Tuesday, August 16, 2011

For Colored Artists Who Are Considered Simplistic When the Rainbow Is Not Simple Enuf

Sunday I went to a multi-act performance at The Last Bookstore in Downtown Los Angeles. It good, bad, baffling, inspired, funny, and I enjoyed myself immensely. I also caught myself exhibiting that bemused smile I used to see on the faces of adults when I was young and furiously naive in my politics. I am on the other side of all that now and it is an interesting perspective.

The first act was a troupe of three interpretive dancers/performance artists/high conceptual dramatis personnae intent on saying something profound about race and I'm trying to finish this sentence without becoming a condescending ass but I can't avoid it. The start of their piece was actually really cool. They took turns playing sad, simple music with voice, drum, and plastic accordion while they ritualistically dressed each other in junk and rags. It felt as if they were enacting something sacred through the guise of the homeless population that lives in Downtown; maybe finding something dignified and ancient that exists in gesture and song regardless of outward appearance. Very cool. But then they tore off the clothes and launched into some bafflingly outdated routine about racial stereotypes. They went out into the audience and asked everyone, "Can I touch your hair?" They chanted, "Race fondue! Race fondue!" while decrying the ills of racially insensitive dialogue and moaning "I'se tired, Lawdy! I'se tired". They - well, if you were born during or immediately after the Sixties, you get the point. And you understand my bemused smile.

The next act was conceptual dance - a woman, a melancholic violin solo, and some melancholic dance signifying perhaps the trapped emotions inside us and the great mute divide of emotional understanding between us. I reach out to you. I turn away. I reach out to you. You turn away. Etc. I liked it. Though at this point I couldn't get "Race fondue! Race fondue!" out of my head.

Then there was a woman literally dancing her way out of a plastic bag while an NPR report about an oil spill played overhead. I didn't see all of this piece so I can't comment. I did see her sit in my brother's lap at one point and I noted the weary, annoyed expression on his face.

Next up was an incredibly talented flamenco dancer named Mercedes Ibarra who blew everyone away. She was backed up by a guitar player and singer (and introduced by some sort of Poet-fellow reading some sort of Poetry) and ripped up the stage with power, grace, and controlled fury.

After Mercedes was a singer/actor doing a musical monologue about her journey of empowerment as a black woman performer who will not be limited by society's claustrophobic vision of who she should be, how she should regard her sexuality, or how she should feel about her posterior. I know, but it was pretty good. She was funny and had a great voice. But to be the grumpy, old fart for a second: she's going to be much more interesting ten years from now.