BOUGE B – 25/04/2014
Judson Church Is Ringing in Harlem (Made-to-Measure)/Twenty Looks or Paris Is Burning at the Judson Church (M2M)
Seventh year in a row BOUGE B has taken place at one of Antwerps cultural Valhalla House deSingel. During a few days deSingel hosted an international experimental and contemporary dance and performances festival. The performance I got to see was by the New Yorker Trajal Harrel, based on the choreographies of his latest serie on the imaginary clash between two dance styles from the ’60. The performance, “Judson Church Is Ringing in Harlem (Made-to-Measure)/Twenty Looks or Paris Is Burning at the Judson Church (M2M),” (huh?) presents the creative output of a clash between the postmodern Judson Church dance style and the voguing, a modern dance style, originating from the Harlem ballrooms.
With my expertise going as far as Madonna’s song “Vogue” and me being a “yay dance!” kind of person, I was very curious about what I was about to witness. Judging by that …(curse word by choice)… title, I was about to witness some cutting edge dance performance.
Truth be told, at the beginning of the performance when one of the dancers was introducing the dance performance I had no clue what the guy was talking about. Unsure of what to expect I nervously looked over to my brother who was, derived from the expression on his very expressive face, equally clueless. As Adele’s ‘Set fire to the rain’ blasted through the speakers the three male dancers entered the fairly empty and spacious stage and each took place on a chair. The two white dancers seated themselves stoically. Barely moving with a wallflower-like posture Harrel himself showed, in contrast to his fellow dancers, intense emotions in his face. I was really confused and wondered if I had missed anything, because I really didn’t know what was going on and what the story was. And by the looks of it, I wasn’t the only one in the audience with a question mark hanging over his/her head.
Mr. Harell himself started off with an impressive vocal wailing which was followed by the use of a repetitive phrase by one of the other dancers throughout the whole performance; “Don’t stop the dance”, often answered by a “Mama said”. Sitting there up straight like church boys and carefully calculated movements, the performers displayed some of the principles of the Judson Dance Theater: no to spectacle, no to eccentricity, no to moving or being moved, and so on. During this first part of the performance I almost forgot I was watching a dance performance. The movements were so intimate and minimalistic, the emotions so strong.
It was only until the day after I had my AHAAA-moment about the title by the way ( I blame the bacteria that were at that time and in full battle gear and ready to take over control of my body). I remembered a movie I watched a long time ago on the Sundance Channel called ‘Paris is burning’. After a short Google search it all came back to me. The documentary film by Jennie Livingston puts down the New York City ballroom culture in which contestants (mostly gay and transgender) must walk like they are walking on a runway. And this is where the voguing comes in. As they walk, the contestants would be judged on their whole performance which also included dance moves. In the 1960’s Afro-American men started to hold their own events in Harlem (spontaneous wave of AHAAA-moments).
Just as I thought I was dozing off everything broke loose on stage followed by an intense dance-outburst. The restraint they showed at first was completely forgotten and thrown aside for what started off as a series of runway-like walks on the tip of their toes, followed by a serious explosive set of voguing. One of the dancers became a real dance-bomb on the floor and added some serious action to the mix. These last 20 minutes were a complete contrast to the first 30, but I still felt like I was missing out on something. I get the whole ‘we want to be cutting edge and take risks’ thing, but I wonder if the idea Harrel had about the show really came through with the audience. sometimes I found myself paying more attention to the dancers outfits than what they were actually doing (which was next to nothing most of the time). Maybe it’s my lack of contemporary dance knowledge, but the performance left me puzzled and unsure of what I just watched.
Text & pics by Ikram.