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Flash Review, 4-11: Men and Women
Wilson Surveys the Genders

By Sarah Carlson
Copyright 2002 Sarah Carlson

NEW YORK -- From the books of Jane Austen to "When Harry Met Sally" and the eternal struggle of Venus versus Mars, men and woman have been trying to understand each other for centuries. Whether inherent or inflicted, there are real differences between the two genders than can't be denied. In his latest program of works, seen last weekend at Danspace Project at St. Mark's Church, Reggie Wilson did not try to tackle this relationship, but rather presented a single, culturally specific perspective on each. With dignity, power and craftsmanship, Mr. Wilson delivered the female and then the male experience in his ancestral African American journey.

"Rise, Sally, Rise" is a trio for three women set to acapella spirituals sung live by Wilson, Rhetta Aleong, Elaine Flowers, and Lawrence Harding. With heads hanging low and backs curved, the dancers begin wearily, both physically and spiritually. A gentle, steady stomping draws us into their world and creates a constant rhythm that is comforting yet haunting. Nicole Falloon, Penelope Kalloo and Stephanie Tooman remain internal yet alert as they move together, grounded and deliberate. At one point, they alternately bend at the waist and circle their legs over and round like a compass needle or rudder. At another, they join in a unison stomp-run ritual that is released and strong. Wilson weaves an earthy web of African, post-modern and personal steps into a spread of kinetic power. Costumed in brightly patterned, ragtag layers by Darrell Cortez, the one-sleeved skirted outfits evoke both hardship and African zest. Searing strength in suffering and passionate communal spirituality is conveyed as fuel for perseverance amidst sexual and racial oppression.

As a transition between perspectives, Wilson's solo, "Introduction," explains the genesis of his vision through a masterful mix of narrative and example. Casual and confident, Wilson checks in with the audience, conducts a quick demographic poll, and starts what feels like an informal lecture demonstration. Wilson explains that his art is inspired from a personal journey through his own African-American history. Soon, however, the talk takes a twist as Wilson adds a constant rhythmic stomping and then aspirated, guttural breathing. His ability to intersect his steady self-created rhythm with natural speech, switching effortlessly between the two, is indeed impressive. The breathing is later explained and linked to Baptist spiritual travel. The rhythm grows and eventually overwhelms the piece entirely, as the audience is transported into the depths of Africa for the culmination of Wilson's ancestral journey.

"Big Brick," a men's piece, is Wilson's tribute to the Black male experience and is understandably more personally influenced than "Rise, Sally, Rise." Four men begin slowly rolling across the floor, quiet and delicate. They rise and face away for a few phrases before turning their intense gazes front. Again accompanied by live vocals as credited above, the structure and feel of the two pieces are similar, but "Brick" is more visceral and raw. Guttural vocal undertones accompany the men as they move through the space, tumbling into intimate rolling twosomes. As the energy swells, they are swept into stamina-taxing waves of passionate, grounded choreography. Sweat pouring and breathing heavily, Paul Hamilton, John Hunte, Edward Lawrence and Baraka de Soleil give fierce, full-bodied performances that communicate strength and struggle. Outfits by Epperson include a renegade orange string that hangs in pieces from the fabric. The string clings ferociously like shreds of individuality that have been stripped, or dignity tattered but determined to hold on.

Reggie Wilson's is a smart, subtle craft. His well-researched work uses energy and structures rather than contrived drama to communicate. By dissecting the separate male/female experiences, Wilson has unveiled powerful similarities. Differences exist, but a common thread of struggle, spiritual strength and triumphant perseverance is prevalent and suggests that perhaps we may be more alike than we think.

(Sarah Carlson is a dancer, choreographer, bookkeeper and freelance dance critic. Her reviews have also been published in Lesbian and Gay New York /LGNY and online at Offoffoff.com.)

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