Thursday, November 28, 2019

[INTENTION] + [VIRTUOSITY] - A Song to SLMDances 'Purple'

In a world of tricks, aesthetic inequities and flashy narratives exists artists whose quiet power takes time to understand. What does virtuosity in dance look like outside of physical feats? What would it mean to celebrate deliberate and intentional approaches to creating community and social change through the building of movement? Well for one, this artist isn’t waiting for that to happen, she is creating it and celebrating it, herself and on her terms.

The opening words can only begin to describe Sydnie L. Mosley, a maker that has honed her community-engaged, process-oriented, deeply visceral, and justice-oriented praxis over time. As an artist in her mid-thirties, Mosley speaks with the authority of what we would call in the African Diaspora, an elder - perhaps due to the fact that she has been making performance in this way already, for almost twenty years. This Baltimore-bred Black woman comes from a line of similarly purposed leaders. Her grandmother, an activist and civic mover in her community, rallied her peers through the power of her famous pound cake, her sister that currently fights for food justice in that same city and her mother, a singer-performer in her past life. That said, her work cites a deep sense of clarity about the importance of activism in all its forms - activism through joy, through sustenance, through equity and through affirming abundance. Sydnie L. Mosley Dances, the entity that houses all of her creative endeavours, itself has been a carefully constructed project, articulated alongside the development of its large scale artistic works. Before a step can be performed all its collaborators understand the legacy they walk in. That of those ancestors far: Ntozake Shange, Zora Neale Hurston; and those near: aunties and grandmas. Her vision for a world where Black communities and womxn live just and self-determined lives is palpable and well honored through the company’s values of Dreaming, Humanity, Activism, Community, Transparency and Learning. Each inquiry that Mosley has channeled through the company has further enacted the conditions to make possible this work.

Photo by Candace Thompson-Zachery
taken during rehearsal
at the company's Lincoln Center Residency
Currently, SLMDances (the company’s acronym) is two years into the development of ‘Purple’, a universe that houses many iterations with communities over northern Manhattan that may take as long as five years to fully realise. In that time they have been in residence at the Amsterdam Houses and Lincoln Square Neighborhood Center, nurturing relationships with seniors through story circles, line dances, field trips and paid oral history parties. The hope is that they opt into being in creative partnership for this project. My own visit to the Purple rehearsal lured me into the work’s lore: elders as royalty, breath as affirmation, intimacy as sacred and purple space as plastic and supportive. I arrived to find the dancers leading company class without Sydnie, focused on detailed qualitative expressions of simple floor work sequences. ‘Look at your hand and see something new about it.’ A seemingly mundane activity that is a window into the physical scapes Mosley devises, aestheticising ease, which in relationship to the demands of hyper-capitalist overproduction, is a political statement.

Dancers are face down on the floor and another gets down to ground level and says ‘I just want to give you love’. The other dancer responds ‘yes please do’ and proceeds to warmly lay over her. How do you portray a deference to pleasure and sisterhood onstage without it becoming a cheesy broadway musical? Seemingly through the many rituals the company participates in. As Sydnie finally arrives to rehearsal around two hours in, a circle automatically forms in the center of the room. ‘Let’s check in. How is everyone doing today in a few words?’ I join the circle too, happy to be a part of the group’s energy. Many of the ‘Creative Partners’, the way the company refers to its performers, highlighting the multiplicity of their roles, respond with life updates and personal challenges, all the while considering how to channel their best lives into the rehearsal process. What I witness over the next two hours I know personally, is the result of the ten years of work its leader has put in making work in New York City, and the seven years working under a company model.

Photo by Kearra Gopee at BodyBusiness 2015

Just this morning a memory popped up on my Facebook feed reminding me of the fall season of 2015. It was a busy one - I had been in ‘exile’ in Trinidad, waiting for my visa paperwork to be finalised and came back stateside to jump back into rehearsals with Sydnie L. Mosley Dances and my now husband, AndrĂ© M. Zachery. I threw myself into a frenzy training and rehearsing with both companies. It would be the first time I was aware that my performance mattered to an outside audience. Both performances had been pitched to major press and many people in the field were starting to take note of both choreographers. Not only had I been a part of the initial version of the work to be performed, her second major project BodyBusiness, but I had been acting as the Associate Artistic Director of SLMDances. I was leading rehearsals, directing at times and devising material, including a danced monologue about my personal relationship to ‘BodyBusiness’. The name of the work excavated what it meant to be an artist, from a material and financial perspective and conjured what a thriving arts field might look like.

Walking in to any event that SLMDances hosts, is walking into a well-curated civilisation.
Everyone’s role has been considered. Her ability to design structures and coax audiences, or as she calls them, ‘witness participants,’ to immerse themselves into the work, be active in their viewership, and to affect the space with their decisions, physical action or vocal participation, is nothing short of brilliant. I have seen audiences rise to their feet and start moving through the space at stuffy suit-and-tie conferences; full theaters of folks, engage in bartering and problem-solving; and auditoriums of college students improvise and weight-share. For ‘Purple’, her goal is to create a space of Permission.Joy.Healing. Mosley’s way of life offers us a new way of being, further proof that this world she envisions is possible. I have no doubt that when the conceptual curtain closes on ‘Purple’, we will be able to say ‘lo hicimos’ - ‘we did it’ - a phrase uttered several times by the dancers during my rehearsal visit.
Photo by Candace Thompson-Zachery
taken during rehearsal
at the company's Lincoln Center Residency
Yours in Arts and Feelings,

Candace Thompson-Zachery

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Disclaimer - These words are my own and are written as a pensive, analytical, artist and current grad student, who is prone to do (too) many things and currently works several day jobs that are partially unrelated to her mission but is lucky to be living the life she is.

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