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Makeda Thomas

By Eva Yaa Asantewaa

New York Live Arts, NYC

June 14–15, 2013

Reviewed on June 14

 

In a pre-performance talk about her 10th anniversary retrospective, Makeda Thomas declared her mission to tell “Caribbean stories, women’s stories, political stories, rebellious stories.” For this season, she set out four samples from repertory along with a snippet of a multi-media work-in-development with poet/performance artist Queen GodIs. Of these, Los Colores (2009), a lengthy ensemble piece set to the audio of a beautiful TED talk by Nigeria-born novelist Chimamanda Adichie, peaked my interest due to its unusual setup.

 

Dancers position themselves along one or more narrow, rectangular swaths of light that span the space, suggesting the rollout of words across a page and the procession of characters across the flow of a well-told narrative. Like Adichie, Thomas, who has performed with Ronald K. Brown and Urban Bush Women, seeks to open our eyes to a complex world and our ears to stories that we seldom hear. Her dancers—Catherine Dénécy, Catherine Foster, Orlando Z. Hunter, Jr., Imani Johnson, Daniel Soto, and Candace Thompson—serve her urgent, extroverted approach, their sculpted movements propelled under high pressure as if there’s nothing more important to do than to dance and be witnessed. A couple of onlookers sitting in front of me that evening could not help but move, too, as if mainlining the dancers’ vibes.

 

This direct, intuitive connection of dancer to viewer seemed typical of nearly every moment of this program. On the other hand, the choreography looked interchangeable, stretched to fit any context. One can get a little lost in this territory. At the end of Los Colores, suddenly presented with something quite literal and dramatic—the apparent rending of a relationship, with amplified sounds of a heartbeat and panting as a man and woman pull away from each other—I wondered if I’d missed a crucial turn along the way.

 

Photo at top of Makeda Thomas by Matthew Karas.