Digital Playbill: Séancers
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About the Show
Séancers: noun. plural
an ensemble of mediums who convene to receive spirit communications; to make contact with the non-living.
What does it mean to defend the dead? To tend to the Black dead and dying: to tend to the Black person, to Black people, always living in the push toward our death? – Christina Sharpe, In the Wake: On Blackness and Being
Setting the fugitive experience afforded Black people on fire with majesty, opulence, and agency, Séancers is an auto-ethnographic performance work that collapses lyrical poetry, psychic movement forms and strategies of discursive performance to investigate concepts of loss, resurrection, and paranormal activity. Interrogating issues related to American history, coloniality, and structural oppression, Séancers journeys into the surreal and fantastical states of a Black imagination as it traverses the ‘fatal’ axis of abstraction, illegibility, identity, and gender complexity. The work locates itself inside the spiritual, emotional, and theoretical world via the live performances of sound artist Jeremy Toussaint-Baptiste and experimental artist Jaamil Olawale Kosoko, with special guest theorists (Séancers) who help frame the witnessing and framing of each performance.
I explore personal and public histories, interpellation, and notions of identity as a two way conversion of perception and perspective renderings of the body. Within this work, I seek to examine how my body shifts through charged social, emotional, and political fields. I ask audiences to think about what preconceived notions or biases they bring into the theatrical space. Intervening at times during this audience interaction is a chorus of ‘séancers’ comprised of artists, scholars, and dancers who act as intellectual mediums between this world and the theoretical one. Through a series of actions, embodied readings, and vocal recitations, we open pathways into an alternate dimension, the world of theory and theology, the world of the ancestors.
In this work, time is nonlinear. I share sacred texts and emblems of the past, present and future, citing and embodying the works of famous feminist Black philosophers, theologians such as Ruby Sales, Howardena Pindell, and Audre Lorde. Jumping along a 20th century timeline, the work remixes historical relics with afro-futurist/afro-pessimist ideologies. Here, I am simply attempting to describe myself into a canon that has tried to omit those like me. I am performing myself into being, in an attempt to communicate my interiority, my unknowing, and personal expression of moving through the wake to reveal my survival and my revelry.
This ritual play, bell hooks calls “a two-sided mix of complicity in racial oppression for the sake of survival and performance” (bell hooks, Performance Practice as a Site of Oppression). That is, complicity to racialized oppression must always be reproduced, yet at the moment they are taken up, performed and inhabited, there arises opportunity for new authorship. These encounters can become strategic counter narratives used by people of color and cease to be only conceptualized in terms of submission, conformity and assimilation. My role as author of this work is to embody this conundrum inside the performance rendering a series of states of being that conflate concepts of submission and power.
About Jaamil Olawale Kosoko
Jaamil Olawale Kosoko, originally from Detroit, MI, is a Nigerian-American curator, author, and performance artist. He is a 2017 Princeton Arts Fellow, a 2017 Jerome Artists in Residence at Abrons Arts Center, a 2017 APAP Leadership Fellow, and a 2017 Cave Canem Poetry Fellow. He is a 2016 Gibney Dance boo-koo resident artist and a recipient of a 2017 and 2016 USArtists International Award from the Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation. His work has been presented throughout Europe and the United States. He has created original roles in the performance works of visual artist Nick Cave, Pig Iron Theatre Company, Keely Garfield Dance, Miguel Gutierrez and The Powerful People, Headlong Dance Theater, among others. Kosoko’s poems, interviews, and essays can be found published in The American Poetry Review, Poems Against War, The Dunes Review, Silo, Detroit Research v2, Dance Journal (PHL), the Broad Street Review (PHL), Movement Research Performance Journal, and Critical Correspondence (NYC). He lectures, speaks, and performs internationally. His previous work #negrophobia has toured throughout Europe having appeared in major festivals including Moving in November (Finland), TakeMeSomewhere (UK), SICK! (UK), Tanz im August (Berlin), Oslo Internasjonale Teaterfestival (Norway), Zurich MOVES! (Switzerland), Beursschouwburg (Belgium) and Spielart Festival (Munich). Visit Jaamil.com or philadiction.org for more information. Please consider supporting the work of Jaamil Olawale Kosoko by contributing to his drip campaign: d.rip/jaamil-kosoko
