BWW Review: SOMEHOW WE END UP HERE, AGAIN Provokes at HERE
The migrant, both voluntary and forced, is a recurring motif for dance choreographers who have ever sought to invigorate the traumas of exiled refugees, the discoveries of vagabond travelers and the insights of spiritual voyagers through plays of bodily movement. In a time when immigrants and artists are at the frontline of social cause, such live theater artworks as Somehow We End Up Here, Again directed by Georgina Bates in collaboration with journalist Jihii Jolly and documentarian Diana Diroy have the power to provoke movement, not only from dance artists, but from the greater society in solidarity with those individuals and nations whose movements are politicized.
For twenty-five years, HERE has been a revolutionary site for artists of all disciplines to create hybrid works, with a special concentration in dance theater. Its Soho home on the cusp of Greenwich Village continues to attract a mixed audience of creatives, the writers and visionaries who once graced the streets of lower Manhattan in droves where now corporate America has mostly taken over. More recently in the last decade, artistic director and HERE co-founder Kristin Marting launched the Sublet Series to better accommodate emerging artists who constantly reinvent HERE as a legendary downtown space where art remains relevant as a vehicle for social integration over cultural assimilation. Her latest piece of theater is titled Assembled Identity, and will premiere at HERE in 2018.
Within the Sublet Series, is the Co-op program, which provides resources and a world-class venue to new, collaborative artists to show work for a short-run. Most of the Co-op productions have a hard social justice bent, such as Somehow We End Up Here, Again, exploring the experience of refugee resettlement. It is invaluable for audiences in America to put on the shoes of forced migrants as they find themselves anew. If art is driven by purpose, it is to instill empathy. And the lives of artists, even those who never leave home, run parallel to the 21st century immigrant, as both are tasked to overcome an unrelenting self-searching to find peace amid the chaos of earthly creation.
The choreographer and director of Somehow We End Up Here, Again is a diligent and fastidious intellect whose collaborative savvy came together to form a brilliant mosaic of multimedia contributions for her Sublet Series: Co-op production at HERE. Earlier in the year, she met the playwright of The (Last) Station at Planet Connections Festivity, the premier socially-conscious arts festival in New York. After conversing, it was clear that his band, The Jews of Malta would provide music for Somehow We End Up Here, Again. Not only do they have a great name, but out of a relatively lo-fi, underground operation, they kick out a sweet post-rock vibe that evokes comparisons with Do Make Say Think, and filmmaker Jim Jarmusch's experimental rock project, SQÜRL.
"I felt their tone had exactly the right texture for our dance work," Bates wrote to BroadwayWorld.com about The Jews of Malta, a group of sound artists who she saw as kindred to her project to empathize with new immigrants as they keep a low profile. "Dave Hall, a brilliant musician, also offered his talents to the project and gave two songs, one of which he created for the piece."
"This whole concept of living under the radar was inspired by my personal relationship with my husband's family from Ecuador. I made a solo about this for my audition to get into Tisch [School of the Arts at NYU] for grad school in 2010 and continued by making "Stay where you are (we'll love you from here)," Bates wrote. "The subject matter is dear to my heart and I wanted to express it through dance. I proposed this idea along with including refugee and outcast perspectives for HERE's sublet series, and Jihii [Jolly] and Diana [Diroy] joined me in expanding the stories."
On August 4th, Jihii Jolly published a literary reflection about her collaboration with Bates in a piece she titled, "What happens when you combine dance and journalism?" They decided to focus on undocumented migrants as the lead inspiration for a hybrid production weaving together film, journalism and dance, as they had all worked on the subject separately before meeting to collaborate. They agreed that out of all the themes that emerge when empathizing with the experience of undocumented immigrants in the U.S., identity is the most challenging.
What inspired Jolly and Diroy to work with Bates was that while film and writing best explore one individual at a time, dance is literally and figuratively more flexible when working on a subject that requires a collective focus on many people at once. Bates and Jolly found that the news provoked movement in them, particularly journalism that enlightens a social cause.
