After having read A Critics’ Conversation: Modern Dance Madness and researched all the artists mentioned in the conversation, I have been incredibly inspired by the works of Trajal Harrell.
Trajal Harrell is an American choreographer who graduated from Yale and has been working globally ever since. What fascinates me most about this artist is the piece he is currently touring with, entitled “Twenty Looks or Paris is Burning at The Judson Church (M) also known as (M)imosa” (Here is a video excerpt of the piece).
This video mesmerized me. The piece looks unbelievably provocative and challenging. What a concept!
As we all recall from Modern Drama, The Judson Memorial Church became home to the Post-Modern experimental movement in the 1950’s. Artists like Yvonne Rainer, Rob Rauschenberg, Trisha Brown, Steve Paxton and many others set their first works in the sacred Judson Dance Theatre, where anything could happen.
Paris is Burning is a documentary film about the Harlem Ball Scene in the late 80’s. This is where voguing, the aggressive, effeminate dance form, was born. Jennie Livingston, the director of this amazing documentary who I had the wonderful opportunity to study with at Connecticut College, is famous for bringing the ball kids and their stories to the forefront of America Cinema.
So what happens when Vogueing and The Post-Modern Dances of the Judson Dance Theatre have a conversation? Trajal Harrell describes his current investigations:
“By bringing together aesthetic theories from the Judson legacy with the Voguing dance tradition (an underground African-American and custom of social performance and fashion show appropriation begun in Harlem during the same time as Judson Dance Theater), Harrell complexifies the historical narrative of the Judson period and its subsequent influence on American and European contemporary dance. Beginning in 2001, the choreographer used these two contrasting aesthetics and their parallel histories to stimulate a dialogue about the American as well as international youth culture obsession with “Cool,” investigating the evolution of “Cool” and the interchange between “Cool” as a social motivation and “Cool” as an aesthetic. The choreographer has gone on to explore the boundaries between community and audience, sincerity on the contemporary stage, and the relationship between voguing’s “realness” and early postmodernism’s “authenticity.”
Thus, the piece speaks for itself in dissecting a conversation between the two movements.
Something I highly admire about this work is that it comes in multiple sizes. Depending on the programming, the piece can be performed as a solo or a quartet in a small, medium, large or extra large size (extra large meaning an epic full-length presentation). I think this is an intelligent way of creating one’s work for performance. This means that the piece can be performed in several different venues and circumstances so that more audiences can experience the work. I imagine that it is critical for dramaturgical methodologies to be employed in order for the work to resonate in such contrasting time lengths. This is a choreographer that is diversifying American audiences are experiencing and I’m glad that I have discovered his work to share it.