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Reflecting on the Black girl experience

Published: 
Monday, September 28, 2015
TONY FRASER

To conceive of and fashion an artistic expression out of child’s play, that expressed in the Black Girl: Linguistic Play which turns out to be more than “play”, and to gain immediate acceptance of it from a very mixed audience, black, white, Asians and the very mixed, was a deeply emotional and satisfying experience for Camille A Brown and Dancers. It certainly was for the audience at the Joyce Theater in New York.

To heighten the experience, the multimedia dance/play was performed last week as the Latin American-born Pope of Italian origin was passing through, urging the international community to greater humanity, at the same time that the bigoted Donald Trump led in the Republican Primaries: how crossed-up we are in this paradoxical world of strife and beauty!

The play/performance reveals itself in three very differing scenes. First the Double Dutch.

“Double Dutch” is that hand-clapping, slapping, rhythmic dancing; yes it’s dancing of Black American girls (and it’s art) and it took on new meaning for those outside the circle of black girls and their expressions of life. It was for me, a semi, not rank outsider, an expression of celebration of rhythm, of life with the resources of humanity, of revelling in what the Creator has given, that which parts of humanity count for nothing. The performance reveals the stages of the Black girl experience.

Camille and Catherine Foster beat out an amazingly complex accompanying rhythm with their feet, face-making and language-speaking that evoked laughter, not skin-teeth grin, but with an understanding of the meaning being transmitted in a manner that only art can—it’s open to the interpretation of the individual.

The second act was passionate, frightening at times as Fana Fraser (Trinidadian dancer) and Beatrice Capote danced, slamming each other against the wall of graffiti art of the inner cities. Anger mixed with a sense of sadness of Black girls, friends, but somehow forced to compete for space, attention, time, recognition and more in a society that is non-understanding of them, one which forces them to invoke self-pity.

The act finishes in a warm coming-together of the compatriots. It is a wonderful contrasting accompaniment to the joy, splendour and potentially aggressive stamping of the Double Dutch, a game of expression which has crossed over several generations of the Black girl in the circumstances of their transportation to be part of a new world.

I wish I had a picture of the two Black girls pinned against the wall by their circumstances.

The third act is softer and contrasting with the two dancers Yusha-Marie Sorzano (another Trinidad-born dancer) and Mora-Amina Parker showing understanding love and support for each other.

In the discussion amongst the performers and audience members after the performance ended, one of the things that stood out was the ambivalence with which some received the decision by Camille to call the play/performance by its name: Black Girl. How would the market at the prestigious Joyce Theater receive it? Is the society ready for such a frontal “in your face” assertion of the Black girl? “Who was I before the world defined me?” The question asked by Camille in her choreographer’s note. “What are the unspoken languages within Black girl culture that are multi-dimensional that have been appropriated and compartmentalised by others,” asks Camille A Brown.

One other matter of great significance has to do with the supporting audience for the dance company, and the presumption would be other companies and other forms of artistic expression, is alive vigorous and ever present. Moreover, there is an appreciation of the importance of artistic expression for social and community life. Art is not about support of politician and party. Financial underwriting of the Black Girl show for Brown and her dancers was done by Kerry Clayton and Paige Royer, white Americans. And this was achieved even though there were concerns about filling the Joyce for a week of performances. They, individuals and groups understand the need to nurture the artists and the art of the society. There are lessons here for those who would want to appreciate the capacity of the artists to reflect on our existence.

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