I was a bit disappointed in Reggie Wilson/Fist & Heel at the MCA.
His last performance there in 2003 Black Burlesque Revisited dealt more directly with ritual which is what interests me. Last time, it was a three-way collaboration between his company and one from Trinidad and one from Senegal. In the discussion after that performance, Reggie talked about the challenges of working in these other cultures. How every rehearsal began with long introductions, asking how are you and how is your family. How even when they were all staying in the same hotel and had been together the night before, the next morning at rehearsal, they still had to go through this elaborate check-in process. It drove him crazy. He said this is going into the dance. So there was, at one point in the dance, an inner and outer circle, and people moved from one person to the next. There was a way in which it was monotonous but it wasn't boring. It was meditative. It kept my interest because just as soon as I thought I knew the pattern, it shifted slightly. Brilliant and beautiful.
This performance was in a disco type setting. It began with a floor duet among a man and woman with the rest of the company rolling toward or away from them diagonally across the floor. I found it quite moving. Then they shifted into a circle dance and Reggie appeared asking the dancers and the audience to identify the various social dance steps the dancers were doing. I found his appearance very abrupt and unnecessary, and his subsequent presence throughout disconcerting and annoying. It brought out the hierarchy that he was the director and the rest were the company.
There was a great sequence in which a man and woman began doing the electric slide. It was really beautiful. How simple and in sync they were. Then the rest of the company gradually came in spread out across the stage. Then slowly came together in a clump. Mesmerizing.
The other highlight that needs mentioning is Michel Kouakou from the Ivory Coast. He is very short, especially for a male dancer and so could probably not be in any other company, but he was the best dancer in the troupe. His movement articulation is phenomenal. They did one sequence when all the dancers had their backs to the audience and wiggled their butts. He was incredible. I have never seen such ass articulation in my life. Amazing.
In the post-show discussion, it came out that the company is made up of dancers and singing performers who move. So, the man that began the electric slide sequence said that he was not a dancer. Well, if he isn't a dancer, then I might as well go hide in a closet, because I certainly am not.
The integration of the onstage singers with the dancers was seamless and quite beautiful. Reggie said that the company is made up of both and when people would say that liked one or the other, it was as if they were favoring one of his children over the other. So, he worked at integrating them together, which worked really well, because I wasn't really aware of it. Now, he has to work at integrating himself in, if he wants to dance.
I do think he is a choreographer to watch. He is doing interesting things, and he's from Milwaukee just like I am!
Looked at the reviews after writing this. I agree with both Sid Smith of the Tribune and Hedy Weiss of the Sun-Times, even though they come to opposite conclusions. Sid: Go; Hedy: Don't bother.
Laura Molzahn's preview in the Reader said, "There's a sense of engagement but not of performance -- it's as if these were people in a distant world unaware of being watched . . ."