After the breathtaking 2018 performance, “What Remains,” a collaboration with poet and MacArthur Fellow Claudia Rankine, the Brooklyn-based choreographer and artist Will Rawls returned to the Museum of Contemporary Art with a new project that defies—or quite literally, kills—genres. As the second installment of “Frictions,” a series organized by performance curator Tara Aisha Willis that extends beyond the stage to The Common (the first-floor corridor of the Museum bookended by the east and west stairwells), “[siccer]” encompasses dance, filmmaking, photography, sound and installation, using chroma green—the color of the green screen—and stop-motion filming technique as metaphors to discuss the invisibility of Blackness in our contemporary society. Humorous but poignant in its social commentary, “[siccer]” embraces a unique aesthetic of improvisation and collaboration that ties uncertainties together through trust.
For this reason, the foremost highlight of “[siccer]”— in the video as a human-technology exchange—culminated in the well-oiled improv performances that took place from April 27 to 30. The video documents rehearsals glitchily interlaced with stop-motion-animated live acts. Cameras are within cameras; screens are within screens (digital screens, green screens, screens as monitors, screens as props); conversations among the film crew can be heard mixed with a post-produced symphony (or cacophony, however you want to perceive it) that layers loopy—frequently stuttering—nature sounds, delirious and distorted monologue, ethereal music and electronic beats. Although not a behind-the-scenes documentation of the performance, the video radiates how intuitive and smooth the working relationships among the participants have been.
But things started to get really interesting when the performance itself also alluded to something akin to the making of yet something else. Rawls cites a lot of reference points for this project, from films that he watched during the pandemic, including “The Muppets Take Manhattan,” “Daughters of the Dust” and “The Color Purple” (Rawls provided a fuller list as part of his monologues that kickstarted the performance), to texts by authors such as Kara Keeling, Lauren Berlant and Gilles Deleuze. Throughout the performance, vestiges of these references appeared and disappeared; meanings constructed through repetitions at one moment shuttered into absurdity at another. The performance was constantly on the verge of raveling and unraveling.
The five performers (some of them are also live-sound makers)—keyon gaskin, Holland Andrews, Jeremy Toussaint-Baptiste, jess pretty and Katrina Reid—each dressed in shades of green, carried out their movements in relation to a prominently spotlit camera at downstage left. This game against a skewed medial representation of Blackness, symbolized by the camera, set the premise of the performance only for it to become something else. We could hear the shutter every few seconds, at least for the first half of the performance. But whether it was really taking pictures was not for us to know, nor was it revealed in the end. The sound of the shutter became a vocalized “click” then became a recording then became electronically processed. There was an episode where the characters were looking for “genre,” schizophrenically afraid of it and anxious about its absence. Sound, movements, language and their meanings mutated throughout a series of carefully scripted improvisations.
The performance on April 29 was pushed even further by the presence of two brilliant ASL interpreters, Makeda Duncan and Veramarie Baldoza, who creatively reconstructed the affect of and the complex interplay between sounds. I am no expert in ASL, but I did appreciate one moment (out of so many) when one dancer was trying to lip-sync to the voice provided by another dancer, and one interpreter hugged the other from behind, complementing hand gestures with facial expressions.
Rawls does not shy away from sharing the difficulty of pulling this project together and, against all the odds from the pandemic, growing it. Starting with a $6,000 grant—which was a fraction of the total amount that he had raised over the past five years—to plan for an evening performance with five dancers, Rawls has worked to expand the making of this project into a community of at least thirteen people. (Everyone’s name and bio can be found on MCA’s website). It has been Rawls’ priority to to offer better care for each participant. The role of the choreographer has also become a role of caretaking and protecting: “We are a family.” The artist stated during his public talk that “[siccer]” is still growing and traveling. And as it continues its adventure, turning another stage green and deconstructing new meanings, I believe this bond between this community is only growing stronger.
“On Stage: Frictions” continues at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, 220 West Chicago, until June 18.