"Black Moon (La Lune Noir)"
Monstah Black and Major Andres Scurlock
Dance New Amsterdam
New York, NY
September 16, 2011
By Martha Sherman
Copyright © 2011 by Martha Sherman
Something about a black moon just doesn’t feel right – that luminous disk in the night sky is supposed to be white. Watching the world premiere of “Black Moon (La Lune Noir,)” you imagine that’s a feeling that black men have had in America for a long time – a world of contradictions, in which many things are just not right. Choreographer/performer Monstah Black and composer Major Andres Scurlock have created a “phunk fusion cabaret operetta” that is an artists’ mash-up of song, rhythm, poetry, movement and film, more an atmosphere than a story, about the African-American male experience.
The core of this plotless operetta is Scurlock’s homage and interpretation of Arnold Schoenberg’s “Pierrot Lunaire,” and the 19th century poetry cycle of Albert Giraud. Scurlock added his own rhythms, chose musical theme fragments, and wove in a black sensibility, including the poetry of Langston Hughes in the text. Monstah Black, a choreographer who fuses his drag queen persona with powerful athleticism and sinuous movement, transitioned from being one of five interchangeable androgynous black silhouettes in the opening scene, to being a man alone, writhing on the floor by the dance’s close.
He and four female partners (Kendra Ross, Ashni Sunder, DeeArah Wright, and Adku Utah) stretched on the dark stage, and then moved in stately parallel steps and gestures as the music began. A taped interview asked “What was it like when Martin Luther King was alive?” and the answer was the first of a series of voiceover musings, including the meaning of Obama’s presidency to African-Americans.
Black’s nightclub persona, his calling card, was the one who emerged when the lights came up. In the center of the women, Black pranced in his signature shoes – with frightening platforms, at least four inches high, which only sit under the front half of his foot. The shoes put him almost en pointe, and he balances by swinging his hips to counter the forward weight shift. He danced the first several scenes in these contraptions until we forgot how difficult it must be, like the old joke about Ginger Rogers having to do the same thing as Fred Astaire, but backwards, in high heels. The dancers crowded around Black, who tutored them in his make-up -- red sparkled lipstick and eye-shadow, flame red accents to their black and white costumes – each of them part clown, part sex symbol.
As the dancers turned up the heat in their club dance, Black, the intoxicated Pierrot, was drunk not on wine but on movement. Four panels made of molded glass both hid and revealed the dancers, like imperfectly transparent stage wings. Their costume changes were cloaked as the glass created the illusion of transparency, while only really allowing us to see distorted faces and parts of their bodies in transition.
As the barely clad women emerged, again in silhouette, they entwined in sensual duets, and then linked as a dark foursome, their movements somewhere between romance and menace. As Black returned, now barefoot and stripped down to black briefs and a t-shirt, the women became his tormentors. In the scene of the “Black Moths Nacht,” he moved uncertainly on the ground, cowering. First, diminutive DeeArah Wright circled him as if in flight. When the three other dancers joined her, he was trapped in a circle of their wing-like arms.
The score, a powerful mélange based on Arnold Schoenberg’s “Pierrot Lunaire,” and infused with Afro-beat rhythm and a cabaret sensibility, drove each scene. The music kicked straight to the heart with its twitching, atonal themes, one of which was paired with jagged movement patterns that the dancers played with their elbows, wrists and fingers, sliding from head to neck and shoulders. The powerful, image-filled text was sung and spoken by the riveting Karma Mayet Johnson in Scurlock’s own brand of “sprechesang.” A singer with attitude in her bright red hat, Johnson mixed the soprano melodic lines with poetry, infusing the mix with sultriness and rap rhythm. The shifting background video by Holly Daggers sometimes echoed and sometimes led the poetry, like the long drips and spatter of red lit in film against the wall, as the poetry spoke of a drop of blood against a plate.
There were seven impressionistic “tableaux” of the dance and song/speak. This ambitious cacophony transformed itself into a surprisingly coherent whole. Although Pierrot’s journey isn’t much of a narrative, the images still formed an emotional arc. Given their topic, the piece was remarkably free of anger or polemic. There were some distracting misses – like the clunky furniture moving through the early scenes, the too-linear video images, an unnecessary second narrator whose arrivals felt like intrusions. But in an enterprise this ambitious, some risks aren’t going to pan out. The artists built their work around the classic Pierrot – pensive, romantic, even wistful – mixed with rhythms, sounds, and moves of black America. This Pierrot’s yearning was in the face of a black moon.
copyright © 2011 by Martha Sherman
Photos by Erika Latta
Top: Monstah Black in “Black Moon”
Bottom: DeeArah Wright and Kendra Ross in “Black Moon”