The Fist and Heel performance group comes to campus this Friday and Saturday to perform “The Good Dance – dakar/brooklyn.” The piece is a collaborative endeavor between Brooklyn-based Reggie Wilson’s performance group Fist and Heel and Senegalese Andréya Ouamba’s Compaigne 1er Temps. It explores the relationship between the cultural backgrounds of Wilson, whose family comes from the Mississippi Delta, and Ouamba, who is originally from Congo-Brazzaville.
The Argus discussed the upcoming performance with Allison Hurd ’11, who interned with Reggie Wilson/ Fist and Heel this past summer.
Argus: What did you do during your internship with the company?
Allison Hurd: My internship began last June, in New Haven, at the International Festival of Arts and Ideas, where the company was holding a two-week long residency and preparing to present “The Good Dance” as a work-in-progress at the end of the Festival…. My role as an intern was really about being completely immersed in this experience with the artists, so, in many ways, I feel like I was just a witness to the production of an incredible piece. I really tried to cater as best as I could to the needs of the artists, running errands for them, communicating whatever requests they might have to the festival staff, and just generally making sure that everything was in order. I also became somewhat of a prop manager, and was put in charge of the 250 water bottles that are used in the piece; although, I think they are now using 350. I took minute notes of the entire process, so that the company could begin documenting the project and I actually ended up becoming the Sound Board Operator for the three performances of the piece that concluded the Festival. Some of the really unique aspects of my internship involved being able to dance with the company members as they ran through improvisational structures or had time to teach me some of the choreograph…. After the Festival, I went to Brooklyn to work with Reggie in the company’s office, going through and helping organize the Fist and Heel archives.
A: What is special about this particular dance group?
AH: After working with the artists involved in “The Good Dance,” I can honestly say that their dedication, thoughtfulness, and artistry are all unparalleled. The especially extraordinary thing about it was that they were also extremely humble and welcoming. I can’t tell you how comfortable I felt entering into this family of artists because they were so willing to let me be a part of the work. The artists’ geographic origins range from Africa to the United States to the Caribbean, and they all carry with them really rich and diverse histories. It’s incredible to see how they are able to share their multitude of differences on stage, but still have the power to form a really cohesive ensemble.
A: How was the experience? What did you learn from it?
AH: I actually can’t believe that I was lucky enough to have this experience. It was really overwhelming and is something that I am still trying to completely process. I don’t think I fully realize yet how much it has informed the way in which I think about art or even the complexities of our lives. More than anything, it reminded me of how sacred our existences are and constantly reaffirmed my belief in the importance of dialogue. What I learned as an intern, which actually relates to what I think the piece represents, is that our existences are embodied, and within the capacity of the body to be both powerful and fragile lies all that we are and all that we are capable of.
A: What is the purpose/message of “The Good Dance” specifically? What do the performers hope to achieve?
AH: Although “The Good Dance” is largely about the coming together of the two cultures of the Mississippi and Congo Rivers and all of their existing metaphoric and historic parallels, there isn’t one specific message that the audience is intended to walk away with. I feel like Reggie, Andréya, and the performers are most concerned with allowing the audience to feel comfortable in whatever experience they have as they watch the piece. There are so many salient elements of the work to find resonance with: the music is fantastic, ranging from the gospel of Aretha Franklin to the chants of Gabon; the movement pulls from modern dance traditions, African dance traditions, the idioms of social dance forms, and ritual practices; and the stories that unfold on stage are incredibly multiplex. So, if you can just breathe it in and enjoy, that would be an absolutely perfect experience of the piece.
A: What is significant about the water/river theme?
AH: The theme of water in the piece is most obviously represented by the hundreds of water bottles that are used. They are constantly being arranged throughout the dance and manipulated in various ways. At one point, two long lines of bottles are arranged parallel to one another at either end of the stage, establishing the imagery of the Mississippi and Congo Rivers. The bottles are also pushed and kicked around the stage by the dancers, representing the powerful presence of water in our lives and how hard many people have to work for access to it. I also think the fact that water bottles have recently adopted this connotation of being really wasteful plays a large part in the company’s decision to use them and to initiate a dialogue about that. There really is no prescribed way in which to view the depiction of water in “The Good Dance,” but I have found that the bottles represent how powerfully symbolic water is to life and its necessity in our human interaction.
A: What is your favorite aspect or part of the performance? What makes it especially awesome?
AH: In all honesty, I love everything about “The Good Dance.” I have seen it many times, and each time it becomes richer and more wonderfully complex. The movement, the music, the lights, and the costumes are amazing and everything just whisks you away. The performers are honest, they are present, and they allow you to be a part of who they are. It is awesome in that it reveals the sensual and spiritual capabilities of the body. Wesleyan is so fortunate to have this piece presented here and to have [the chance to] witness what amazing things can come from the fitting together of different cultures.