by Edwina Thertulien for The Dance Journal
On Thursday, March 25th, Leila Aisha Jones invited us to The Porch along with nia love and Fred Moten. The program first began with an opening segment, inviting us as the audience to close our eyes, breathe and acknowledge our presence at that moment. A video clip is then played, showing a soloist in a site-specific dance outdoors. As the video segment ends, we see Lela Aisha Jones, nia love, and Fred Moten displayed on three different Zoom call screens. Donning a mustard beanie and fitted joggers, nia love is on a warmly lit stage with a live pianist. Fred Moten seems to be accessing this Zoom call from home, as sometimes his family members appear in and out of the frame. Lela Aisha Jones looks to be speaking and hosting from backstage.
Once the introductions conclude, nia improvises movement to the live piano onstage. While dancing, she still has the microphone headset attached to her person, allowing us to hear her breathing, along with small exclamations in reaction to her movements.
The idea of the porch is one of a casual, familiar place where varying types of conversations can occur. Whether a heated discussion about sports or politics or a deeply emotional therapy session, one’s porch can be a setting where discourse, discovery, sharing, and healing can occur. The sharing and discourse continued with Fred Moten’s spoken word. He refers to it as an “elegy impromptu.” From there, the conversation continues to exist as an artistic sharing of ideas, theories, and memories while taking on a somewhat investigative, explorative, and political tone. This exploration continued even after the official program ended and well into the post discussion, where audience members could ask questions directly to the three artists on The Porch.
The Porch did as art does – provide us with an escape from our current reality and transferred us to a completely different setting. It provided a break from how we now typically receive art and information: spoon-fed and in bite-sized pieces. As the audience, we witnessed a consistently flowing string of ideas, coming and going from one mind to the next. Yes, we as the audience could not engage with the artist in a literal sense since we were merely watching and hearing from behind a screen, but we weren’t flies on the wall either. Since the nature of the conversation alternated between literal and abstract, it allowed each audience member to engage in the conversation in the way that best fits them, their past experiences, and their current state of mind.
For me, watching nia love present a structured improvisational duet with Lela Aisha Jones made me think about choreographic tools that I have used and/or would like to use in my own creative process. Hearing Fred Moten expound such phrases as “we are burdened by fatal attractiveness” and “all we have is what doesn’t belong to us” made me reflect on the detrimental effects of cultural appropriation and the violence in the act of stripping an entire population of its cultural identity.
Lela Aisha Jones, along with nia love and Fred Moten, used the concept of the porch and transposed it to both a physical and digital stage while allowing us to engage in a discussion that was both poetic and relevant. Can we ponder and dissect? Can we ask questions without expecting a certain answer? The Porch allows us to do just that!