burn, burned, produced by Rodley Diverlus and Syrus Marcus Ware, is now playing at SummerWorks. Part performance art and dance, the show features a band of revolutionaries regrouping after “decades of race wars” in a fictional future.
Diverlus notes that his choreography primarily strived to explore – but not definitively answer – areas of his own curiosity. As such, I tried not to find a clear story in the movement, but to pay attention to the feelings it evoked.
Brayden Cairns, Julia Cosentino, Dedra McDermott, and Chenise Mitchell perform all the dance in this performance, playing some of the revolutionaries.
Ravyn Wngz plays a role that exists in a different dimension than the others, slinking throughout the set at a unique pace and not interacting with anyone. At times I wondered if Wngz’s character is a deceased friend and if the characters are, in part, processing grief.
I cannot speak to the technical elements of Diverlus’s choreography. What I can say, however, is that between it and the intensity of the performance, I couldn’t take my eyes off the stage. I spent so much time focusing on the dance that I would occasionally “lose track” of Wyngz, which was an interesting dynamic for me. It occurs to me that there are many things to look at, so no two performances will be the same for an audience member.
I appreciate the set and costume design by Ware and Vanessa Fischer, respectively. The design of the show features “[t]extiles from a revolutions past…tell[ing] a story of war won, and of lives singed in the process”. Ware’s set design features tattered banners strung from overhead – I imagined the characters gathering in an old square that once commemorated their victories. Fischer’s costume design had pieces made of multiple items of clothing sewn together, many of them giving a sense of tatty regality.
The dancers performed the first part of the show in silence, which was an interesting experience since it was performed outside along a busy street. While not the first time I’ve seen dance without music, every other time has been indoors. It was fascinating to see movement in “silence”, accompanied by the unpredictable cityscape.
The heart of burn, burned was the choreography set to “Certain Blacks ‘Do What they Wanna’” by Art Ensemble of Chicago. The avant-garde jazz piece is extremely frenetic, and the choreography followed suit. At times the dancers seemed ecstatic or exhausted; in other moments they were cooperating or conflicting. The choreography somehow felt both spastic and plodding, all at once.
The lyrics for “Certain Blacks” are simple: “certain blacks do what they wanna, certain blacks go out there, certain blacks move on up, certain blacks they get freedom”. No two dancers seemed to ever embody the same feelings at once – most notably, at the top of this piece, one stared out at the audience while all others celebrated. I feel like this was intentional, emblematic of how we’re still far from a post-racial society, almost 50 years after the recording of “Certain Blacks”.
One moment that stood out happened right at the end. All the dancers gradually started walking up and down the stage with smiles plastered on their faces. I felt like this was emblematic of respectability politics.
I would be curious to see this show again if the creators continue developing it. I would be especially interested to know if they continue to perform outdoors. At times it was a little hard for me to suspend my disbelief that this was a post-revolution setting, but it was also a welcome challenge.
I would highly recommend this piece to fans of dance. It is worth mentioning this performance has a limited number of fold-up chairs and cushions on the ground. The company has instructed audience members they are welcome to bring their own lawn chairs, cushions, or blankets.
This review is a snapshot of the first performance of a work-in-progress. The production is one of several pieces at the festival presented as part of the SummerWorks Lab programming introduced in 2018. The participants in SW Lab are still in the development process and will continue to evolve throughout the festival.
Thursday August 8th7:30pm – 8:00pm
Tuesday August 13th6:00pm – 6:30pm
Tuesday August 13th8:00pm – 8:30pm
Wednesday August 14th8:00pm – 8:30pm