seemed a struggle between a need for emotional support and the inability to connect with one another.
When Amelia Reiser and Crystal Bogan entered, they dropped into a wide, grounded stance and rolled one shoulder forward, bringing the torso nearer to the ground. Reversing the action, they untwisted the arm, fingertips spiraling outward as they reached high and to the side; it looked as if they were grasping for an invisible sphere that was just beyond their range.
The space was awash in movement as images of rain surrounded dancers. Hands covered faces as if weeping. Childs reached to embrace Nicole Kedaroe, they reach to touch one another’s faces, but suddenly pushed away. In a subsequent duet, Deborah Hughes lay her head on Childs’ chest, turning it from side to side as if nestling in. Childs fled, but Hughes continued moving her head as if Childs were still there. Later, Bogan and Childs interlaced their arms. This grew into embraces and gentle caresses, though loud music nearly drowned out the moment’s tenderness. In a telling duet, Ashley Reid embraced Reiser, who fell to the floor. Reid picked her up and embraced her. Again, Reiser fell. This action repeated, accelerating, as if Reid were desperately trying to bring back a loved one.
There were striking solos. Kedaroe projected a stunning emotional intensity, with speed, control and a dynamic range that was fascinating to watch. Reid appeared alone on the stage under designer Andre Allen’s stark white light. Thin greenish-white lines formed angles and zig-zags on all four sides around her. Fast gestures and aerial turns alternated with slow balances that stretched out as if her limbs were pulled out into different directions. Music was silent, but a train screeched outside the venue. Reid dropped into a series of grounded side steps, then reached to one side and slightly to the back, as if reaching into the past. She gathered her arms forward as if embracing an invisible dance partner.
Laila Howard appeared near the end. Her passionate solo seemed to sum up the work’s sadness, beauty and ferocity. She balanced, fell, and then sprung in a tumultuous line of spinning leaps and tumbles. Sharp gestures and crisp legwork contrasted voluminous turns, opening the body as if turning inside out. She arrived at a high balance, one hand reaching up, counting 1, 2, 3, 4 — like a beacon, standing still, searching, waiting.
At the end, Childs was alone in stage, repeatedly flinging her body into the air; she whirled, fell, rolled and sprung up again. A man in a nostalgic black and white suit stepped in to embrace Childs. The moment, which brought the rigorous formal exploration back to a personal level, seemed less of a conclusion than a pause in an ongoing quest.
Music sometimes overpowered the dance; I would like to have seen the scrim removed at some point, to gain more empathy with dancers. But the strength of Post Up lay in these eight women, whose fearless and compelling performances shone brightest.