THE PARABLES OF MUTANTS AND MADMEN CYCLE

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THE PARABLES OF MUTANTS AND MADMEN CYCLE (2006-2014)

“Confronted with the impossibility of remaining faithful to one’s beliefs, and the equal impossibility
of becoming free of them, one can be driven to the most inhuman excesses.”
James Baldwin

Developed to tour as individual repertory works or as an evening length community engagement platform, The Parables of Mutants and Madmen Cycle are a set of historically disparate but inter-related testimonies interrogating the concepts of history, race/racism, and the human condition in 20th and 21st century America. Started in 2006, The Parables of Mutants and Madmen Cycle examines and ‘riffs off’ of specific allegorical tales that illuminate the foibles of the Euro-American aesthetic tradition in the U.S., through the revealing of certain truths about  ‘Black/White’ co-existence.  Each work in the cycle gives unique voice and word to the inward hunger we all have for some kind of spiritual connection and transformative experience. It is a collection of kinetic stories (i.e. speculative dance theatre fiction) inspired by the concept of race in America-a fiction within a fiction.  I am challenging myself, my dancers, design collaborators and my audiences to look into ourselves — even into those parts of our psyche and soul where we haven’t dared to travel for some time.  Through African-derived movement and aesthetics, I am interested in inverting audience’s expectations, challenging them to examine their own assumptions and instincts (about African Diasporic dance, about society, about how race functions in their understanding of the world, etc.), to perceive how they might identify with and even become the alienator, dominator, and oppressor even when they subscribe to the idea of freedom and democracy. With The Parables of Mutants and Madmen Cycle I am challenging the audience and myself to consider hope and possibilities in societal contexts that devalue and actively deny diverse expressions of hope and possibility.

TAR
Image by Amze Emmons

TAR (premiered September 2007, Philadelphia Live Arts Festival and restaged April 2013, John C. Warfield Center for African and African American Studies ) 25-40 minutes

Tar is a multimedia work that responds to  “The Wonderful Tarbaby Story” by Joel Chandler Harris. While its roots can be traced back to West Africa and Native American folklore, Joel Chandler Harris’ version and Walt Disney’s 1946 film adaptation of this popular Southern folktale are the ones that inhabit our cultural imaginations. The tales were retold by white men who claimed to be giving voice to an old Black man, Uncle Remus, who is an ex-slave. Tar reflects and gives voice to the unarticulated voices—the disappeared voices—that whisper on the periphery of Harris and Disney’s versions: Uncle Remus’ original African voice, the voice of the descendants of African slaves and ex-slaves and the voice of the African American child, present but mute in the film, present but mute in the American racial past. These unheard/unacknowledged voices are the “tarbabies” of TAR. The 2007 premiere of Tar was made possible in part by support from Dance Advance, a funding initiative supported by Pew Charitable Trusts. The 2013 re-staging of TAR will premiere at University of Texas at Austin as a part of the Performing Blackness series in April.

Critical Acclaim for Tar:  “Big, breathtakingly passionate work [that] conveyed the openhearted reach of an inner journey” – Philadelphia Inquirer

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Evidences of Things Unsaid /World Headquarters (premiered October 2012, Velocity Dance Center, Seattle, WA) 20-30 minutes

Evidences of Things Unsaid is inspired by late science fiction writer, Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower. It is a visually sparse dance theatre work about being moved (both literally and metaphorically)…to action, to prayer, to make positive change….  Structurally, the piece invites the audience to move non-linearly between our bleak present, a fragmented speculative future, and a spiritual state of liminality that stands on the shoulders of Butler’s musings. It is an ‘afrofuturist’ kinetic mythology that observes, ruminates, and responds to the shifting social, economic and ecological climate of the 21st Century. It is set in a time and space where notions of social redemption and of salvation to facilitate human agency have radically diminished and where sounds from the past wash over a present state of desolation.  By far my most abstract work, I was interested in turning the performers into moving museum objects, holographs.  I was trying to create a state of liminality and (for me) expressive minimalism as a way to amplify physical impulses driven by fear, apathy and disconnectedness- contexts which denies the possibility of revolutionary transformation yet demands nothing less. This work was made possible by generous support from the National Performance Network’s Creation and Forth Funds.

“..can take your breath away with its ferocity and athleticism.” -Seattle Times

Restless Natives Press Photo Ursula and co wake up in the morning

Restless Natives (World premiere April 2014, The Fusebox Festival, Austin, TX and New York Premiere April 2014, New York Live Arts, Live Ideas Festival:  James Baldwin)

Restless Natives is a 6-person choreopoem inspired by and in celebration of the 50th Anniversary of James Baldwin’s Another Country.  In addition to the six performers (dancers and actors who dance), the piece features an original poetry score by renowned performance poet, Ursula Rucker who will perform live.  Set within a jukejoint called Home, a kind of neighborhood bar- a speakeasy where the conversations are not easy- located at the intersection of Memory and Experience, Restless Natives is a non-linear dance theatre piece that asks and responds to the question, “Do you love me?” within shifting thematic contexts of race, gender, class, and politics drawing from contemporary and traditional African Diasporic music and movement forms and theatrical conventions.  The piece re-imagines the characters of Another Country- musicians, writers and artists of various racial, sexual, and social backgrounds- situating them in a series of contemporary conversations, confessions and bar fights in the jukejoint…at the wake of the Black male protagonist, Barry aka Prez.   At “Home” time vacillates between past and present; and characters who might be labelled straight or gay, black or white, male or female, rich or poor all commingle, albeit sometimes painfully.   The continual presence of rhythm and blues music and rhythms are used to reinforce and link the ways in which the protagonists individually and collectively identify with the ability of the blues to facilitate escape from the world’s definitions and become that rare, unattainable thing:  themselves.  Ultimately, Restless Natives pays homage to Baldwin’s critique of a “moral” and “democratic” America that fosters prejudice based on race, class, and sexuality; it serves as a blues saturated commentary on the current socio-political landscape of 21st century America. (This piece was commissioned by Texas Performing Arts, The Fusebox Festival, and Temple University)

 

***CONCEIVED AS PERFORMANCE TECHNOLOGIES TO FACILITATE EMBODIED INVESTIGATION OF ABSTRACT SOCIO-POLITICAL REALITIES, EACH PIECE THAT COMPRISES  THE PARABLES OF MUTANTS AND MADMEN CYCLE IS ADAPTABLE TO A WIDE RANGE OF THEATRE AND GALLERY SPACES AND PRESENTER’S NEEDS.