It was December 17th. The days were getting shorter, but we were inching up to the brink where light renews. I showed up for a “cozy evening” at LAVA Brooklyn, where the diverse company presented a work-in-progress of their new full-length show: A Goddessey.
It was cozy, yes, and refreshing. Before the performance even began, I could feel the many ways of being a woman like doors blowing open around me. At LAVA, I find myself as interested in the audience as I am in the performers. These are not the 53% that haunt me, not these women, men, babies and children, people masculine and feminine, black, brown and white, svelte and round, young and old.
LAVA founder and Artistic Director Sarah East Johnson’s A Goddessey is as epic as her audience – an acrobatic dance that evolves through a series of landscapes “emotional and geologic” bearing witness to “the journey of a Traveler.” Sarah prefers to break apart the implied frame and trade “landscapes” for “earthy spots.” Anything is possible with pushing, lifting and work. Sarah’s rules guide the company’s effort: Show up. Pay attention. Tell the truth. Be open to the outcome.
The piece gains immediacy in the wake of our recent presidential election, and what began as “an archetypical allegory” in Sarah’s words, has become “a vital contemporary story.” The company journeys, through a series of collaborative, improvisational, athletically fluid group movements, from “a bleak and blurry patriarchal present” into a “rainbow-colored feminist future” that Sarah is not shy to imagine. This work-in-progress performance lacks lighting design, costumes or video projections, but that, to me, only heightens the raw physicality of the company seizing heights, balance, grace and strength to support, connect and subvert. Sinewy, liquid movements look like sex or suffering, birthing or being born. Dancers throw their bodies, in many configurations, through and beyond a couple of stacked hoops like warrior goddesses in training, and I can’t resist the thought that here are hoops I could get behind jumping through. These warrior goddesses spot each other’s handstands and pyramids. Showing the process is always a key piece at LAVA, and some attempts at virtuosity fail. Just when you think it’s impossible, feet balance on naked heads, Sarah balances an ax on her chin for a full minute, and I know I can survive Trump.
A licking-swirly-fingers motif is either erotic, or it’s testing the air, or probably both. The physical euphoria feels to me like something beyond pleasure, something more like mission. But, perched “front row” on a folded floor mat, I am continually distracted by a red-party-gown-wearing tiny female audience member who silently mouths to her adult cohort the importance of doing a somersault. It seems a reasonable request – the adults on “stage” are doing such things. She is deterred, for the moment, but I feel certain that in the end, somersaults will be had.
Michelle Obama broke my heart reflecting on what it feels like to lack hope, so thank goodness LAVA is around to bring hope flooding back. Their finale includes a swirling bright pink feminist banner, and the audience rises to join the dance. This Traveler is too shy for that, but can’t resist ducking into Donut Plant on Flatbush on her way out. I’m licking donut off my fingers on the bus ride home. Feed the bliss! Back to the mission.
A Goddessey will première at The Flea Theater in the spring of 2017.
LAVA needs your support! Our world needs feminist acrobatic dance now more than ever. Please give what you can. Images provided by LAVA Brooklyn.