BWW Reviews: Nora Chipaumire Constructs an Intriguing Portrait at 92nd Street Y
It is a challenging and curious task to describe a person you are inextricably linked to, but have never known. Presented as a work in process February 21-23 at the 92nd Street Y Harkness Dance Festival, Nora Chipaumire's portrait of myself as my father examined the difficult process of tackling that challenge.
The work is the second part of rite riot (a dance in two parts), and was inspired by a letter that Ms. Chipaumire wrote to her father, whom she never knew. Using this letter as both soundtrack and setting, the work created an immersive experience, more evocative of a state of mind than a specific narrative. The dance and its setting delivered a wash of emotion, tension, and mystery.
Surrounded by layers of recorded speech, live chant, and shadowy lighting, Ms. Chipaumire and a group of five men walked smoothly around the space in a pack. A recording of Ms. Chipaumire reading various attempts to address her father filled the room, giving voice to the short sentences written in chalk on the perimeter of the marley floor. Inside this border of words, the dancers jostled each other gently, weaving through the pack to assert themselves at the front. Eventually, Ms. Chipaumire separated herself and stepped into a sawdust filled lane in the center of the space.
As the men settled opposite to her, Ms. Chipaumire began the work of creating a portrait through movement. As she walked again and again down the strip of sawdust, jittery gestures matched the repetition of the text. Walking became a way of examining the possibilities within her hips, then her shoulders. The choreography followed the rhythm of writing and rewriting, stopping for a moment before tracing back over the same lines. Though the choreography was harsh in its insistent repetition, Ms. Chipaumire carried out her mysterious exploration with easy precision. The heavy, quick movements were as familiar to her malleable body as words in the mind of a writer.
As Ms. Chipaumire's feet wore a track in the sawdust, the men moved as a single entity. Swaying together, their calm gazes swept across the ceiling. Fingers brushed the floor lightly as they draped their bodies over their legs in heavy circles, providing a strange dreamlike contrast to Ms. Chipaumire's frenzied journey. Eventually, the men began speaking to one another, and then broke into an unexpectedly vigorous dance sequence before scattering out to the shadows at the edge of the space.
While the music and text ended, Ms. Chipaumire persisted in her task, scattering sawdust onto the dimly lit floor. Fading light served as an invitation to gaze into the mystery of darkness. Soon, the only thing remaining was the haunting sound of Ms. Chipaumire's feet continuing to work over an idea that could be neither deciphered nor dismissed.
Photo Credit: Julie Lemberger for 92Y