Isolated Studies & Study For Anima/Darkroom | Review by Thea Patterson
Study of Anima/Darkroom is a collaboration between one of Canada’s most noted Krump artists 7Starr and renowned contemporary dancer and choreographer Lucy M. May. Krump is a style of dance developed in the early 1990’s in south central Los Angeles. It emerged out of, or in response to, the eco-socio-political situation of African American youth of that time. Deemed the rawest of the urban dance forms it was, at that time, considered “a positive, nonviolent way to express aggression and rage that might otherwise come through in gang violence” (Paggett 2004). Typically, Krump, foregrounds expression over performance, thus does not usually occur on a stage but rather in sessions which take place in close proximity with a lively spectator who circle the dance. These take the form of battles where the execution of intricate choreographic codes and narrative structures highlight each dancer’s individual style. These are ultimately performed as freestyle, or in contemporary dance terminology, as structured improvisational processes.
Since 2016, May has been studying Krump with 7Starr and it was out of this relationship that this collaboration emerged. It has been my experience, that the attempt to migrate urban forms into concert dance contexts in my experience, often falls short. So often one form is subsumed into the other, or they remain like two orbs dancing awkwardly side by side neither one particularly challenged. However, in this case, 7Starr and May have managed to strike a fine balance with clear intention and a tangible sense of care.
Upon entering the theatre space, the stage is brightly lit and everything on it is in plain view: A raised platform with a hanging single bulb stage right, a cluster of seven or eight microphones on stands at various heights downstage left, a platform turned on its side like a freestanding piece of wall upstage center. Over the course of a minute or two, the room fades to black. From transparency to opacity, from the ocular to the aural, we first register the dance as a sound. And it is strong. The sound of a foot hitting the floor. Hard. Slowly 7 Starr is revealed, wearing simple jeans and a t-shirt, traversing and stamping, thrusting and stopping, repeating. His face is a landscape of expression, eyes bulging and tongue extended, to then, a softening, a sensation of internal gathering, to a threshold, to a rupture and an explosive exiting of the flesh. It’s as if his lifeforce encounters a membrane at the edge of expression. We feel it stretch, bulge and push back, until it bursts and that is the dance. One feels this dance is not so much a form as a necessity. This makes sense, understanding the socio-political grounding out of which Krump emerges: Black bodies in America.
The stage becomes engulfed in red light, and a technician in a black hoodie enters with three white buckets which she places throughout the space. They release a torrent of dry ice, that pours down like fast moving clouds covering the floor. The effect is arresting as 7Starr hovers his body, slowing the pace, and undulates his torso and arms to the floor. The edges of his form soften. He lies prone, an island in a sea of red, the clouds sculpting the space around his body. He is wild and alone. This is most striking. This body, on this stage, alone. No circle of cheering spectators, no provocation from fellow Krumpers, simply alone.
Later, 7Starr approaches microphones, he momentarily acknowledges us with his gaze, a fleeting but vital shift. Behind the wall of microphones, he is both protected, and ensnared. What follows is a series of punctuated thrusts towards the microphones. The first, a silent exaggerated scream. The mic picking up only the tiny sounds of his throat, saliva, tongue… It is intimate, and visceral. He continues, sometimes in this silent scream, sometimes laughing, sometimes subtlety hinting at words, or a feeling… “yeah yeah yeah” he chuckles. The performance is formidable as he shifts with razor sharp precision from tension to slackness moving up and down from one microphone to another. He is the centre of our focus, as he defies us to look away. It is not easy. What is emerging is difficult, and keenly felt as he slides from grotesque caricatures reminiscent of 1950’s cartoons and back. We are both a voyeur and a witness. He finishes the section with four simple words “do. you. see. me.” The staging works to underscore this question. A bank of microphones, clearly foregrounds visibility and yet, so often his cries cannot breach the divide, remaining silent and only forming the cut out of scream, the image, the simulacra. I can’t help but feel my whiteness, and the (general) whiteness of the room as we take in his body, his charisma, his voice, and as I feel through him and with him. In the theatre, the desire, at least on my part, is to feel something and Krump is feeling in form. Here though, isolated from the interactivity of its usual context, my vicarious feeling while sitting still in the dark feels political. The chasm of those six feet, between my seat and his body, and the history of western theatre therein housed, feels tangible.