Creation, Concept, Performance, and Installation Design Jaamil Olawale Kosoko Dramaturg Emily Reilly Séancers Jeremy Toussaint-Baptiste, Jaamil Olawale Kosoko with Guests Brenda Dixon Gottschild, Ph.D, Sosena Solomon, and Christina Knight, Ph.D Sound Design, Engineering, Technical Support, and Performance Jeremy Toussaint-Baptiste Performance Doulas Imma Asher, M. Lamar, Jennifer Kidwell Poetry & Text ‘Power’ by Audre Lorde, ‘Heelz On’ and ‘Entertainer’ by Jaamil Olawale Kosoko, Ruby Sales’s monologue from ‘Where Does It Hurt’, On Being with Krista Tippett Costume Design Jaamil Olawale Kosoko Wardrobe SaVonne Whitfield, M.A. Make Up Joy Taney Associate Costume Design and Fabrication Simone Duff Lighting Design Serena Wong Lighting Supervisors Megan Lang, Amanda Jensen and Kate McGee US Managing Producer Sarah Bishop-Stone Projects Manager Tara Sheena International/European Projects Manager Leonie Wichmann Research Assistant and Assistant Stage Manager Alyssa Gersony
Original Live Composition and Accompaniment by Jeremy Toussaint-Baptiste
Audio Samplings: Free, White, and 21, Jezebel Compilation Video by Andrew Heisel
Halloween Soundtrack, Score by John Carpenter
Jeremy Toussaint-Baptiste is a Bessie-nominated composer, designer and performer, living and working in Brooklyn, NY. A current Issue Project Room Artist-In-Residence, his work, through the lens of precarious labor, complicates notions of industry, identity, and environment and the implications of the intersections of such phenomena. He is a founding member of performance collective, Wildcat!, and frequently collaborates with performers and fine artists, including Jaamil Olawale Kosoko, André M. Zachery, and Yanira Castro/a canary torsi. He has presented at the Brooklyn Museum, Newark Museum, Under The Radar at The Public Theater, The Studio Museum In Harlem, National Sawdust, The Jam Handy (Detroit), Tanz Im August at Hau3 (Berlin), American Realness at Abrons, Knockdown Center, Gibney Dance, FringeArts (Philadelphia), Judson Church, Stoa Cultural Center (Helsinki), MIT, Arts East New York, JACK, Painted Bride Art Center (Philadelphia), University Settlement, Harlem Stage, as well as on Dazed Digital, Complex, and Boiler Room.
Serena Wong is a Brooklyn-based freelance lighting designer for theater, opera, and dance. Her designs have been seen at the Joyce, New York Live Arts, Danspace, REDCAT, and Jacob’s Pillow. She is the lighting supervisor for Dorrance Dance and and enjoys beekeeping and breadbaking.
Emily Reilly is British/Irish performance maker working across a number of different disciplines. She has created live art events in the U.S. and internationally at a variety of venues and found spaces including (selected): The Project Arts Centre, Dublin; The Samuel Beckett Theatre, Dublin; The Tron Theatre, Glasgow; The Invisible Dog Art Center; The Baryshnikov Arts Center, and The Clemente Soto Vélez Cultural Center in NYC. In 2011 her production of Minute After Midday was awarded a prestigious Fringe First Award at The Edinburgh Festival. She is part of the team that organizes and curates CATCH performance series. She is also an alumna of the Urban Bush Women’s Summer Leadership Institute. M.F.A, The Yale School of Drama.
Sosena Solomon is an award winning social documentary film and multimedia visual artist from Ethiopia. Intuitively selecting subjects and stories, she is particularly interested in spaces of transition and change, acting as a cultural preservationist. Her work, whether presented as a film or an immersive 3-dimensional experience, explores cross sections of various subcultures and communities in flux, carefully teasing out cultural nuances and capturing personal narratives via arresting visual storytelling and cinéma vérité stylings. Sosena has worked for many years in the commercial and nonprofit sectors and has worked as a Director and Cinematographer on many short film projects including “Sole”, a documentary on sneaker culture that premiered on PBS affiliate MINDTV, and “MERKATO”, filmed on location in one of Africa’s largest open-air markets and exhibited internationally as an audio, visual, and sensory installation. Sosena earned a Master of Fine Arts degree in Social Documentary Film from The School of Visual Arts in New York, and a Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree in Television Production from Temple University. She is a recipient of The Leeway Foundation Art and Change grant (2013) and the Transformation Award (2014). Sosena is a freelancer currently lecturing in the Fine Arts Department at University of Pennsylvania’s School of Design and in the Film and Video Department at the University of the Arts. She has previously lectured at Temple University’s School of Media and Communication (SMC).
Brenda Dixon Gottschild, Ph.D. is the author of Digging the Africanist Presence in American Performance: Dance and Other Contexts; Waltzing in the Dark: African American Vaudeville and Race Politics in the Swing Era (winner of the 2001 Congress on Research in Dance Award for Outstanding Scholarly Dance Publication); The Black Dancing Body–A Geography from Coon to Cool (winner, 2004 de la Torre Bueno prize for scholarly excellence in dance publication); and Joan Myers Brown and The Audacious Hope of the Black Ballerina-A Biohistory of American Performance. Additional honors include: the Congress on Research in Dance Award for Outstanding Leadership in Dance Research (2008); the International Association for Blacks in Dance Outstanding Scholar Award (2013); the Pennsylvania Legislative Black Caucus Civil Rights Award (2016); and a Pew Fellowship in the Arts (2017). A freelance writer, consultant, performer, lecturer and former consultant and writer for Dance Magazine, she is Professor Emerita of dance studies at Temple University. Learn more at www.bdixongottschild.com.
