Review: Dancing the ‘Twisted Beauty’ of the Black Experience

Review: Dancing the ‘Twisted Beauty’ of the Black Experience

Until seeing his program at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, I knew Kyle Marshall as a compelling, sensitive dancer with the Trisha Brown Dance Company and someone whose work trusted colleagues had been urging me to see. Now I understand the buzz. In a double bill at BAM Fisher (and as the only local dance maker in this year’s Next Wave Festival), Mr. Marshall demonstrated that rare and hard-to-define thing: a choreographic voice like no one else’s.

The work that has drawn so much admiration is “Colored” (2017), a ravishing, complicated trio for Mr. Marshall, Myssi Robinson and Oluwadamilare Ayorinde. Mr. Marshall has said that he was interested in the “twisted beauty” of the black experience in America and in contradictory perceptions of black bodies, under the white gaze, as both intensely desirable and not.

Twists and contradictions take physical shape in the movement itself — its swerves from brashly sexy to subdued, from ecstatic to vigilant — and in the work’s broader structure, its abundance of sudden yet seamless transitions. There is no obvious narrative but an uncanny sense of stories starting and stopping, looping back on themselves to be revisited from other angles, an effect supported by Matt Clegg’s sound design, especially his eerie, repeated sampling of Kanye West’s “Runaway.”

As if taking a collective breath, the dancers begin in a circle, holding hands and looking down, under the glow of an industrial chandelier (also designed by Mr. Clegg). Here this evolves into moments of swaying and swaggering, but when they later return to this position, it spins out in a new direction, as they careen across the stage in one tangled knot, refusing to let go of one another. In a post-show talk on Thursday, they spoke about the years spent developing the work in close conversation, and the depth of their dialogue shows in this recklessness, which hinges on trust.

“Colored” followed “A.D.,” a new work for five dancers that Mr. Marshall calls “the beginning of a conversation surrounding Christianity and its influence on the body.” Through the use of biblical text (spoken live and folded into Cal Fish’s score) and movement evoking religious iconography, he delves deeper into elements of prayer from the older work. While carefully assembled and exquisitely danced, it does feel like just a beginning, and more will be welcome.

During the post-performance talk, an audience member asked about the problem of presenting work with so many black cultural references to the mostly white audiences of contemporary dance. Mr. Marshall acknowledged this complexity; he also said that some people will understand these references, and others won’t, and that’s O.K. with him. The evening made me acutely aware of my own gaze as a white critic and left me wondering what I wasn’t seeing, a state to be embraced. Sometimes uncertainty is where we need to be.

A.D. & Colored

Through Saturday at BAM Fisher, Brooklyn;

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