Friday, May 27, 2016

'A Rap on Race'

Watched Seattle Repertory Theatre and Spectrum Dance Theater's new work 'A Rap on Race'. Read the book a long time ago, and happy to see it staged and interpreted in dance movements. This 80-minute new work by director and choreographer Donald Byrd, and actress and playwright Anna Deavere Smith, centers on the 1970 recorded three conversations (totaling seven hours) on race between writer James Baldwin (black, living in exile in France, then 46 years old) and anthropologist Margaret Mead (white, liberal, then 68 years old). Margaret and James have never met prior to this project.

The stage set-up was simple. Split into a loft-like set, the floor was taken by the dancers, the upper level was occupied by the speakers/actors. Donald Byrd plays James Baldwin, and Julie Briskman plays Margaret Mead. All the dancers clad in black leotards and tights. Speech alternated with dance. I wasn't familiar with the music that the movements were set to. Had to google furiously- jazz composer Charles Mingus and his 1963 'The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady'.

What does it mean to disagree to disagree? Why do we have to agree to disagree? Everyone has to pay a price.

I enjoyed the performance immensely. The dance and the lines. Lots of push and pull. Cooperation and coordination, and conflict. Trust issues stood out prominently. The US discussion on race is something I understand academically, but not culturally because I didn't grow up stateside or live here long enough. While the 1970 conversation isn't that ground-breaking—people do talk about the same topics openly too—it's interesting and painful to see how relevant it still is.

I recognize that this discourse on race must still be taken today. (In Singapore too, where many matters or debates about race are veiled with a 'racial harmony' justification.) World affairs and current situation have changed, but some fundamental issues remain. Especially with #BlackLivesMatter and the entire affair of trigger-happy cops, and questionable deaths of African-Americans. Also, listen and check out those lyrics to Kendrick Lamar's 'To Pimp A Butterfly'.

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