Christina Knight earned her Ph.D. in African American Studies with a primary field in History of Art and Architecture from Harvard University. She is currently an Assistant Professor of Visual Studies at Haverford College. Before joining the Haverford faculty, she was a Consortium for Faculty Diversity Postdoctoral Fellow at Bowdoin College as well as a Ford Foundation Diversity Fellow. Knight’s work examines the connection between embodied practices and identity, the relationship between race and the visual field, and the queer imaginary. Her current book project focuses on representations of the Middle Passage in contemporary American visual art and performance. She is also co-founder of knightworks dance theater (for more information, see: https://www.knightworksdancetheater.org/home.html).
Where is the Theology
By Brenda Dixon Gottschild, Ph.D.
Crossing. Crossings. Crosses. Crossroads—the cosmic X—is a potent signifier in Black theologies. So much happens where roads of all kinds, physical and metaphysical, intersect. Legend has it that musical genius Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil at a crossroads in Mississippi. In global Yoruba practice this meeting place is potent enough to have a designated guardian. Eshu, in Nigeria; Exú, in Brazil (Candomblé); Echú, in Cuba (Santería); Legba, in Haiti (Vodun)—all are names for the deity of the crossroads. The cross is not linear. It intersects netherworld and earthground, shares horizontality and verticality, past, present and future. It exudes magic: the X can be a hex. Go to the crossroads to barter and parley with the paranormal and/or converse clairvoyantly.
An X spans the floor of the performance space for Séancers. Poised at this crossroad, near the beginning of the work Jaamil Olawale Kosoko slowly completes a full circle around a pond of white tulle and decay. It’s a powerful, fleeting moment, but one that I remember. Like Kosoko’s previous works, including Black Male Revisited (hereafter referred to as BMR) and #negrophobia, his concern in this movement-music-visual theater discourse is our endangered Black identity which must be nurtured and nourished with a mojo strong enough to fend off the constant threat of “imperialist white supremacist capitalist patriarchy.”¹
Séancers—a collective, cultural memoir; an Afrofuturist magical mystery tour in which Lorde’s and Sales’s work are front and center. The first words spoken are from Lorde’s poem, “Power”: “I have not been able to touch the destruction within me.” With the help of these two womanist ancestors, sisters, mothers, lovers—priestesses, if you will—Kosoko tilts the balance away from the destruction embodied in his birth mother, who appeared in his two previous pieces, toward a vision that offers life after whiteness—life beyond the “free, white, and 21” recording that pierces the action (a brilliant sound design by composer Jeremy Toussaint-Baptiste).
Kosoko’s performance spaces are rife with the props he uses to represent his worldview, a perspective revealed to us through his repurposing of odd throwaway items. Blowup figures, wigs, fabric, antiquated children’s toys take on haunting connotations as he deploys them in exploring “. . . the fatal axis where Blackness and queerness collide. Fatal because the coupling of these two identities often times equates to premature Black death.”² A toy horse head becomes a stereotype of Black male hypersexuality. It appeared prominently in BMR and #negrophobia and is one of the lesser props making an appearance, but not alluded to, in Séancers. It’s as though this and other threads of Kosoko’s past are always with him; but the forces that drove #negrophobia and BMR—the “stoned. . .suicidal mama,”³ the murder of his brother, the words of James Baldwin—are transmogrified through the spirit power of Lorde’s poem of outrage and Sale’s homily of love. Channeled through the “unapologetically Black”4 performances of Kosoko and Toussaint-Baptiste, Lorde’s and Sales’s combined energies equate, respectively, as the Yoruba deities Oya (goddess of the wind, powerful sorceress) and Yemoja (the divine mother).
Séancers is “unapologetically Black”—to borrow critic Wesley Morris’s marvelous phrase.5 We are ushered into a Black space that is séanced, parametered, and nuanced by Lorde’s and Sales’s words and Kosoko’s body. Being unapologetically Black and alternative, is part of the Black millennial culture of empowerment—from Black Lives Matter to BlackGirlMagic to innumerable social media hashtags and Facebook pages (like “binders full of women and non-binary people of color in academia”; “binder full of people of color in the art world”; “Black women who meditate,” and more). Black. Being Black during the Obama years, when the deep-rooted disease of white supremacy spread its viral poison in response to a Black president. Black. Being Black in the “unapologetic” era of a new white supremacist regime in the White House, giving Kosoko’s work—and Lorde’s and Sales’s words—a renewed urgency, entitlement, and agency. Black. Being Black “. . . in a country that for so long has refused to see our full selves, we can see one another. Why should anybody have to apologize for that?”6 We won’t. Not any more!
