For every self-inflicted wound on this country’s golden hide, there’s a reaction. The deeper the wound (Michael Brown, Sandra Bland, et al.), the more profound the reaction. Dominican-born, Berlin and Los Angeles-based performer and choreographer Ligia Lewis works in these reactions, “thinking through rage and disappointment, but insisting on a poetics of love and continuity.” Her enigmatic Minor Matter performance, “ a work being prepared for the theater,” which premiered last January at Human Resources in Los Angeles and was shown recently at Public Functionary in Minneapolis, follows an amorphous, acutely political narrative, touching upon the meaninglessness of commemorative hashtags, the echoes of a hoarse lament, and the fact that we live in a country where its citizens must be reminded that black lives matter.
“I took the idea of a ‘marked’ body as a point of departure,” Lewis says. “This is a reference to theoretician Peggy Phelan’s Unmarked: The Politics of Performance. What does it mean to place a black body on stage, and how to work with that ‘mark’ without reaffirming stereotypes and projections from a ‘white’ perspective.”
At the risk of sounding reductive, Minor Matter is an incredibly moving performance. Viewers feel displaced, a transposition of environment, the space itself lost in Jonathan Gonzalez’s rhythmic and sensual movements, Sarah White’s distorted harangue, awash in embryonic red light, the soundtrack a wall of discordant (but somehow impeccably layered) melodies and metronomic beats, powerful, inexhaustible, powered by something stronger than mortal energy.
“I am collaborating with a composer/music theoretician named Michal Libera based in Warsaw, Poland,” says Lewis. “Together we try to find ‘minor’ modes in classical music to use, reimagine, and/or transform to suit our liking. The sound score morphs between baroque to classical music mixed with contemporary pop tracks.”
What feels like a decidedly marionette dynamic—Lewis sentinel at her DJ booth, the music commanding the performer’s movements, popping, locking, the liquid and violent pantomime, his provocative marching and exaggerated victory poses—is a different sort of relationship: Gonzalez’s performance is a reaction to the music, an interpretation. It begins to feel as if the music itself were dictated by the performance. All the while, Gonzalez repeatedly demands eye contact from his audience, closing that symbolic gap, redefining the theater experience, as if to say, “You, me, we’re in this together.”
“The work is elusive, yet poetic,” she continues. “I think a lot about how my work can continue to complicate notions of racial identity while also, in this case, build new images of celebration for ‘marked’/black bodies.”
Minor Matter premiers later this year at Hebbel am Ufer Theater in Berlin. It will be performed by three dancers.