Philosopher Maxine Greene’s lifelong passion for the arts, education, and social activism was celebrated at her foundation’s 2003 awards ceremony, honoring Dance Theater of Harlem’s Arthur Mitchell (for efforts to develop a K-12 school combining arts training with a top-flight academic program), parolee Kathy Boudin (for her educational work in support of incarcerated women and their children), and others. Poet Sonia Sanchez invoked progressive luminaries, crossing national boundaries and spanning centuries. Anna Deavere Smith shared samples from her awesome repertoire of real-life characters—notably, a chillingly flippant Madeleine Albright and Greene herself. Blondell Cummings and Arthur Aviles literally overlapped their respective movement styles, histories, and cultural comfort music—Ella Fitzgerald’s “A Tisket, a Tasket” and a jaunty cha-cha by Celia Cruz. Differences became occasions for sharing and trying out each other’s stuff, and at times each cradled the other like his or her beloved child. So clearly made flesh in this sweet collaboration was the deep empathy Greene’s work encourages as a source of repair, renewal, resistance against injustice.
While the audience settled into Chashama’s small space, CompanyAmyCox engaged in “ritualistic preparation” for the performance proper—a reconstruction of Cox’s Vailala Madness. The little map we were handed poetically labeled the terrain where each of six women displayed her particular altered state. Dressed in hodgepodgey costumes, contorting, shaking, sometimes growling, dancing bodies freed from conscious control sought and found their own beauty and logic, symmetry and safety. When this engrossing prelude gave way to Vailala, handsomely lit by Severn Clay, the imagery seemed more controlled, even timid. Only relatively brief vertiginous moments—the women massing, their bodies swerving in spirals, lunging, or lining up like a corps of scary Rockettes—carried the power to raise the hair on our flesh.