Wine, Spring Water, Tea

Journeys: on the Town, on His Own, Through Family History

In Cynthia Oliver's AfroSocialiteLifeDiva (at Dance Theater Workshop January 23 and 24 and February 1 and 2), genealogy is sliced up and reconfigured in entrancing, sometimes confusing ways. That the grandmother, mother, and full-of-herself, bad-ass daughter of an African American family are played—sometimes jointly—by three black women, one white one, and a Hawaiian helps both distance the subject and intensify it. As they dance juicy, outflung phrases, they also sing and talk—sometimes like a Greek chorus, sometimes bandying "she" and "I" about until the mother lives in the daughter, and the concept of observer and observed quakes like jelly.

The women—handsomely dressed by Adrienne Wood, performing under Erin Tapley's vivid paintings of female generations to excellent understated music composed and played live by Jason Finkelman, Geoff Gersh, and Charles Cohen—are marvelous. I love to watch Renee Redding-Jones and Blossom Leilani, reeling in and out of poses like friendly sisters, merging like mother and child-to-come. Love to note the different ways the women attack movement and words: Leilani lean and precise, Cynthia Bueschel poised and sturdy in her steps, Maria Earle joyously lusty, Oliver with flyaway gestures and complications, and Redding-Jones with matter-of-fact power. When they double-image a character, that character becomes all the richer.

Daddy Longlegs: Peter Boal in Wendy Perron's The Man and His Echo at The Joyce
photo: Hiroyuki Ito
Daddy Longlegs: Peter Boal in Wendy Perron's The Man and His Echo at The Joyce

Oliver's text is both witty and sentimental. Perhaps because of her pursuit of obliqueness, some lines evoke hallowed generalities about birth, death, and not-too-bad family life. At other times, as during a tirade by Redding-Jones—now the tough, new-generation woman ("I'd rather be a lamppost in New York than mayor of Norfolk, Virginia!")—specificity emerges, shaking its fists and swinging its hips.

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