Reggie Wilson and AndrÃ©ya Ouamba
Reggie Wilson and Andréya Ouamba
Next Wave Festival
BAM Howard Gilman Opera House, NYC
December 16, 18–19, 2009
Reviewed by Eva Yaa Asantewaa
Andréya Ouamba in
The Good Dance. Photo by Antoine Tempé, Courtesy BAM.
Choreographers Reggie Wilson (U.S.) and Andréya Ouamba (Senegal) know how the human body contains and maintains culture. Without verbal expression, dance movement itself can render boisterous laughter, silent prayers, desperate warnings in the night. In The Good Dance—dakar/brooklyn, performers embody meaning even when standing absolutely still, lined up in a rhythmic alternation of short and tall, light and dark, male and female, African and American. Wilson and Ouamba’s adjoined troupes—Reggie Wilson/Fist & Heel Performance Group and Compagnie 1er Temps—achieved one of 2009’s most luminous productions.
With its title’s sly allusion to spiritual texts—the way some folks call the Bible “The Good Book”—the work roughly sketches in chapters and verses both sacred and secular. But like many artists, Wilson and Ouamba refrain from spelling out interpretations. Be grateful, because to witness The Good Dance is to plunge into a swirling, dynamic complexity that you’re encouraged to make your own.
The African American Wilson and Congolese Ouamba—who previously collaborated here on an outdoors, site-specific work on the steps of the U.S. Custom House—share racial identity, African/Afro-Atlantic cultural links, and certain movement interests. (During a post-show talk that I moderated for BAM, Wilson described their styles as similarly “limb-y” and pretty much left it at that.) Both operate outside a mainstream aesthetic sensibility as it typically envisions and limits the kinds of dance Black or African artists might be expected to make. But they differ in creative methodology. Ouamba’s approach arises from trust in improvisation and the body’s unfettered exuberance. The trickster Wilson’s a man with a plan, steadily building seductions that take his audiences to unexpected places. One wonders at the practical, logistical challenge of blending their processes, but the result, in The Good Dance, appears seamless.
Both companies as well as collaborators—costumer Naoko Nagata; lighting designers Jonathan Belcher and Carrie Wood—contribute fine work.
The piece will be remembered for its rapidfire, sometimes insinuating, disturbing, gestures and its impressive visual theme: numerous bottles of spring water, glistening under the lights, aligned like a fence, plucked and gathered into the arms of greedy dancers, strewn over the stage like a broad river—the Mississippi of Wilson’s ancestors, the Congo of Ouamba’s youth—or otherwise toyed with and reconfigured. I thought of a river shaping its environment over time; how water conforms to its container; how it can be a transporter, a graveyard, a repository of history and a realm of the enticing, unsettling unknown. There’s even more here; the choreographers employ one of our most primal, profound archetypes, but they use it to suggest rather than specify.
Spending time with The Good Dance—as with any of humanity’s “good books”—will best reward those who bring a sharp eye, an open mind and their own experience of life.