Leslie Cuyjet + Lela Aisha Jones as part of DoublePlus @ 2016, a split-bill evening curated by Cynthia Oliver @ Gibney Dance
The “Split-Bill” series is built on each curator’s special knowledge of artists they bring together. Here, Oliver brought Cuyjet and Jones together because of their dissimilar, yet similar interests. Oliver says, “Lela’s work draws on very specific cultural transmission linked to particular black ethnicities in the diaspora… [and]…Leslie looks at the ways experience and class have precluded bodies like hers from consideration by nature of race.” Together, their markedly different styles centered or bordered thoughts on culture, class and bodies moving—an evening of spiritual overtones and undertones. A look at the titles could be one way in. From Jones, there was Plight Release & the Diasporic Body: Jesus & Egun, and from Cuyjet, Alike. Jones’ Plight… is first, it is big, and asks a good deal of the audience too. She invites the audience to write a note and place it in one of three buckets on stage under hanging set pieces. There was “HOUSE” for our intention; “CROSS,” if Jesus was who we called on; and “LADDER” allowing us to communicate with “EGUN/ANCESTORS.” Jones, solo at first, is electric and the audience is willing. Responding to her tambourine, her songs (“Give me that old time religion”), and cheerful prompts— “clap your hands.” Zakiya L. Cornish and Patricia Peaches join and a lot more happens, it seems, almost all at once. Peel away the many layers that follow and see Jones’ journey as an invitation to join her in spirit. Cuyjet’s longer Alike was radically different in all ways possible. Darrin Wright, the one male soloist begins in a bare space, jumping, slow at first, but then faster and all around the space. Moving fast and furious, he envelops the empty space. When Cuyjet enters, in bright colors, her orange pants stand out the most, she too comes at us fast and furious, moving all over the place. Stomp, move, move, move, hip swing, arms follow, stomp, twirl, slow down. Wright exits, Cuyjet is alone. Wright returns, and they move together again, balancing, breathing, sliding and rushing through pattern after pattern. Without pause, midway they change their tops, all the while moving. Towards the end, Cuyjet lies on top of Wright, they make shapes within shapes, body wrapping body, until they stop. This mostly quiet dance about movement is uninterrupted, except once when a slow Elvis Presley tune came in—surprise?
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I am a performer, historian, consultant and dance writer. I am a Empire State College's online program Center for Distance Learning. I am also a former faculty member at The Ailey School and the Alvin Ailey/Fordham University dance major program, Hunter College, Sarah Lawrence College (Guest), Kean University and The Joffrey Ballet School's Jazz and Contemporary Trainee Program. I write on dance for The Amsterdam News, Dance Magazine and various publications. Click below to read more about me at my home page - "About Me."