Reggie Wilson and Andréya Ouamba Team Up at BAM, Tamar Rogoff Offers a Diagnosis of a Faun

Near the beginning of The Good Dance—Dakar/Brooklyn, Reggie Wilson of the Fist & Heel Performance Group gives us a little background on this collaboration between him and Andréya Ouamba, the founder-director of the Dakar-based Compagnie 1er Temps. The two men met back in 2002 when Wilson was in Senegal on a Guggenheim Fellowship, and gradually The Good Danceemerged. Walking carefully, balancing a plastic water bottle on his head, Wilson makes many trails toward us, as he edges toward the opposite side of the stage. The water, he tells us, alludes in part to two rivers—the Mississippi and the Congo—that were part of the choreographers’ heritages (a battalion of bottles sits stage left—unrecyclable human debris holding humanity’s most precious resource).

Wilson also notes that he’s a formalist, dedicated to structure and enthralled with repetition, while Ouamba and his dancers feel most comfortable improvising. No kidding! If I hadn’t known that from the outset, I’d have figured it out soon enough. As The Good Dance begins to the sound of drums in Franklin Boukaka’s “Boukaka Louzolo,” Anna D. Schön, a tiny ball of fire who dances big, lays out a theme—hunkering down, thrusting out a hip, wheeling one arm as if she were cranking up a giant engine, kicking out with a flexed foot, jumping with her legs splaying apart. Off to one side, Rhetta Aleong (also of Fist & Heel), does more or less the same steps, but softly, and watching Schön closely, like a teacher with a gifted prodigy (Aleong, amply built, good-humoredly indicates the jump with a flip of her hand).

"The Good Dance—Dakar/Brooklyn" by Reggie Wilson and Andréya Ouamba
Jack Vartoogian
"The Good Dance—Dakar/Brooklyn" by Reggie Wilson and Andréya Ouamba
Gregg Mozgala in Tamar Rogoff’s "Diagnosis of a Faun"
Julie Lemberger
Gregg Mozgala in Tamar Rogoff’s "Diagnosis of a Faun"

Details

The Good DanceóDakar/Brooklyn
BAM Howard Gilman Opera House
December 16 through 19

Tamar Rogoff Performance Projects
La MaMa E.T.C.óThe Ellen Stewart Theatre
December 3 through 20

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Lined up shoulder to shoulder at the back, Ouamba, Fatou Cisse, Marcel Gbeffa, Michel Kouakou, and Paul Hamilton watch too, or stare impassively ahead. Now the music is a traditional Atege-Gabon song by villagers in Odjoumba. After Schön has wound down, tall Gbeffa and Hamilton take over the phrase, walking in a semi-circle, eyeing us, before each repetition. Then the remaining three take it on. Several times during the evening, dancers will show us variegated repeats and canonic sequences—all the patterned tasks that Wilson likes a lot. The rest of the time, structured improvisation rules.

Take the bottles. When Wilson talks, Cisse of Compagnie 1er Temps scuttles across the stage, her arms so loaded with bottles that she has to bend double. Once on the opposite side, she arranges them in rows and runs back for more. The bottles occasion power plays; when Cisse thinks she’ll put Wilson’s bottle on her head, he knocks it off. Many times. So she kicks and topples all the bottles she’s collected, scattering them all over the stage. Now it’s playtime, and gangly Cisse is wonderful to watch as she canters and scampers about, before rebuilding the bottle lineup.

Later vignettes fit neatly—almost seamlessly—into the collaborative whole, yet have an unscripted look. While Aretha Franklin’s recorded voice unspools a long, throbbing skein of gospel, Wilson manipulates small, tough Kouakou into desired moves and positions, while Aleong does something similar with Cisse. Hamilton and Schön play a not-so-funny game that involves shoving each other around.

Near the end, Jonathan Belcher’s fine lighting changes from a bright, clear white to show us a black stage with two lamps at the rear shining toward the audience. Caught in the glow that they cast on the floor, sometimes just outside its boundaries, Ouamba dances. He seems in a private limbo; even the 18 enigmatic objects (maybe video monitors?) that Belcher has hung at the back cease showing a grainy texture or a pink glow. Ouamba is bare-chested now, wearing a long drape of fabric, rather than one of Naoko Nagata’s subtle re-imaginings of humble contemporary garb in a West African town. His dancing is a thing of beauty. To a heavy beat, he propels himself close to the floor like a hunting cat, plops suddenly down, crouches to press his head against the floor. The sweet voice of Sister Rosetta Tharpe sings out “Precious Memories,” the stage brightens, and Ouamba, seated facing us, several times stretches one long arm to one side, his hand elegantly casual, and follows the gesture with his eyes. That arm seems to go on forever, making a statement that cleaves the air and travels to distant spaces. Wilson enters and joins Ouamba’s pattern, but he doesn’t own it.

The two choreographers and their dancers have done something unusual. In fitting together their common interests, their similarities, and their differences, they’ve created a coherent piece that wears its structural integrity lightly. The pace is relaxed, the atmosphere low-keyed; the games and disputes dissipate without rancor. The Good Dance’s title is a play on the Bible’s occasional sobriquet, “the good Book.” Wilson and Ouamba have made a more than good dance and offer a far kindlier cross-cultural message to bring this decade to a close.


Tamar Rogoff doesn’t direct a dance company. She calls her enterprise Tamar Rogoff Performance Projects, and every “project” of hers that I’ve seen has been a revelation of some kind. She thinks deeply about movement and what it tells us about the human condition. She’s been working on Diagnosis of a Faun for almost a year, and it’s an astonishing achievement on a number of levels. The piece developed gradually, after she saw Gregg Mozgala play Romeo in a production of Shakespeare’s play by Theater Breaking Through Barriers. She and Mozgala, who has spastic cerebral palsy, began to work together on what might have been a short solo; instead, he inspired her to cast him as a faun—an alert woodland voluptuary like the hero of Vaslav Nijinsky’s 1912 L’Après-midi d’un Faune—and make him the central figure in a moving, often witty surreal drama.

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