Today through Saturday, multimedia and dance artist Dean Moss will perform his work johnbrown in the Walker’s McGuire Theater. Moss has been creating transcultural and multidisciplinary performances for over 15 years. Noted for his experimentation with performance styles, Moss continues his exploration of form in johnbrown, which was first presented at The Kitchen in 2014.
Through the story of John Brown, Moss draws parallels between civil rights and the political climate of today. In the 19th century, Brown, a white man who vehemently opposed slavery, was an instrumental figure of the abolitionist movement. He was, however, possibly as controversial as he was instrumental. Brown believed that change would not be possible through peaceful tactics, so he led violent insurrections–involving the death of multiple slave owners–in the hopes of triggering a slave revolution. Indeed his mission also led to his death: execution by hanging as punishment for his failed attempt to raid the federal armory at Harpers Ferry. Many of his contemporaries and many scholars today credit Brown with inciting the Civil War.
In johnbrown, Moss looks into the sociopolitical history of Brown’s legacy to unravel tensions that still exist today. Race, gender, and generational responsibility are pervasive themes, as visualized through the performance of Moss, the dancers, musician, and teen production assistants. Rather than historically reenact the narrative of John Brown, Moss uses movement, text, media projection, and music to present an exploration on identity, politics, history, and change. Moss weaves together stories old and new, personal and political, to present a myriad of contemplations on these topics.
Inspired by the notion of a pre-performance installation, Moss and his collaborators created a short video “500 Words for John Brown: A Preamble,” which introduces each performer as they recite excerpts of Henry David Thoreau’s response to the death of John Brown.
Also an abolitionist and a contemporary of Brown’s, Thoreau wrote “A Plea for Captain John Brown” shortly after Brown’s failed raid on the armory and presented it to the public multiple times before Brown’s execution. Thoreau articulates a position contrary to media sources and then-common beliefs of Brown, calling for recognition of Brown’s dedication to justice and his commitment to action instead of passively wishing and waiting for change.
The video “500 Words” is a preamble for the audience of johnbrown, inviting us to contemplate our ideas of radical behavior, social justice, and racial relationships.
johnbrown will be performed at 8pm, October 15-17, 2015 in the Walker’s McGuire Theater. johnbrown is copresented by the Givens Foundation and in conjunction with the Resistance and Rebellion Convening.