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Flash Review 1, 9-14:
Kicking Butt with "Fist & Heel"
Wilson Opens DTW's Goodbye Season
By Faith Pilger
Copyright 2000 Faith Pilger
Reggie Wilson's Fist
and Heel Performance Group began its 3-week season at Dance Theater
Workshop's Bessie Schoenberg Theater last night. Entitled, "Wangena
-- the birthday concerts," this show celebrates Wilson's 33rd birthday
with its audience through a sensuous combination of sight, sound,
scent and even taste...a refreshingly inventive and friendly atmosphere
for modern dance. The title is similarly inviting, a Ndebele word
which translates as "(s)he is coming in."
Before the evening had
begun, we were reminded by David White, executive director and producer
at DTW, that this would be the last season at the BST as we know
it, pending renovations to DTW's Chelsea home and the eventual reopening
of a larger space on the bottom floor in 2002. This immediately
put a damper on the mood in the room, setting up a challenge for
Wilson as he took the stage for his "Introduction." I found myself
feeling skeptical as he attempted to warm us up -- shaking the hand
of an audience member in the front row, "No really, how are you?!,"
and requesting a communal deep breath. Fortunately, Wilson has a
very personable demeanor and, before I knew it, I was able to laugh
and really listen to his story. It was the story of himself, his
journey, and a much older, wiser story of history, roots and the
mystery of dance, music and life. I was reminded of a quote by Francis
Bacon that I recently found: "The job of the artist is always to
deepen the mystery."
Wilson's story IS interesting.
Even the name of his group holds mystery, a tribute to "fist and
heel worshipping" -- a derogatory way of referring to the worship
style of enslaved Africans that had converted to Christianity after
the drum had been taken away from them. Wilson's work has a historical
basis and pays homage to these roots. But even more interesting
than his message is his method. His introduction/solo set a mood
-- one grounded by infectious rhythm found in vocal clicks and moans,
aspirations; sounding paradoxically inhuman while striking deeply
personal chords. I was fascinated by the way in which he kept rhythm
while performing so clearly in-the-moment, relating to the audience
by responding to our reactions to himself. This trance-like state
was one which reemerged throughout the evening, but never again
quite as honestly as in this introduction.
"Jumping the Broom" was
a witty, theatrical duet performed by Rhetta Aleong and Paul Hamilton.
There was an interesting costume role-reversal in which Hamilton
was dressed in an apron-like dress while Aleong wore pants and flannel
shirt. I took this to mean that the dominant Aleong "wore the pants
in the family," as it were. This relationship was full of quirks
from beginning to end -- introduced with the atypically female "butt-dance"
in which Aleong persistently backed her backside into her victim,
I mean conquest. The second vignette, much lighter and less laced
with irony, could have been their wedding dance (married, so soon?).
The third and fourth sections were the most interesting to me, bringing
more attention to the broom (lying on the floor most of the dance)
and again to Aleong, who was incredibly expressive as the wife frustrated
by her seemingly useless husband. Among other picturesque moments
was the final vision of the woman sitting on her man, much like
an animal on Wild Kingdom, picking small things from his nose and
Although there were two
beautiful "movement" pieces on the program, "Rise Sallie Rise,"
in the first half and "PANG" closing the show, both seemed to be
slightly less effective than their live musical accompaniments.
While the dancers, including Nicole Falloon, Penelope Kalloo, Stephanie
Tooman and Richard Rivera, each had moments of poignancy and moved
freely within the vocabulary of post-African/modern dance, there
was a sense of intended spiritual abandon which never quite hit
the mark. Musically however, it was quite brilliant. I must make
a special note that this was possibly the best live musical accompaniment
to dance I have been lucky enough to experience. It should also
be noted that one of these vocalists was Reggie Wilson, and another
was the previously mentioned Rhetta Aleong (a very talented woman).
Equally talented and enigmatic were Elaine Flowers (in traditional
African dress) and Lawrence Harding. Their vocal presentations of
original and traditional blues and native music were fantastic.
group works as well as Wilson's second solo, "vanitystarts@home,"
touched on familiar topics with a fascinating intensity: the journey
of the individual, family, community and their experience of possession,
ritual and relativity. I must admit that Wilson's research grants
have been well spent. His influences: beginning with his family's
roots in the Mississippi Delta, to Trinidad and Tobago and most
recently Zimbabwe, Botswana and South Africa.... These influences
are well represented through his unique vision.
Lastly, I must return
to my initial comment about the sensual experience that this production
insists upon. I have mentioned the sounds and sights, but the intermission
is another experience altogether. Walking into a room smelling of
musky incense, the audience is encouraged to partake in Reggie's
Birthday Cake (yes, there will be one at every show for three weeks;
quite an undertaking). I was also immediately drawn to a little
table which sold concert posters as well as tiny black boots made
of soap stone, sold on a simple white string. Each boot is original
and keeps in the spirit of "fist and heel" just enough but not so
much as to seem kitschy. I bought one for myself as well as the
friend who accompanied me to this show. A great souvenir for an
evening that undeniably "kicked butt."
Reggie Wilson's Fist
and Heel Performance Group continues at DTW through September 30.
For more info, please visit DTW's web
Faith Pilger, a Juilliard
grad and 1994 recipient of the Princess Grace Award in the field
of modern dance, has been an active performer, choreographer, musician,
singer, writer and producer for years. On September 22 & 23 at Gowanus
Arts in Brooklyn, Pilger and Veronica Dittman present "The Industrial
Valley Celebrity Hour," a benefit for the Spoke the Hub scholarship
fund. This Flash Review is Pilger's critical debut.
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