J-Setting becomes the focus for queer revolution in Let ‘Im Move You: This is a Formation, presented by Painted Bride Art Center on February 7 & 8 at 7pm. This evening-length dance premiere, conceptualized by jumatatu m. poe and Jermone Donte Beacham, uses J-Sette vocabulary, video installations, and audience inclusion to explore Black queerness, resistance, and joy.
J-Sette emerged from the historically Black universities of the 1970s South, characterized by a “follow the leader” format in which one dancer initiates a dance sequence and everyone follows. The form was traditionally performed only by cisgender women, often during college games or homecomings. In the time since, J-Sette has found another home in the Black queer scene, adding to an already burgeoning culture of dance and showmanship. The form got a push toward pop culture prominence from Beyoncé’s viral video for her 2009 hit, “Single Ladies,” and the 2015 TV series, “The Prancing Elites.”
This is a Formation is the latest project in the Let ‘Im Move You series, which poe and Beacham have collaborated on since 2013. Beacham arrived at J-Setting in high school, while poe found the form partly because of Beacham’s growing reputation as a J-Setter. “I was drawn to J-Setting for its inherent contradictions. It’s formulaic but sensual. It’s joyful but militant,” says poe. “Like Black people, especially in academic spaces, J-Sette reaches for a kind of hyper-excellence. But also, it reinforces existing social hierarchies that we want to disrupt.”
“We realized that it wasn’t enough to feature only Black, gay men,” poe says. “We had to push for more.” Beacham and poe have enlisted seven dancers of various gender expressions and body types, aiming to challenge the form’s tradition of privileging thinner, cis bodies. Going a step even further, Let ‘Im Move You: This is a Formation invites the audience to join in the dance. Beacham says, “We want the piece to feel like a party, where the audience can move in and around the space as they please. The audience can go where the performers go.”
The show itself is “non-deterministic,” poe says. “It’s not meant to be performed the same way twice.” The movement artists have developed a “list of ingredients,” or a number of dance sequences that are already choreographed, but they purposely left a lot of space for spontaneity. Live video elements will provide the visual setting for the performance, focusing on close-up captures of the performers to reference both hyper-surveillance of Black bodies and pop-star scale megalomania. In true night club fashion, a live DJ will improvise the music.
For the creators of Let ‘Im Move You: This is a Formation is not just another opportunity for creative partnership, but a chance to get free. Asked to describe the show, Donte Beacham says it’s “Heroic, fun, adventurous, and intimate.” jumatatu m. poe calls it a love letter to Black queer people, calling it “a show you’ll feel in your bones.”
Let ‘Im Move You: This is a Formation comes to Painted Bride Art Center February 8 & 9 at 7pm. Tickets are $20 General Admission. To purchase, log on to paintedbride.org or call 215.925.9914. Painted Bride Art Center is located at 230 Vine Street, Philadelphia PA, 19106.
***photo credit Tayarisha Poe