The Black and White and in Between of jhon r. stronks and Jasmine Hearn
Photo by Abby Gleason
The Setup: A week after Psophonia Dance Company
debuted the first fully produced dance concert performed at City Dance Studio, the space housed jhon r. stronks' and Jasmine Hearn's collaboration B.L.K. Gurls ~n~ W.H.T. Boiz Singin' 'bout Gawd! The June 1 program was a meditation on contemporary conversations of race, gender, class and personal identity.
The Execution: The City Dance space proved to be the perfect setting for this intimate performance of personal assessment. The first dance was 2b continued, a series of duets performed to the live guitar playing and vocals of William vonReichbauer. stronks' and hearn' improvisation is filled with tender pulses of movement and strokes of natural gestures. While one dances, the other observes in meditative wonderment. Their intuitive interplay is a joy to watch because of the familiarity and warmth that is shared; I would wager that even if an audience member with no experience of the artists' work walked into the room, they would be able to sense a rich history of collaboration between the two bodies.
The next piece on the program, Mama am I clean now?, was a solo choreographed by Hearn and performed by Stronks. The piece addresses the traditions of Hearn's childhood in which girls are adorned in white, namely debutante balls and Catholic rituals. Stronks and his white male body explore a black female experience, and the result is striking in its power and emotional potency. Moving in a white skirt, he stomps as if in heels, turning and folding in on himself, staring over a heap of white garments in defiance.
There is a moment when he whips a white skirt into the air repeatedly in disgust of what the piece of fabric represents and the expectations that go along with it. But beneath the madness is a hint of shame, perhaps, of not being able to personify the purity of the white that is dressing his body. The dance ends in an almost mournful gravity as he walks into a corner, his back to the audience, and stays there. Mama am I clean now? was followed by If god left the lights on could we walk alone at night?, a solo choreographed and performed by Hearn. Clad in flesh hued heels, she enters the performing space on all fours, in a graceful, feline downward dog. Throughout the dance, she hits exaggerated pinup poses in between extended reaches to the sky, her mouth open in frozen gasps. Her body seems to be trapped in a precipice of subjectivity, at times manifesting society's lust for the female sexual form and at others embodying woman in her natural state free of the male gaze.
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There is a stunning sequence in the dance when, unencumbered by any concealment of her breasts, she dances with her shadow, both an extension of herself and an independent entity. With her back to the audience, Hearn takes on an androgynous form, but her shadow is clearly that of a feminine body. They dance together, and male/female binary dissolves. It's a beautiful frustration of gender roles and our own collusion with the cages they create.
In stronks' Miss. Understood: An American Idling, he dons a yellow skirt and brown vest. He asks the question, do you see me breaking? Through song and then movement, he invites the audience into an introspective search for his own identity with Hearn (as guide? aid? guardian angel?) by his side. Again, the intimacy between the two performers is seen in brilliant shades of understanding and acceptance, and it is through the valence of their own perspectives that the audience can answer stronks' initial question. Yes, we can see you both.
The Verdict: There is a moment just before the final blackout when jhon and Jasmine, emptied of the catharsis they have sang and danced and recited, look at each other and nod, a trace of an understanding smile on both of their faces. Then the room goes dark. It was in the darkness, as the applause began to ring in my ears, that I realized I had not just witnessed a dance performance. Rather, I had been privy into a release of frustrations, a clash conflicting understandings of the culture that we simultaneously construct and attempt to tear down, and an honest critique of societal norms and codes of behavior. B.L.K. Gurls ~n~ W.H.T. Boiz was an exorcism that approached a holy experience.
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