Mamela Nyamza Opens 5th Queer New York International Arts Fest

New Dance 2009. Prog. 9 Wits Theatre, Johannesburg. 'Hatched' choregraphed, directed and performed by Mamela Nyamza. Photograph : John Hogg

Photograph : John Hogg

The 2016 Queer New York International Arts Festival opened it’s 5th year with a mesmerizing work from S. African choreographer Mamela Nyamza, co-presented by 651 Arts as part of Black Dance: Tradition and Transformation, at Abrons Art Center last night.  The first of two programs guest curated by Marýa Wethers, Nyamza’s HATCHED (New York premiere) supported the QNYIAF Artistic Director Zvonimir Dobrović’s mandate for an expansive notion of queerness in artistic performance. It was mysterious, ironic, beguiling and transportive. It was odd. It was personal and political. It was reflective of the wild individualism that thrives against marginalization and oppression.

Photograph : John Hogg

Photograph : John Hogg

An autobiographical work from 8 years ago, it moves through the constraints of a classical ballet training and into the freedom of Nyamza’s Xhosa dances and songs from the Cape. The work opens with us viewing Nyamza’s bare back as she bourrees, en pointe and in a tulle skirt covered in clothespins, to the strains of The Dying Swan. She places a metal bucket on her head and then a pile of red clothes which she attaches to a line across the stage, all while remaining en pointe and humming. As she ripples her arms and shakes her head, her depiction more closely resembles the movements of a distressed bird than the original ballet alluded to. Her limbs extend out, bending and rotating at awkward angles, her head bobbles in a delicate sway at once fragile and powerful. At one point, with a clothespin in her mouth, like a tiny beak, the sense of dislocation was potent in its sweetness and pathos. Entrapped within the domestic, she becomes a creature without a home. Later, after the clothespins have exploded off the skirt while Nyamza dons a red coat, she faces us and smiles. Still fraught, still caught, but gaining confidence and exiting the confusion. She removes her point shoes and her feet are squirming in delight at their freedom. When the shoes and the layers of skirt are hung on the line, the shedding of the enforced cultural supremacy of the white tulle allows an emancipation as she hatches into an infectious dance (in red boxer shorts).

The second program curated by Wethers will be a shared evening featuring works by Eleo Pomare, Brother(hood) Dance!, and Jumatatu M. Poe/idiosynCrazy on Saturday, September 24. Eleo Pomare/Alpha Omega Theatrical Dance Company (NYC) will present Narcissus Rising (1968) A signature solo choreographed by Eleo Pomare in 1968, Narcissus Rising portrays the psyche of a modern-day leather and biker person. Originally performed by Pomare himself with a musical collage by Michael Levy, this version is performed by Donna Clark of Alpha Omega Theatrical Dance Company. Orlando Hunter and Ricarrdo Valentine of the interdisciplinary duo Brother(hood) Dance! will perform Black Jones, a duet about the complexity of black male identity that explores the possibility of male intimacy in different spaces globally and how these bodies are navigating, connecting, and/or resisting in a society with harshly limited perceptions. Jumatatu M. Poe/idiosynCrazy production’s (Philadelphia) Let ‘im Move You: This is a Success, performed with Gilbert Reyes, is a continuation of Jumatatu M. Poe’s work with and around J-Sette movement vocabulary and performance aesthetics. As Poe describes it, the work explores notions of African-American exceptionalism “expressed through middle-class, Black American values reiterated through the J-Sette movement form and incorporating our respective relationships to Blackness, gender, and queerness.” The program will be followed by a post-show discussion with Donna Clark, Orlando Hunter, Ricarrdo Valentine, and Jumatatu M. Poe, moderated by Marýa Wethers (free to ticket holders). The performance is 8pm at The Actors Fund Arts Center, 160 Schermerhorn Street, in Brooklyn.

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