Ligia Lewis's “minor matter” at REDCAT, Los Angeles. Photograph by Steve Gunther

No Minor(ity) Matter

Ligia Lewis's tour de force work, “minor matter”

Performance
Ligia Lewis: “minor matter”
Place
Roy and Edna Disney/CalArts Theater (REDCAT), Los Angeles, California, January 12-14, 2018
Words
Victoria Looseleaf

The late rock icon Jimi Hendrix would have approved: Cool “purple haze”—as well as hot crimsons and other miasmas of color emanating from Ligia Lewis’ tour de force work from 2016, “minor matter”—proved mind-altering both visually and viscerally. Programmed as part of the Pacific Standard Time Festival: Live Art LA/LA, the dance won a 2017 Bessie Award for Outstanding Production and is the second part of Lewis’ trilogy, “Blue Red White.”

Abetting Dominican-born Lewis, who lives in Berlin, were Jonathan Gonzalez and Tiran Willemse, making this a triumvirate of virtuoso movers with technique and personality to burn. With REDCAT shrouded in a thick fog for much of the performance (lights by Andreas Harder), Jassem Hindi’s sound score was equally enveloping, ricocheting from the Renaissance and deep Baroque ostinati to the sounds of South African gumboot dance, today’s rave scene and a hypnotic rendering of Ravel’s beloved war horse, “Bolero.” (Press notes refer to Béjart’s 1960 choreography of the same name, although the composer was actually commissioned to write the opus by dancer Ida Rubenstein, who premiered it in 1928).

The 50-minute terpsichorean journey began with a tableau akin to Kubrick’s “Dawn of Man” scene from 2001: A Space Odyssey (sans apes, bone-throwing and the monolith), with the fog abating and the performers finally visible in the theater. Gonzalez, microphone in hand, then tore through a high-octane monologue, where words including ‘Donald Trump,’ ‘Nigel Farage’ and ‘Assertive bitches don’t make friends, they make enemies,’ reverberated through the space.

Ligia Lewis performing “minor matter.” Photograph by Steve Gunther

Decked out in sneakers and neo-boxing wear (styling by Alona Rodeh), the dancers were studies in stamina, courage and post, post-balletic forms. Okay, Lewis’ tiny bourrées and flapping “dying swan” arms might have been more panache over pedigree, but there was no denying Gonzalez’ perfectly executed jetés, with the trio’s unisons, including body-slapping, chest-beating and oddball cheerleading motifs equally mesmerizing, the occasional plié thrown into the rhythmic mix.

There was also the notion of ‘blackness,’ with political implications made explicit in the black box that is REDCAT, and the unfortunate thoughts of Trump’s recent ‘shitthole countries’ comment coming to mind. As Lewis herself asked in describing her work, “Can the black box be host to a black experience that goes beyond identity politics?”

The answer is both yes and no, with Lewis also taking the mic, her voice processed in an attempt to be heard though not understood; the beacons of white light shining on Gonzalez’ face an attempt at illumination, literally and figuratively; and the incessant snare drum sounds of Ravel creating a quasi-march into history. The threesome also offered their own brand of calisthenics, with side lunges and crucifixion-like poses giving it a dose of the surreal.

Jonathan Gonzalez, Tiran Willemse and Ligia Lewis performing “minor matter.” Photograph by Steve Gunther

Whiplashed by the agony and the ecstasy of the work that was punctuated by the haze-infused atmosphere, dancers moved through occasional black-outs and strobe effects as tensions mounted. When the troika fell to the floor, ritualistically, relief was short, as if an ayahuasca ceremony was about to begin … or end. Traversing the stage and running in circles, the performers offered faux sparring and air-jabbing (the fights were as mental as they were physical), their bodies finally becoming human pyramids as they climbed atop one another, their entangled limbs a mass of flesh ready to assail or adapt, their balancing feats equal to those displayed at a Cirque du Soleil concert. This comic interlude then segued into the threesome’s rapt engagement with the walls, where they became a human totem pole and a metaphor for entrapment.

Not content, however, with being theatrically contained as the soundtrack thrummed with a steady pulse akin to a pumping heart, the trio rolled ferociously on the floor, the squeaky sounds of their sneakers and skin adding to the fervor, before a dance party milieu kicked in, the rock and roll score taking flight in a surround-sound of orgiastic vocals. Mimed body blows lent a fight-club aura to the scene, which culminated in an extended series of crotch attacks and simulated fellatio in this symphony of sexual release.

As shorts were tugged down and buttocks made visible, the pas de trois reached fever pitch, with the coda/post-coital/finale ultimately begging several questions: Is this love or hate; rage or surrender; fight or flight; pleasure or pain; ecstasy or depression?

Whatever the corporeal performance—simultaneously poetic and political—it was certainly no minor(ity) matter.

  1. So great to read Victoria’s vivid reviews of dance on the West coast we don’t much get to see. And here, she is one of the few critics who correctly refers to Ravel’s Bolero as a “warhorse.” Both his Bolero and La Valse entwined anti-war and anti-Empire elements and were no more intended as romantic music than Gorecki’s Third is. I hope I don’t have to wait until I get back to Berlin to see Ligia Lewis.

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