visible // nora chipaumire & jawole willa jo zollar


i caught the premiere of visible @ harlem stage last night, exploring otherness in america, a new commissioned work by choreographers nora chipaumire and urban bush women's jawole willa jo zollar.  brilliance on brilliance. i have a lot to say.

there is nothing more than the body in space--from dust to life to dust again. every time i move or see a dancer moving i'm reminded of this. dancing is the only thing that reminds me that i breathe, that i live. why i have never left it since i was a little girl. i realize now, back in school, sitting for long hours in class or simply waiting (for the subway, for appointments, for something to happen on set) that i need to dance more than ever before. in maya angelou's master class, the poet revealed that the only two things she would ever sacrifice for were writing and dance--until her knees went bad. i understood completely and felt a kindred spirit in her.

nora chipaumire is brilliant. stunning. she didn't dance last night, set the choreography on other bodies, but to see her walk or stand is itself a vision.

last night was emotional for me. i remembered auditioning for urban bush women in the fall of 2005. it was bad. really bad. i was at a crossroads of sorts, whether to commit or not to dance. i remember asking myself repeatedly what role it served in my life, whether just to satiate my spirit or for something more. the audition was a means of assessing which of the two. 

i was late and rather shabbily dressed and my dance resume wasn't put together. at one point jawole gave me a withering look that made me want to shrivel up and just die. i went home that day and finally finished my film school application, mailed it out and didn't dance for months. months. my body had betrayed me, or perhaps it was jawole's unkindness that pierced a vulnerable part of me that needed deep healing. apart from a short, though slightly more successful, audition for fela!--that nevertheless had the same outcome--i have been afraid to audition ever since. 

dancing is not unlike writing, really, or any other art. you work and work and work and face rejection after rejection. it doesn't mean you are not good, that what you're doing has no value--it's simply par for the course. six years later, i get that. 

i am certain that, if my body didn't constantly betray me, i would only ever dance. i am also certain that, had it not been for jawole's rejection, i wouldn't be a filmmaker now. i owe her my deepest thanks for this, but somehow last night i couldn't muster anything more than a glancing smile. and yet, sadly, when anyone asked me last night what company i danced for, i could only say none anymore, that i was making movies now. 

at the end of visible, in an act of defiance, the women bared their breasts. what is it about a breast? i wondered. a mound of flesh that carries so much significance. simultaneously empowering and emasculating. ubw did a workshop once about body love in which jawole mentioned how liberating it was having her ass photographed for the cover of a book.  i thought, i remember there, referencing a photographer who shot some nudes of me once upon a time for an exhibit of women in mexican fighting masks. 

i imagine my breasts are hanging up somewhere in a museum or some such today. and it was a curious experience having a friend come up to me and say he thought he saw my body somewhere. i was a bit mortified over that, but now i think, well, it's just a body. i have an ass: but i am not my ass. i have breasts: but i am not my breasts. a breast can be used to nourish or to titillate. it is also just flesh.

we are all other to this place called america. i've finally realized that. it is the same conversation we keep having, how to become apart of the whole. i think it's a conversation worth having, but i'd rather talk about how to make the whole a part of me.

i see this place as a cornucopia of borrowed fruits--some poison, others sweet. i take what tastes good to me with the understanding that nobody owns any of it or can tell me what i can or cannot take. it's simply there, for better or worse.

i think the specter of inclusion and all the art it inspires is worthy and important, but it's based on the faulty assumption that somebody could or would, if they could, integrate others into the mainstream American whole. i've simply stopped believing in that person(s), not unlike Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy.

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  1. emily ( 18, 2011 at 11:37 AM

    Reading this as a member of Harlem Stage's staff. Thank you for your writing and your courage in putting this piece online.

    Do you mind if we repost it so our fans can read your insightful words?

  2. hi emily - it was a wonderful show, hope you had a full house the rest of the week. by all means you may post this and, if possible, please also include a link to my blog. many thanks for your comment...i'm actually still processing, such a powerful show. :)


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