Lorde’s poem talks about poetry, rhetoric, power, brutality, repression, and the interplay or disconnect between these contending forces. Sales offers a counter-narrative, ending on a question about white endeavor. She comes from the Black Southern activism that she describes as “. . . both a counter-culture and counter-narrative, all deeply rooted in the work that began in the fields during slavery.”7 Choosing these two texts encompasses a broad swath of Black intellectual, theoretical, political, theological, aesthetic endeavor. Kosoko allows Sales’s words of homilectic wisdom to penetrate his being. The spirit of her message envelops him—her spirit enters and embraces him and speaks through him, He mouths her words as his body reverberates their power. He incarnates her. Yemoja has entered and is speaking through him, questioning the place and space for a theology, Black or white. The Ruby Sales monologue ultimately puts the burden of racism where it rightfully belongs—in the lap of white folks. It is a teaching moment, a watchful learning. This work is a convergence of Africanist pasts presents futures—an intersecting circularity that spins at the crossroads and invites spirit-speak, as in cosmic questions like “where is the theology?” Axé.
1 This phrase attributed to bell hooks. See George Yancy, https://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/12/10/bell-hooks-buddhism-the-beats-and-loving-blackness/
2 Calvin Warren, “Onticide” quote by Jaamil Kosoko, email to Brenda Dixon Gottschild, July 26, 2017
3 From “mama: a litany,” in Jaamil Kosoko, Notes on an Urban Kill-Floor, Poems for Detroit, POVISMO/PRESS, 2011, pp. 22-23. Kosoko recites this poem in #negrophobia.
4 See notes, below.
5 Wesley Morris, New York Times “T” online magazine, 25 July 2017 https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/25/magazine/is-being-unapologetic-the-new-patriotic-or-a-form-of-resistance.html?_r=1
7 https://youtu.be/7fElaIn0Ij4 “Spiritual Activism, A Conversation with Ruby Sales,” Harvard Divinity School, 10 April 2017, published 27 April 2017.
Séancers is made possible through generous residency support from Abrons Art Center, Bennington College, Casa Na Ilha Art Residence in Brazil, FringeArts, pOnderosa Movement and Discovery, and Haverford College with additional funding support from MAP Fund, Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation, the Princeton Arts Fellowship, the Jerome Foundation, and independent donors and friends of Jaamil Olawale Kosoko. Séancers was created with commission support from Abrons Arts Center and Danspace Project.
Special Thanks to Marica De Michele, Mersiha Mesihovic, Kate Watson-Wallace, Susan Sgorbati, Sarah Bishop Stone, American Dance Abroad, Ben Pryor and American Realness, Headlong, The Amazing Creative Team including IMMA for your fierce vulnerability over the past few years and continued support of the work both physically and spiritually, Jeremy Toussaint-Baptiste for your endless dedication, Ben Ginsberg, Devin N. Morris, Simone Duff, Emily Reilly, Alyssa Gersony, Andrew Amorim, Amanda Jensen, Jenn Kidwell, Kimya Imani Jackson, Kate McGee, Serena Wong, Megan Lang, and Eli Reid. Thank you Danspace Project, Will Rawls and Ishmael Houston Jones for curating an early seed of this work as part of the Platform ‘Lost and Found’ in 2016. Performance Theorists Brenda Dixon Gottschild, Thomas DeFrantz, Christina Knight, Maboula Soumahoro, M. Lamar, Autumn Knight, Ebony Noelle Golden, Okwui Okpokwasili, and Che Gossett. Additional thanks to Craig Peterson, Ali Rosas-Salas, Abrons Arts Center, Ben Pryor, Dries Douibi, Anne-Cecile Sibue, Zach Blackwood, and the FringeArts Staff.
Coming Up at FringeArts
Hand to Hand Circus Festival
Circadium School of Contemporary Circus & Barcode Circus Company
May 29-June 3
FringeArts and Circadium School of Contemporary Circus present a new, multi-day festival of contemporary circus art. Featuring performances on the FringeArts stage and outside in the Haas Biergarten, Hand to Hand brings remarkable levels of artistry and ability together into one thrilling weekend of events, perfect for the whole family. Performances include aerials, acrobatics, juggling, and everything in between.
The internationally renowned, Montreal-based Barcode Circus Company will headline a daring line up of some of the region’s most boundary-pushing contemporary circus artists and up-and-coming innovators. The festival also includes free admission performances and an afternoon of family-friendly, outdoor workshops from the Philadelphia School of Circus Arts.
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