I’m still thinking about T.Lang’s Post, which was performed for the last night of its current run on March 25, 2017.
I have never experienced such a show.
The interracial co-ed cast arranged their bodies in direct conversation with their predominantly white audience in a chapel at the historic Fort McPherson. In that old confederate gathering place, we gulped swaths of fiery gasps, guttural groans, and gyrating hips. Such gliding motion expanded and constrained space for an audience unsure of how to respond to such raw expression of feeling. I observed legs crossing and hands clutching purses as bodies leaned forward with anticipation. That awkward cough that breaks silence in half smirked at the space unfolding. Throat-clearing stuffed the air, which was already swelling with anticipation.
At one point, the black man next to me was touching my arm while clutching the hand of his white woman date. I flinched thinking about our physical closeness when I realized that my own white partner and I failed to physically engage during the entire piece. He sat straight up–back stiff as a board–in the pose of uncertainty that colors our public interaction most days. At home, we talked about Post a great deal, feeling its erotic energy and letting it warm our correspondence. We felt bewildered and exhausted, but satisfied that the dancers brought to surface so many of the barriers we are personally working through.
I noticed that most white women in the audience clung to their crossed legs whereas many of the black women hunched forward, faces flexed with contorted emotion. Sometimes a frown, sometimes a smile, but mostly discomfort. I wondered how many people were aroused and felt ashamed about it. Surely, it was natural to be aroused while observing those glistening bodies, sensual and sexual, working between frenzy and calm, falling decadently in emotion and the sweet release of feeling. Why were we so uncomfortable to bear witness to such joy? What were we supposed to be doing?
Myself? I cried most of the time! Tears ran down my face as the dancers engaged the pews, staring us down, gazing upon US spectators, tearing our typical boundary, objectifying us with their tears and unfolding us to intimacy.
But this was a funky performance! Why so stoic? Should we laugh? Cry? Touch them? Join the stage in our movement?
But no. We couldn’t even bear the thought of feeling good. We also couldn’t be rude. Western norms of art spectactorship require us to keep a distance! This was their floor and we were there to watch.
Did we expect to see them in our faces though? To breathe in the sweat of their bodies and the moisture of their tears? What kind of art does that? Is that what art does? What did we think we “paid for?” Synchronized motion? Tiny taut figures jumping impossibly high in the air and feet shuffling fast? Why do we think we can control bodies like that?
Did we know that we would see those seven bodies beneath, on top, on bottom, on the side, adjacent to some of the bodies in the center intertwined, locked hands, and eyes fixated on each other–on us, on the inside.
Yes, Post must be a black woman’s art!
Our cubist consciousness revealed through an unveiling and concealing of Self that defied the audience’s gaze at every stare. No any one person could see all of the dancers at one time because their motions took different rhythmic patterns. From those crickety pews placed in a square configuration, we each were seeing a different performance. Like a black woman’s social interior, the dancers separated and came together as some stood apart and alone with others clammoring to come to full view.
Of course, the distinctive performance of black women’s consciousness was not what Post was necessarily about because we must remember–it is the fourth installment of a larger piece. The entire series of Post Up draws inspiration from Heather Andrea Williams’ Help Me Find My People. This installment continues to explore the uncertain process of searching for loved ones amid emancipation. Placing the notion of freedom in dialogue with loss undulates movement that reaches in all kinds of ways for locations unfamiliar, but discoverable. In fact, the audience goes through this emotion on the way to the Chapel to see the show, wondering where the hell am I? What time period is this?
Rusty railroad tracks lie next to a stretch of road that takes you into a place that feels isolated from the rest of the city. War happened here. Territories were precisely defined. Torture, haven, evasion, and escape applied to bodies moving through the fight over how friends and enemies ought to be recognized. The confederate army prayed in that Chapel to retain the enslavement and economic viability of black bodies and the preservation of “old European wealth” with clear colonial designations.
This narrative of place literally exemplifies a freedom story. We were assembled into that space, in which the freedom of a black woman artist to publicly display her vision there in 2017 could summon us to breathe and choke on each other’s air. The historical significance of her doing this in front of a mostly white spectatorship exhibited boldness, and the question of humanity loomed large billowing like the white curtain juxtaposed against the red spandex fleshing into that projector screen displaying its black and white imagery of the human body and nature. The white noise of the technology only moved our attention away from the heat of the human flesh when we ran away from the intensity of feeling.
It was not pain.
Nothing was painful about those fluid, jerking bodies beautiful in their range of being. Their motion induced crying from me because I could not imagine feeling so free in my mishapen overweight frame. I do not trust my body to do what I saw before me. The controlled collapses and backbends into glorious formation made my body tighten and clench. And let’s be clear–all these dancers were not tiny. I saw curves and such. I saw my own sense of confinement working as a concept exhibited by the dancers’ bodies in conflict with their own release and in unison with their individual competition for attention in the holy place.
Overall, Post was a brilliant process piece. It demands the audience to reimagine how they see dance as an art form, in terms of its internal unity and completeness. As a parallel and exemplifcation of our humanity, Post redefines body, mind, and soul mapping–offering a distinctly psychedelic experience. That language may seem strange because to refer to black art this way demands us to re-evaluate how even consciousness is racialized in America through rigid genre/cultural classifications that have commodified altered states into a white counter-culture thang. Indeed, black women’s art that radically shifts subjectivity into spaces that nullify the ego in favor of the noos deserves to be explored beyond spectacular black futurism.
I joined in the cosmic laughter erupting from the dancers’ aching bellies at the end of the show, giggling when it was over because no one knew if it was over. In that meta-moment, claps proceeded cautiously and it was in the thunderous applause that the audience finally moved. But what if the audience moved the whole time? Would a predominantly black audience have responded differently? Would catching the Holy Ghost from all that raw feeling have been too impolite for the scene? Would the dancers have rolled with it? Have any of the audiences broke down? Who else cried the whole time?
I’m grateful for Post because I worry a lot less about the “appropriate” reaction and a lot more about the possibilities that the dancers’ vulnerability created. I wonder what kind of space we could make if we, the audience, showed ours to them. Not just by posting up in there, but by moving too.
See Dr. Michelle Hite, Assistant Professor of English and Dramaturge, converse with T. Lang during a rehearsal of Post.