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States of Hope

States of Hope is a clever way to describe the conflicting internal voices that Hope Boykin brings to life in her new dance memoir that premiered at the Joyce in New York. It’s also a useful way to convey the masterful confluence of three roles the former company member of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater inhabits since retiring from the stage: writer, director, choreographer. That she dives into all three with heart and panache will not surprise any fan familiar with Boykin’s career.

Performance

Hope Boykin: “States of Hope”

Place

The Joyce Theater, New York, NY, October 18, 2023

Words

Karen Hildebrand

Hope Boykin Dance in “States of Hope.” Photograph by Steven Pisano

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Seven dancers appear on a stage minimally set with six cubes, each the size of a large night stand, and begin to introduce their characters: the Determined, Daughter of Job, the Cynical, the Angry, the Worried, the Convinced, and the Conformist. Boykin herself as narrator is seated in darkness at the foot of the stage. The cast ranges from young dancers Boykin has mentored as an educator, to career-long associates like Broadway performer, Bahiyah Hibah Sayyed, who plays Daugher of Job, and Terri Ayanna Wright, who is riveting as the Worried. Not only do the performers dance, they deliver lines—a lot of them—with the finesse of seasoned actors.

To find breath to speak while dancing is one impressive thing. The dialogue of this show comes fast and furious and the performers are constantly in motion. Each uses movement to sculpt an identifiable personality with their posture and carriage, be it a swagger in the shoulders or a questioning way of holding their head. Worried, for instance, always appears with her shoulders hunched, looking downward, taking minced steps on tip toe. Anger (Martina Viadana) is a mass of contracted muscle, with the energy of a charging warthog whenever she enters the space. 

Hope Boykin Dance in “States of Hope.” Photograph by Steven Pisano

Initially the “states” voice self-doubt and insecurity. The struggles of a dancer’s life come through: Can I do it? What if I fail? Did I give up too much for this? We don’t have to be dancers to identify. The talk becomes a cacophony of recrimination and second-guessing. The narrator steps in with several interludes of poetic monologue. These pauses allow the performers to stretch out in sections of pure dance. An obsessive ritual of counting recurs, recognizable as the way dancers mark and memorize movement phrases. The energy is tightly wound. Boykin has thoroughly mined her experience and doesn’t take any shortcuts as, with courage and vulnerability, she patiently exposes it all.

Each of the dancers eventually take a solo and certain characters are paired in duets. Fana Minea Tesfagiorgis as the Cynical and Davon Rashawn Farmer as the Convinced are naturally in conflict and they move with angular juts and arms akimbo. Jessica Amber Pinkett as the Determined represents the author with a shaved head in honor of Boykin’s famously shining pate. She’s often at the center of the “states” as the one to whom their arguments are directed, the one they aim to convince. Lauren Rothert as the Conformist is comically engaging as a compulsive people pleaser. She can’t help but grin and make a thumbs up gesture with one hand that she then pushes away with the other. Later, Conformist supports Determined to prevent her from falling, then at the last moment, slides out from under and lets Pinkett drop to the floor. 

Hope Boykin Dance in “States of Hope.” Photograph by Steven Pisano

Boykin’s considerable skills of composition are on display throughout. Even the cubes dance as the performers arrange and rearrange them into position for sitting, standing, lining up, or sprawling. The costuming too is dynamic, changing color as the work heats and cools. The performers wear a variety of coordinating capris, trousers, and shorts. Cynical wears a dress. In the opening scene, the outfits are black. As dancers exit the stage and return, they gradually change to orange, then to gray. In the final scene, everyone is in a darker navy, contrasting with Determined, dressed in white. 

When we return from intermission, the ensemble performs a long pure dance segment that is a relief to all the dialogue and I didn’t want it to end. The narrator delivers a particularly engaging poem here: “Do I sound angry? I am.” When the “states” resume their conversation the energy has shifted to “We need to do something” and they begin to move toward resolution. I have to admit I am ready for the end before they are—as is Determined, who pleads, “You all have to give me more room.” Finally the six rally around her as she moves in solo, the stage blanketed in pink light. The curtain slowly lowers as the narrator delivers the ending monologue. A spotlight lights up Boykins face on the very last word, “loving.”

Hope Boykin in “States of Hope.” Photograph by Steven Pisano

Karen Hildebrand


Karen Hildebrand is former editorial director for Dance Magazine and served as editor in chief for Dance Teacher for a decade. An advocate for dance education, she was honored with the Dance Teacher Award in 2020. She follows in the tradition of dance writers who are also poets (Edwin Denby, Jack Anderson), with poetry published in many literary journals and in her book, Crossing Pleasure Avenue (Indolent Books). She holds an MFA from the Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College. Originally from Colorado, she lives in Brooklyn.

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