To spark discussion, the Walker invites Twin Cities artists and critics to write reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Here, dance artist Penelope Freeh shares her perspective on last night’s performance of Portrait of Myself as My
Father by Nora Chipaumire.
Zimbabwean Nora Chipaumire’s Portrait of Myself as My
Father takes place in a boxing ring. Indeed, the performance is a battle. Chipaumire herself and two male performers, Pape Ibrahima Ndiaye, aka Kaolack, and Shamar Watt, lay claim to the space and engage us with the rules.
Born out of a very personal investigation on the part of the choreographer, that of attempting to come to terms with her estranged father who died in 1980, the work transcends customary delivery systems, offering windows of entry by employing tactics of highly suggested audience participation and prolonged movement image-making accompanied by a barrage of sound.
The audience sits on three sides. The space, Uppercut Boxing Gym in a hipster-cool section of Northeast Minneapolis, sets the tone for not only the heightened physicality of the work, but also danger. The costumes combine elements of urban-athletic street wear, traditional Zimbabwean attire, and gladiator-like shoulder pads. This seemingly makeshift amalgam becomes the outward representation of an artist working closely with her many and varied parts and influences.
Upon entering the space we see the performers at work. Tethered to the high-beamed ceiling with long, thick strips of elastic, there is the feeling that despite the fact that they are warriors, they can’t escape their surroundings or, indeed, their histories. There is confrontation in that, making the several times when we are asked to put our hands up (and keep them up!) all the more ironic and poignant. We become for a moment what they are representing, the black male fighting for his life.
Chipaumire’s voice dominates the space and action. It is deep, multilingual; she is at once playful and dead serious. Using her body as a lightning rod, she does battle with the man (and the idea of him) she knew so little.
The three performers become so many things: the Holy Trinity, a leader and a pack, a body and its shadow(s), a family, iterations, repetitions, and, yes, individuals.
The imagery is complex and multilayered. Nothing means just one thing, but a multitude, an infinity. Portable lights get in our eyes as they sweep broadly around the space, at times honing in on a face, a body crouched, a limb in isolation.
There are periodic dance breaks, loose-limbed and relaxed, with quick footwork. Powerful torsos undulate, sacred and profane. These provide respite from the sensory intake, these simplicities of watching a trio dance to accompanying sound. This is recognizable, another kind of tether, and a reminder of the complexity of the construction of this performance investigation.
There was a long passage in which Chipaumire, literally on a soapbox, begins an aural tirade about the black African male, that in order to live, he must learn to fuck. The two men gyrate in response, locating themselves on and around the ropes that define the boundaries of their world. The image is at once three-dimensional and in silhouette, with one body across the ring and well lit while the other is in close proximity and shadowed, interlacing with the ropes, fucking, fast and slow. It is sad, desperate and beautiful hyper-performance; they sacrifice themselves.
At the end Chipaumire carries one of the men upon her back, a timeworn image with many connotations. She becomes her father’s mother. She brings his body with her into her life and art that are one and the same. We feel the weight of it, not only for its duration, but also in recognition. Visible or not, we all carry what is heavy and ready to topple us.