Soon after, speaking directly to the audience, and using an affected white accent 7 Starr shares three basic Krump gestures (talk, power, and smack). It is reminiscent of a YouTube tutorial. The audience titters nervously, perhaps recognizing themselves, or at least getting the joke pointed in their direction. At one point he offhandedly references his chest “for the ladies” playing off of our voyeuristic consumption of his beauty. As he continues to demonstrate, the dance gestures towards wisps of narrative. We recognize mimetic representation, emotion, intuition, and perception. Yet it is more than to what it points. Meaning is not fixed, and yet narratives anchor the abstract to a form, which is also not fixed, but which breathes through the body in advance of itself. 7Starrs’s body is on the edge of language and sensation, feeling and form. The codes at work here are dense. Playing with the tropes of performance, with irony, self-reflexivity, and I would propose with a nod to minstrel dances, he performs our curiosity, he performs his otherness. At the same time, he also gives us concrete keys, some actual knowledge regarding the complexity of the Krump language. This causes a rupture in the timeline of the dramaturgy as we retro-fill our experience with this new knowledge. May and 7Starr are teasing these codes, situating the work within a performance context that both utilizes and problematizes them. In doing so, we are confronted with ourselves, our titillation, and our consumption, even as we are given (generous) permission to consume.
7 Starr returns behind the fourth wall and our relationship to seeing shifts. In contrast to the of performativity of the first half of the piece, the dance internalizes, and become more minimal, while the light and sound begin to assert a stronger dramaturgy. Kudos to both John Cleveland (lighting) and Patrick Conan (sound) for their solid designs. Now, the lights are constantly shifting, flickering. The dancer’s body moving into the shadows. His face is often turned away from us. The piece of wall at the back of the stage becomes a split screen for a series of lights in red and white going on and off and shifting from one side of the wall to the other. It is work for the eyes. It requires a very different focus. The charisma of the performer is now backgrounded, as he moves through a series of stances against the wall, reminiscent of black power or super hero poses that move in and out of the light. It is here that the title of the piece most resonates, the body in silhouette, out of focus, coming into focus, framed, and split. Our sense of time has shifted. The body has become durational, repetitive and thus our condition of spectating located entirely somewhere else. Now, rather than consume, we are required to labour.
My sense, in reflecting upon why this collaboration worked is that Krump, rendered as a solo and supported by the theatrical codes of the black box, was able to engage with multiple dramaturgical outcomes and to imagine new framings. Krump already moves in the interstice between abstraction and narrative between mimesis and presence. In the theatre context these elements have the opportunity to overspill, potentially back filling the form itself, without disputing its already inherent fullness. In Study of Anima/Darkroom the dramaturgy of set pieces, music, and lighting all also served to re-codify Krump, to engage it and us with the tension that arises in the collision of methodologies. In the reverse, the analysis is a bit trickier to locate. The theatrical bracket is a strong one. It tends to dominate. How then was the form of contemporary dance also stretched in this collaboration? My sense is that it is embedded in the threads of the collaboration itself. In speaking briefly with the artists after the performance it was clear that what was at work was an ethos of trust, of permissions to experiment towards the extension of potential. To ask what this meeting can do, beyond the bracket of the performance event itself? What bridges are being built, and what do we, in our western theatre tradition, have to learn. This piece, created in the convergence, and conversation between these two artists, brings many questions to the table regarding permissions of representation, permissions of ownership, permissions of voice. It was clear that there was a tenderness towards these politics that also has the potential for re-coding how the frame of a black box might be instrumentalized or problematized towards them. My question, or my challenge in anticipation of the next work from this collaborative team would be around spectatorship. What would it be to present this work as a Krump session with a mobile raucous audience? How far can we cross the codes and conventions? What would happen if not only the makers dove into the folds of the conversation but the audiences as well. Is it possible to slide between? Is it possible for neither form to concede anything at all to the other?
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Thea Patterson (BFA, MA, PhD Candidate) is a choreographer, performer, and dramaturge based in Montreal. Her early choreographic works include Rhyming Couplets (08), and A Soft Place to Fall (06) which was made into a BravoFact film. From 2007 to 2015 she worked as dramaturge, and co-artistic director with Peter Trosztmer, on seven acclaimed works, including Eesti: Myths and Machines (2011) which received mention as top dance works of the year by the Voir Montreal. An interest in collaborative models then lead to the co- founding of the collective The Choreographers (2007-2011). During that time, she also co-choreographed Norman (2008) for Lemieux.Pilon.4Dart which toured extensively through Asia and Europe. Her more recent works explore self-solo formats and an interest in expanded choreographic methods. This led to the dance that i cannot do (2013) which was presented at, amongst others, Movement Research-The Judson Church and the Munich Dance Festival. In 2016 she began work on her Masters project between the is and the could be (2016) which explored emergent choreographic forms, and other methods for altering aspects of spectatorship. In 2016, She completed her Masters at The Graduate School, DAS Choreography (Amsterdam). In 2017 Thea participated in an intensive and life altering choreographic residency with Deborah Hay. Several current projects, as a dramaturg, and collaborator, and choreographer are ongoing in Montreal, Portugal, and Newfoundland. As well, she has just begun a PhD in Performance Studies at the University of Alberta.