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Flash Review, 10-23: Wind your body
Cynthia Oliver's Rigidigidim rupture

Cynthia Oliver's "Rigidigidim De Bamba: Ruptured Calypso." Cornelio Casaclang photo courtesy Danspace Project.

By Maura Nguyen Donohue
Copyright 2009 Maura Nguyen Donohue

NEW YORK -- The best thing about teaching a Dance 101 course at Queens College last June was the opportunity to mine the school's incredibly diverse student body for first person accounts of moments when dancing has mattered most in their lives. Along with demonstrations (and an occasional treatise or confession) about how dance got one student through border duty with the Israeli army, how Croatian "kolo" dances kept a girl connected to her distant mother, the virtues of Bollywood versus Kathak, ancestral histories of belly dancing, Haitain Kompa, dance therapy, and so on, there was also an involved breakdown of the Jamaican "dutty wine" (dirty wind), a dance (and song) as practiced in one older student's Kew Gardens basement parties. This whiplash inducing variation on the Caribbean dance the Wind (think verb not noun) -- also known as de Wine or Whine when pronounced with proper island inflections -- makes a brief appearance in Cynthia Oliver's often riotous "Rigidigidim De Bamba: Ruptured Calypso," seen October 16 at Danspace Project at. St. Mark's Church.

The dutty wine involves rotating hips, butterfly legs, and rapid neck rolls. In the US, girls have added splits and with the violent neck rolls have been known to wind up in hospitals with major ligament damage. Oliver's "Rigidim" breaks down various methods for executing a proper Wind over the course of 23 sections in the one-hour work. Six women, Rosamond S. King, Nehassaiu deGannes, Caryn Hodge, Ithalia Forel, A'Keitha Carey, and Lisa Green spend a lot of time winding and a lot of time talking, most often at the audience though occasionally and delightfully to one another. Forel, jokingly called "Liverpool," brings a bright jubilance to each section she participates in, while the Athenian Carey finds her perfect foil in the tight and tough Green. When the bodies are in movement, this dance sings. The interaction between the shiny, gold, teal and pink lamé clad women is playful and appealing, like a gathering of aunties or live incarnations from a Julia Alvarez book. The teasing comments fly amidst mock tutorials about the Perfect Wind and I feel the community on stage and the communities signified within Oliver's great task of providing a performance work that speaks to various histories of colonialism, immigration, dislocation, assimilation, resistance, dissolving family ties, national alliances and many more social concerns.

"Rigidim" uses Calypso, and then Reggae music as springboard but it is the deconstruction, repetition and variation of De Wind that provides our most clear entry into a common or shared Caribbean identity as physicalized through dance. The undulating midriffs, the sinewy spine, the rotating pelvis on the musculature of bent legs speak of female power and persuasion. Performers repeat a description of De Wind as "hypersexual or a summoning of the Spirit." I find myself wondering whether this kind of movement must always live in such a dichotomy. If I were winding alone in a studio or with a group of heterosexual women somewhere apart from a male gaze, could I be doing something outside the spectrum of seduction or spirituality? Must it only ricochet between profound and profane or can the juicy, female center-of-gravity focused manner of movement simply be a corporeal pleasure ? a body moving joyfully in a way that feels natural and necessary? When I can't get Dance 101 students at Hunter or fully mature ladies of the Upper West Side to rotate their pelvises without extreme giggling or discomfort; when the heated debate over the appropriateness of the YouTube sensation "7-year-old blonde dancehall queen" focuses around the perceived lewdness of material that the girl obviously wasn't projecting; and even when a group of women for whom this way of moving is entirely natural, who I'd expect are free from many missionary-inspired beliefs about the hierarchy of the body and the body to the soul, reinforce that this is either a sexual or spiritual expression, I find myself stuck.

Perhaps the message in the movement is implicit and can only be understood in practice and not through viewership wherein female automatically equals sexual object. Or perhaps the explicit spoken message remains simplistic and dualistic because Oliver is trying to cover so many other topics, representing so much ground. The various autobiographical stories from each of these women she has gathered from the Bahamas, the Virgin Islands, Jamaica, Trinidad, Liverpool, and Toronto carry the griot tradition across an ocean and then over a sea to us to make the telling more important than the showing. But as a dancer, it is the doing that I find most telling.

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