Okwui Okpokwasili seems to gravitate toward tests of endurance.
At the beginning of Adaku's Revolt, a recent collaboration with her husband Peter Born, four women (herself included) lie on their backs, spines arched deeply into a shape resembling yoga's fish pose. They remain there, heads inverted and forearms pressed into the ground, for 15 minutes as the audience files in.
At the opening of Bronx Gothic, her 2014 one-woman show, Okpokwasili plants herself in a corner and shudders for half an hour, sometimes more—and that's just a prelude to the hour-long performance.
Kelsey Grills in rehearsal for ABT Incubator. Photo by JJ Geiger, courtesy ABT Incubator.
"Is everyone okay?" was my most used sentence during my time with American Ballet Theatre. There I was, leading world-class ABT dancers through my own choreographic process. I knew that it was unlike anything they'd ever experienced, but I think half of the time I was asking that question, it was really directed to myself.
ABT Incubator is a two-week choreographic program created by principal dancer David Hallberg. Supported by The Howard Hughes Corporation, this process-oriented lab gave me and four other choreographers the opportunity to generate ideas for the work we have been inspired to create.
Okwui Okpokwasili, here in her Poor People's TV Room, was doing her laundry when she learned she was receiving a MacArthur Fellowship. Photo by Mena Brunette of xmbphotography, Courtesy Okpokwasili
Okwui Okpokwasili just got $625,000 richer. The MacArthur Foundation announced its 2018 class of Fellows today, and the genre-defying choreographer was the only dance artist included alongside scientists, activists and writers. According to The New York Times, she got the call telling her the news on her way to the laundromat.
Matthew Neenan used images of silencing and control in let mortal tongues awake. Photo by Bill Herbert.
From coast to coast, choreographers have spent the first year of Donald Trump's presidency responding to the impact of his election and what it means for them as artists.
New York City's Dante Brown used rubber Trump masks in his work Package (revamped),which examines the monstrosities of power.
A video titled "Dancers vs. Trump Quotes" went viral last summer, showing dancers taking Trump's "locker-room" talk to task.
Alexis Convento, lead curator of the New York City–based Current Sessions, dedicated a whole program to the concept of resistance, while educator and interdisciplinary artist Jill Sigman has initiated a workshop called "Body Politic, Somatic Selves," as a space for movement research around questions of support, activism and solidarity.
In San Francisco, choreographer Margaret Jenkins facilitated a panel of artists about the role of activism within their work.
We knew that New York downtown dance darling Okwui Okpokwasili was a big deal. Critics and audiences have been raving about her dance-theater works for years, and the new documentary about her, Bronx Gothic, has attracted the attention of the larger arts community.
But never in our wildest dreams did we imagine she'd show up in a Jay Z video, along with flex dancer Storyboard P. Though we're slightly less surprised to see Storyboard in Jay Z's "4:44" video than we were to see Okpokwasili, we're jazzed that two of our favorites are featured on such a huge platform. (We're also feeling #blessed that we didn't have to subscribe to Tidal to watch this.)
What is "dance theater"?Is it Pina Bausch's raw examinations of everyday life? Is it performance that mixes movement and text? Is it dance that tells a story? Dance Magazine talked with four choreographers who use elements of dance and theater—but whose work escapes easy categorization—about playing with narrative, integrating movement and words, and what "dance theater" means to them.
Dance theater, to me personally, means that there's no hierarchy of materials you can use to make a piece. Movement is not more important; text and narrative aren't more important. I feel this complete free range as I try to express something, to use a whole variety of theatrical elements, like relationship, cause and effect, clothes, dance, singing, talking, found text, plays, literature—this cornucopia of theatrical possibilities.
Mena Burnette of xmbphotography, courtesy Okpokwasili
It seems like everyone in New York's experimental dance scene is talking about Okwui Okpokwasili right now. Her multidisciplinary work Poor People's TV Room is in the middle of a much buzzed-about two-week run at New York Live Arts.
But although the dance world loves her, Okpokwasili is hesitant to call herself a dancer. In a story about dance theater in Dance Magazine's May issue, she told this to writer Siobhan Burke: