ACROBATICS IN BROOKLYN UNDO THE PATRIARCHY
LAVA A Goddessey Review
BY Imogen Pickles
LAVA A Goddessey
The Lava Studio, 524 Bergen Street, Brooklyn, NY 11217
June 2017 | www.lavabrooklyn.org
LAVA: a substance with the capacity to change and flow; liquid-solid-creative-destructive-time: tectonic.
LAVA is a feminist acrobatic dance company based in Brooklyn, New York. Founded in 1998 by Artistic Director Sarah East Johnson, the company pushes the boundaries of dance, gender expectations, and through soaring acrobatics, even earthly forces. LAVA is a gender breaking, dancing democratic, politically and socially conscious femme force.
The latest spectacular is a journey, A Goddessey, taking the audience through a series of landscapes - emotional and geological to a ‘rainbow colored feminist future’. Through comedy, aerial, contact improvisation, spoken-work and dance, A Goddessey is a revelation of physical expression that embodies empowerment. The traditional “hero’s journey” is subverted offering episodic tales of female community, learning, sharing and envisioning a feminist future of balance and equality.
The journey begins in a world pre-patriarchy, in the dizzy heights of a canopy, the performers swing, tip and lark in an elevated playground of trapeze, ropes, silks and hoops. The capacity of the performers is clearly displayed: with ease and grace they move and work together navigating the challenging apparatus. The canopy is a celebration of symbiosis; together the performers demonstrate incredible physical strength in an Eden-esque enlightened space of joy.
From the canopy the troop descends into the urban sidewalk. No longer an open space of play and community instead bound by formal attire and structured jackets, the performers bustle and bump into each other, jostled into the speed of modernity. Modernist fears of time, isolation and loneliness are illustrated, when a woman motions to run but is hindered, and another is blindfolded. This urban space renders and inhibits the body. The sidewalk morphs into a ballet class, and thus coded movement, competition, gender characterization. The ballet class is metaphorical of the everyday performance where genders are resolute, performative. This sidewalk is without community, physically and socially restrictive and conceptually below the lofty canopy.
The journey continues and we encounter the Feminist Forest Training Grounds, here the performers collaborate, communicate and encourage one another. It is a colorful, entertaining display of dance-gymnastics including human pyramids, hoop-diving and handstands. Working as a team the performers teach and guide each other, the audience too cheers and claps. Formal boundaries of performance are blurred with a scene displaying deliberate spectacle and tricks, where the performers and audience interact. All bodies perform movement; the acrobatics and exercises are a manifestation of feminism though an exploration of approach in the ‘how’. Such physicality is created through community: push-up and pull-ups, not only demonstrate physical capacity and strength, but it is through process of collaboration that they are achieved. The overwhelming sense of comrade, pride in the work and female physical capability is truly inspiring.
Moving forward we encounter Grandmother Moon, an eccentric character who bombards the audience with a stream of clichéd, familiar jokes, classics include: What do Brooklyn and pantyhose have in common? Flatbush..! Grandmother Moon offers a pause and gives out water, allowing for a loose breath in the performance journey. Such actions and giving add to the sense of community - directly involving the audience in the very process and structure of the performance. Narrative figures, performers and the audience create a living, present community of ancestors, guides and families. Community performance has never been so well crafted; a democratic company, shared roles that encourage and support, an open dialogue, and necessary inclusion of a welcoming audience.
Another chapter: ROCKS AND MOUTIANS (Are Alive!) The metamorphic cycle flows, solid formations shift and transform. If such structures and rigidity can change then perhaps human perception and understanding can change. Social norms, conformity, the oppression can dissolve. LAVA changes the world, as we know it.
The end of the journey we have reached UTOPIA - party, dancing, disco, pride and flags. The audience, without much pause whole heartily joins in this shared celebration of movement. One of the final scenes is Artist Director, Sara East Johnson, balancing a 10 foot-ladder on her chin. This astounding image is daring and playfully fragile, reaching beyond, transcendent. A careful balancing act, providing a fleeting structure for upward movement. Daring us to ask, can we go back up to the canopy, to the pre-patriarchal world, can society be better?
A Goddessey presents an entertaining, inspiring celebration of the empowered female. The agile and casual capacity of the performing body - one that that leaps, swings, flips, is a tool for constructing meaning and change. Careful structural devices and direct address challenge the audiences’ understanding of performance, expectations of the body and gaze. It is a transformative journey; the active participant aligns with the performance to create a shared experience without competition, conformity or objectification. The overall tone of the work is welcoming, light, funny yet physically demanding, moving and thought provoking - the balance is exceptional.
Throughout A Goddessey there is a repeated movement gesture where a standing performer slowly circles their hips in one direction, whilst also raising their arm in the opposite circular motion, spiraling and winding around from the point of the index figure. A dizzying, loop-de-loop affect, perception and understanding are unraveled in this swirling motion. The action is a constant winding metronome to the performance, evoking once again notions of observation and understanding. How are we seeing, and what can we unravel? This movement is an embodiment of changing perception; the physical, personal, political experience is expressive and relevant. A Goddessey creates a world in which we can begin to rethink and reimage a future: feminist.
1. The Wild Life up in the CANOPY
2. City SIDEWALK Ballet
3. The Underground CAVE Movement
4. Feminist Forest Training Grounds
5. MOON & WATER
6. ROCKS AND MOUNTAINS (Are Alive!)
8. Inner/Outer SPACE
9. Rainbow Atlantis UTOPIA
A Goddessey will be at The Flea Theater, New York, from November 30th to December 10th 2017.