Do performances ever make you so spent that you rush back home to drink water? That was my experience with Lela Aisha Jones’ “The Diasporic Body: Black/African Release, Restoration, and Revival”: feeling like all the water was removed from my body, and I had to work to get it back.
On Friday I parked my bike and entered a circle of chairs laid out in a small room adjacent to the main theater. I remember thinking that the performers would be dancing on our level – an intimacy I hadn’t expected from this event, where I’m used to having elevated stages and comfortable distance. There were papers and pens left under our seats. The piece opened in song as the artist’s introduction; we were encouraged to keep quiet through transitions, make note of feelings, think about ancestors, and left with the expression “We hold our experiences in our bodies.” Four black dancers joined Lela and collaborated in matching jumpsuits. They moved to anxious, recorded car noises, and projected footage from dancing protests in Philly for the movement of Black Lives Matter. They grooved to slowed down old songs. They returned to old movements: expressions of pain or anger, exchanged looks of understanding, ones that resembled the communal intimacy of hair or moves that embodied healing. The piece opened in song & ended in celebration. We danced; audience members who identified as black were invited to dance with the performers & given flowers by Lela. From some of us grooving contained in our seats to sharing each other’s energy loudly, it made for a sweet moment as I danced with one of the performers, Jasmine Stanton ’20, from my year.
Because it was for one of our Community Days of Learning, Lela nudged us into some movement exercises: to close our eyes, stand and put out one movement embodying gratitude. Then one embodying pain. We then shared our movement with another person and learned their’s, taking some responsibility for their hurt, and moved around the room embodying the move of the last person we met. Audience members and performers exchanged questions and shared experiences as we felt comfortable, and organically, we began to connect with others in the space and engage in dialogue. Many of the comments captured the power that art has to create healing remedies, as reflected in Lela’s Black/African Release, Restoration, and Revival.
The experience certainly released, restored, and revived. I am someone who holds my emotions in my body; more literally than artist Lela Aisha Jones may have meant. But for that reason the exercise in openness was something I didn’t know I needed.