Tania Isaac and Gabri Christa preview new solo works

by Jane Fries for The Dance Journal

Tania Isaac and Gabri Christa, two artists with a lot in common, presented previews of their solo works in progress at the Painted Bride over the last weekend. Both of these seasoned choreographers/performers hail from the Caribbean islands – Isaac from Saint Lucia and Christa from Curaçao. They met each other a decade ago while working on projects at the Bride, and soon became fast friends and artistic collaborators. Their most significant similarity, however, is their knack for combining dance with other mediums to draw audiences into their work.

Isaac’s Any.Body.Here washes over the audience like a poem that alternates between movement and words. The piece begins with Isaac on a small raised platform, light streaming down (designed by John Dougherty with Guy De Lancey). Only her legs are visible at first. Her upper body disappears into darkness as her feet perform an easy-feeling dance to the blues music of Walter Wolfman Washington. Then she comes into full view, speaking the words of a poem by Dennis Lee, describing how she’s “sitting on the edge of a muddy puddle.”

Isaac is a strong and beautiful mover, barely contained by the small space of the platform. She alternates between dancing in the imaginary mud and reading aloud from a notebook, making observations about bodies – their similarities and differences. In the dancing sections, she squishes in the mud, shifts back and forth, and suddenly runs frantically in place. Then she’s sitting in the mud reading again. The words come out fast and rhythmically…,“Any.Body.Here is welcome to sit and to be a thing that we agree is undefined.” Isaac’s comfort in her own body is wholly evident, and it will be fascinating to see how she develops this excerpt into a full-length piece.

The big theme running through Christa’s Magdalena, a multimedia work with dance elements, is her mother’s slide into dementia. Christa tells us about it in conversational sections, and illustrates it viscerally in three separate “dementia dances.” These begin with Christa on the floor, her movements murky, like entering a trance, continues as she struggles without getting anywhere, and then finally succumbs to the constraints of the disease.

Conversational interludes are woven throughout Magdalena in which Christa tells the engrossing family story of how her white Dutch mother met her black father who came to the Netherlands from Curaçao to study at a teachers college, got married, moved to Curaçao, and raised a family.

The production is designed by Guy De Lancey, and employs simple props which evolve ingeniously into one another and drive the structure of the piece. In the beginning, a black doll sits on top of a trunk, next the trunk is opened and images are projected inside its lid, and then Christa picks up the trunk and carries it on top of her head as she dances off to strains of tropical music to depict her parents move to Curaçao.

Likewise, a white sheet is multi-purposed to serve as a screen for a film in which a WWII radio announcer narrates the true story of Magdalena surviving the bombing of Rotterdam as a schoolgirl, a slideshow of family photos, a scrim against which Christa in cast in silhouette as she recites a poem, and finally pulled down by Christa with her feet in the final “dementia dance,” as she becomes entangled in its folds. The sheet becomes a symbol of the “other” as her mother is taken over completely by dementia.

In their performances at the Painted Bride, Isaac and Christa invited dialogue with the audience. Isaac’s Any.Body.Here has a give-and-take quality – she’s speaking with movement and words, but she’s also listening. Christa’s Magdalena will travel to workshops for people touched by dementia in order to have conversations with caregivers, friends, and families. These two Caribbean transplants are searching out how dancers can get beyond simply “performing.” They’re co-travelers on a journey to break down barriers between artist and audience; to give their work meaning specific to its time and place.

About Jane Fries

Originally from the west coast, Jane Fries pursued undergraduate studies in dance at San Diego State University, where she got her start writing about dance for the student newspaper. After an escapade as a correspondent for Dance Magazine in the south of France, she went on to earn her MA in dance from Mills College in Oakland, California. Jane's subsequent explorations in non-theatrical dance forms led her to take up the practice of yoga. She has lived in the Philadelphia area since 1996, and has had the great pleasure to study Iyengar yoga with Joan White. Jane's writing reflects her background in dance history and interest in documentation and preservation.

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