"I've always dreamt of bringing journalism to the stage. Essentially, I believe there are stories that are meant to be felt. I've done a lot of reporting and research around news literacy, and how to get news consumers to really enjoy and immerse themselves in the news in a way that stirs them to action or understanding." Jolly wrote to BroadwayWorld.com. "This was my first time working with Georgina, or any dancer, for that matter. I really trust her judgment and I feel, based on our friendship and shared values, which really come from a strong foundation working and organizing together with the SGI [Soka Gakkai International], a Buddhist community we both grew up practicing with, there was an unspoken sense of creative trust, which is really rare to find when you're just learning to work in another person's medium."
Jolly knew Bates from a Buddhist community, and worked with Diroy at EdLab, a research/media lab at Teachers College, where they produced videos together on education, identity and environmental design. It was a natural collaboration between friends. After presenting a thirteen minute video of the project for the CollabFest at Triskelion Arts, Bates successfully pursued the opportunity to produce it as live multimedia theater at HERE. The trio could not be stopped. They simply understood each other. When Jolly proposed a wild idea, a dance work on ISIS, Bates knew what she meant right away. They enjoyed fantastic off-stage chemistry.
"Diana is one of my dearest friends. She and I have spent a lot of time on projects. I trust her as a documentarian 1000%. We have the sort of relationship where I can be all over the place with ideas, share a bunch of raw material with her, and she just magically knows how to shape it into something that not only makes sense, but is beautiful and exactly what my heart was trying to convey," Jolly wrote, relating how Diroy used much of her past material on immigration for the first version of the show, and for the latter version at HERE, she interviewed and reported extensively to collaborate on a visualization of new characters. "It was more about immigration than the refugee experience, in terms of the actual people we interviewed. I spent time with and spoke with people from various movements and communities and explained exactly what were were trying to do. Some were willing to share their identities and others weren't, which is why you only hear some voices and you see others' faces."
"Because this is art + journalism, I really just wanted to force the audience, in a sense, into sitting through the lived experience of being undocumented, or an "other". There was nothing really new - no breaking news or new information. But it's rare that you have the chance to sit through someone else's experience and understand and experience the nuances of it. I think, like a lot of long-form journalism, that's something multimedia can achieve very well, and it's necessary for subjects that have desensitized us because we hear about them so often. So it's a little art, a little advocacy, a little reporting."
Somehow We End Up Here, Again opens with an all-American throwback number, Town Without Pity, an anachronism from the age of crooners brilliantly revived for the Contemporary Stage in the hands of Bates, whose dancers tire of swinging, as they hold each other up shoulder to shoulder when not clashing in semi-conscious bouts of jaded apathy, crowded with the boredom of the familiar and the mediocre. And then a video flashes against the background, set to voiceovers by Dreamers, the children of undocumented immigrants. They are Jamaican. They are Chinese. They are from everywhere, and more importantly, they are here now, and as American as any citizen.
Dancers step through the light of the screen, emoting under careful voices that recall the experience of growing up with an illegal identity. What is most normal to American citizens, and often most taken for granted, is the subject of international controversy, of lifelong sagas defined by trauma and remembrance, fulfillment and annihilation.
Audiences felt the tragedy, the weight that dancers expressed with muscular strength. They run to each other to embrace, and sometimes miss. One dancer stands before the audience, "He deserves to live in this country," she says. The tragedy is heavy in stories of family separation through deportation. Mothers and sons are torn apart. Better halves are sent away from a loving home, forced to overcome the ongoing global strife of warring nationalism.
The artistic direction of Somehow We End Up Here, Again is a microcosm for the political direction of America, as both are waylaid by seemingly irreconcilable expressions of the universal human struggle to coexist. Demonstrating collaborative integration through the diverse creation of hybrid forms, Bates, Jolly and Diroy produced a multimedia mixtape of live dance theater and storytelling through videography and journalism. Its fusions strengthen the three main disciplines that it employs.
It is a great piece for people who are more inclined to respond to video and journalism than the often cryptic abstractions of contemporary dance. As led by its choreographer, Bates instills a renewed appreciation for contemporary dance, and for its collaborative mediums. Ultimately, as attested by its audiences, Somehow We End Up Here, Again is a call to action, to realize new creative movements that will guide the prevailing narrative of U.S. history and current affairs from the heartless stranglehold on migration policy to the integration of migrants with empathic subtlety and grassroots imagination as expressed by all kinds of artists everywhere.
Lighting Designer: Giovanni Villari
Stage Manager: Shannon Lyver
Photo Courtesy of Georgina Bates