THIS IS NOT A REVIEW: WILDCAT!’S “I DO MIND DYING: Danse Précarité” AT JACK
I DO MIND DYING: Danse Précarité, a work by Wildcat! dance collective, is presented as part of Forward Ferguson, a series dedicated to furthering the conversation around racial justice in America. I DO MIND DYING was one of two performances presented by the collective during the weekend – the second, called 3 Meaningful Meditations, drew inspiration from Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Both works were performed by Wildcat! members Jeremy Toussaint-Baptiste, Eleni Zaharopoulos, and André M. Zachery.
The audience is seated single file along three sides of the space, surrounding the stage at JACK. As I come in, the dancers are warming up in the center, stretching, with prompts spoken before and then done by the performers, with a sense of effort and verbal admissions of failure or discomfort. I watch about 20 minutes of the warm up, which repeats in forms – it feels structural, elemental. I’m given a handbook called the “Wildcat Manual for Tactical Self-Enfranchisement” – a booklet which opens with a quote from the ballad “Please Mr Foreman” from Detroit blues artist Joe L Carter “…I said, no – don’t mind working, but Lord, I do mind dying.” Toussaint-Baptiste, Zachery and Zaharopoulos continue warming up as I read through the booklet, which includes the mission of Wildcat!, both a dance collective and a group with a mission to support one another through “solidarity in precarity”– committed to educational, empowering, and action-inspiring social interactions. While not necessarily focused on performance as a representation of that, the collective promotes the choice of members to perform while also including other forms of creation. In addition to the mission, the booklet includes the performance score for the work and other writings, including information and quotes about ethics and identity, and it feels like an equal part of the experience to the performance.
I DO MIND DYING is set up as a performance in three acts, with an overture at the beginning and a finale. The system and structure of the work is specific and illustrated – each act including an eight minute section, reflecting the 8 hour workday, each act containing a solo, each section creating and sustaining an element of exhaustion, and each section containing repetition. There is an almost contractual transparency in the dictation and mission from the onset – the setup of the performance score is included in the booklet, speaking both to the mission and the elements of this practice.
From the warm up overture, we move into the first act. The performers use gaff tape to mark the floor with three overlapping squares and the structure begins: each performer must go a certain number of times around the square. If a performer collides with someone going around their square, they must pick up the other person for a rotation around the square. It’s easier to finish earlier when a performer’s square is smaller, and not colliding with someone makes it easier still.
The work begins to graphically break down larger conversations, larger blankets and markers. There are specific and task-based sections, with each segment delineated by a whistle blown by the sound person, creating action, a new task, a new scene, moving together, down, deep down, through lines and action.
The work builds as the tasks keep coming – 8 minutes of laying down and standing up and smiling the whole time (Eleni), 8 minutes in a push-up, down to elbows and back up to plank (Jeremy), 8 minutes of shifting side to side (André), where shifts happens over time, immeasurable in increments but appearing over time, the repetition bringing out fatigue, clothes getting wet with sweat, a little tremor building, and although largely constant, Eleni continues to smile as she sits and stands and sits and stands, looking at every audience member, smiling, smiling?, she continues, locking eyes.
Out of the sections which illustrate the tight segmentation, in each act a solo emerges and loosens the structure. The form is released. In one solo, two buckets on the back of the stage are upturned to reveal lights, and Zaharopoulos and Zachery follow and illuminate Toussaint-Baptiste through an individual exploration. Release and tenderness – finding balance through pushing off center and a way of release, kilter/off kilter, explosive tenderness, combustion.
I DO MIND DYING, full of chapters, touches on isolation but also community. When the group eats lunch on a bench in front of a video of a person speaking of their time working in factories in Detroit, I view these three performers as each other’s friends, as each other’s community. From the beginning, the introduction of warming up, seeing the dancers in preparation, seeing the performers seeing us, and the subsequent work is able to be a piece of activism as well as an invitation for continued inquiry, a structure for reflection that extends past the time spent viewing the work.
More about JACK’s season at jackny.org.
More about Wildcat!’s mission and upcoming events at solidarityinprecarity.com.
Unless noted, images created by Katie Dean.
THIS IS NOT A REVIEW is a series of visual and written artistic responses to dance and performance. the series is centered around inspiration, proposing response as a form of loose preservation rather than criticism or time-bound documentation.