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(M)imosa: In the Ballroom, You Can Be Anything You Want

“What would have happened in 1963, if someone from the voguing dance tradition had come downtown from Harlem to Greenwich Village to perform alongside the early postmoderns?” This is the question at the center of (M)imosa/ Twenty Looks or Paris is Burning at the Judson Church, in which choreographers/authors/collaborators Trajal Harrell, Cécilia Bengolea, François Chaignaud, […]

Photo by Paula Court

“What would have happened in 1963, if someone from the voguing dance tradition had come downtown from Harlem to Greenwich Village to perform alongside the early postmoderns?”

This is the question at the center of (M)imosa/ Twenty Looks or Paris is Burning at the Judson Church, in which choreographers/authors/collaborators Trajal Harrell, Cécilia Bengolea, François Chaignaud, and Marlene Monteiro Freitas explore their own identities and what it means to be “real.” This work is part of Harrell’s larger series of seven (presented in sizes XS-XL, Jr., and made-to-measure) investigating the ways in which the vogue scene of Harlem and the postmodernism that developed in the Judson Church intertwine and is being performed during the third weekend of the Walker’s Out There 25, January 24th-26th.

In December, the Walker hosted one of Judson Dance Theater’s founders, Deborah Hay, for what would have been the collective’s 50th anniversary. The theories and practices developed by Hay and her contemporaries have had a lasting and profound impact on the trajectory of contemporary dance ever since the movement began. In (M)imosa and the Twenty Looks series, Harrell, Bengolea, Chaignaud, and Freitas explore the hypothetical space where voguing and postmodern intersect.

What interests me is historical impossibilities and how, through performance, we can rethink history. And we can, in a way, participate in a sort of historical invention, in a certain type of way. So, what’s interesting is these two histories haven’t shared the same value in terms of how they’ve been brought to contemporary dance and the contemporary art world. It’s only now that people have begun to see voguing in a certain type of way, and yet, it had some fundamental, important, theoretical things to bring to the table, that’s what I think is important., but, of course, so did early post-modern dance. And, of course, those things have been absorbed, and continue to be absorbed, into contemporary dance. (Harrell, in interview with Justin Jones 12:20)

The central issue that Twenty Looks, the vogue balls, and the Judson Church similarly explore is the concept of reality/realness and draws inspiration from the 1990 documentary Paris is Burning, by Jennie Livingston. In the Judson school of thought, “realness” meant to strip dance and performance of all theatricality – costumes, lighting, staging, even technical training.  But in voguing, “realness” meant to immerse oneself into their desired reality so fully that the performer’s original self was unidentifiable. Choreographer/author François Chaignaud explains:

This realness, what is interesting, is that it includes all the artificial means that you may need to use.  It’s this realness, Trajal was always opposing it to the authenticity of the Judson Church that was trying to get rid of all the theatrical tricks. While realness, to be real, you may use a lot of makeup, a lot of fake bra, a lot of costumes, a lot of accessories that’s going to make you be real.  So this is this interesting situation where being real is not getting rid of all the cultural elements and all the artifices, but being real is using everything you may use, from hormones to costumes to heels to fake dick to pass as what you want to pass as. (Interview with Jones 27:45)

Listen to Justin Jones’s full interview with Harrell, Bengolea, Chaignaud, and Freitas.

(M)imosa/ Twenty Looks or Paris is Burning at the Judson Church runs January 24th-26th.