Reggie Wilson explores the power of moving together
Even choreographer Reggie Wilson sees how many people would think his new piece, “Power”, is just another version of “… they were shaking while others started screaming”, which premiered in 2019. .
“How many people have created pieces inspired by Mother Rebecca’s Black Shaker community?” He said, melting into a characteristic burst of laughter. But while the two works “have similar movements,” he added, “they’re really not the same piece at all.”
When Wilson learned about Mother Rebecca Cox Jackson, a Shaker Elresse who formed her own community in Philadelphia in the 19th century, he was immediately intrigued by how the Black and Shaker traditions intertwined – or not. The cult of the shakers incorporated dance. Both of Wilson’s works are based on an imaginative speculation: What might the cult of Mother Rebecca have looked like?
And look matters, at least in “Power,” which is set to have its New York premiere at the Harvey Theater at BAM Strong, Thursday through Saturday, if Covid allows it. (A community performance in conjunction with the Academy’s tribute to Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. is scheduled for Monday.)
For “Power,” Wilson hired two costume designers as collaborators: Naoko Nagata, with whom he has a long history; and Enver Chakartash, who designed the vividly patterned costumes for his “Citizen” (2016). He wanted both of their voices. “At the start of this project, I was just like, well, here’s a crazy thought, Mr. Wilson: Why didn’t you of them costume designers? ” he said. “Who can do that?” “
He added: “I think this is the first time that I have thought of costume design as a major collaboration.”
Chakartash and Nagata have been involved from the start, working separately with Wilson and the dancers at Hancock Shaker Village, a museum and farm in the Berkshires. (“Power” was also developed at Jacob’s Pillow, the neighboring dance institution, where it received its world premiere.)
“Half the time was with Enver there and the other half was with Naoko,” Wilson said. “I asked them not to talk about what they had been through until the two returned. I wondered why make them start doing the same thing right away? “
“Power” opens with Wilson singing and moving, almost tenderly, pieces of fabric, which become the motifs of the opening trio – flowy, sheer skirts that then transform into dresses and dungarees as costume changes occur. perform on stage or behind the scenes. Throughout, stylish dance wear is also on display. For Wilson, the costumes create a world – or, more precisely, three landscapes – that bring his vision of the Shakers to life.
“It had to do with the fact that we didn’t want it to take place at one place or at a time,” Wilson said. “He continues to change and he goes from more dancing and athletic to a more historical character to more design.”
As designers studied Shaker materials – shoes, fabric, lace, and tailoring – at Hancock, Wilson and the dancers learned Shaker dances reconstructed from a video of the Enfield Shaker Singers, directed by Mary Ann Haagen. “It’s just like, let me start to see what that real movement looks like on the body,” Wilson said. “Because looking at him is one thing; trying to do it is another thing.
For “Power,” the idea is to capture different iterations of a question Wilson is pondering: what if the Shakers of Mother Rebecca community learned a dance from one of the New England communities and then brought it back to theirs ? How would that change and transform? And it all takes place through Wilson’s prism of postmodern dance.
Recently Wilson spoke about this new piece and how his company, Fist and Heel Performance Group, has responded to collective dancing – it’s emotional – and the power it helps create, both internally. and externally. Here are edited excerpts from a recent conversation.
Why are you so interested in the community of Mother Rebecca Cox Jackson?
Most Shaker communities are rural. [Jackson’s] was urban and mostly female. And mostly blacks with a few Jewish women and a few men. So it’s like, what did it do see Like?
Much of the research I have done focuses on Black worship traditions and Cree traditions. I was like, okay, so here is a traveling female preacher with the possibilities of this popular spirituality, right? So maybe did they do that? Basically “Power” is several versions of “it could have looked like this or it could look like this”.
You talked about the power of dances and how the power manifests as energy. Can you explain how this relates to the piece?
When I started out and landed on the title “Power” it seemed like such a different model of power – not patriarchal power, but some kind of feminine or matriarchal power from within. This also ties in with my interpretation of many Africanist practices, where, during initiations, you are on your own individual research. As you receive your gift from God, you receive what your role in the community is meant to be. And the way you enter the mind and the trance will be slightly different from the person next to you.
Is it individual?
It is this individual power in relation to the collective. Not just the community, but the communal.
What is the difference?
How do you relate to others? By being fully yourself. And it’s not about downplaying or crushing yourself, but adapting or personalizing it so that you can exist next to another.
There is so much dancing in this room, and I think it’s going to be so good to see it in person. I know that’s not the only point, but …
Is it like this room is an energy?
It is Powerful. The play is about power, and it’s the type of power that is both internal and external.
When I did a lot of research with the spiritual Baptists in Trinidad and Tobago, they said “higher heights and deeper depths”. So you always work in two directions at the same time. The Shakers also had a saying: “Hands to work, hearts to God.” For me, it’s so postmodern too!
How? ‘Or’ What?
It’s just like [the postmodern choreographers] David Gordon or Trisha Brown. Each stage has its own power, its own trajectory. He has his… that’s the word! It has its own Powerful. And how do you give the agency and care at each step?
It’s like the mundane. What they did to Judson [Dance Theater, the 1960s experimental collective] put the mundane back on the table.
And is it putting simplicity back on the table?
It is to keep simplicity, it is to put everyday life, it is to put work, it is to put work. The work of a step, the work of knowing whether it is an arabesque step, a Caribbean step or an Irish folk step. It is all powerful, and it is all precious.
Everything is equal?
Yes. Everything is equally valid and just as powerful. Can I put the ballet next to the Fosse? Where is the Pit? You will now search for the Pit. [Laughs]
Is there really a Pit moment?
I’m sure there is. There is always a Cunningham, a Balanchine, a Fosse. There is probably a step or two from Sabar from Senegal. There are probably a few steps from Zimbabwe.
So we learned the patterns and steps of these reconstructed Shaker dances. It is the basic material. Now if we want to Africanize it and the “Reggie-fy” what do we do? It’s just taking that original thing and then playing with it.
What does simplicity mean to you regarding the part?
Thinking of how complex you can get with just one type of repetition. When we started learning the reconstructed Shaker Dances, we started to see the patterns that presented themselves and how it felt and impacted the religious and non-religious members of Fist and Heel. It was interesting. Seeing it actually manifesting itself on the bodies weaving back and forth and how those patterns played out and also seeing the emotional impact it had on some of the dancers.
There was a dancer who was crying. I was like, Oh my God, we’re never gonna go through this. [Laughs] And it’s someone in the company who is a complete atheist – not an agnostic, but an atheist. And I was just like, “Well, you apparently have a conversation with Mother Ann. Mother Anne [Lee] was the founder of the Shakers.
Has he affected you emotionally?
[Pauses] As much as any of my pieces, so yes. Just kidding that we have all become Shakers, but no one is trying to walk the nine yards and go up to Sabbathday Lake in Maine.