It's been nearly two years since the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., an incident that triggered a shift in consciousness about race in this country. The Black Lives Matter movement has spread throughout all aspects of American culture, particularly in the arts, acting as a clarion call for new work that addresses the insidious violence that persists against black and brown bodies in our society.
Its reverberations can be found most recently in an evening of work called "Underbelly," curated by Shá Cage at Intermedia Arts, which featured the work of Deja Stowers and the new dance collective Blaq, performance artist Zainab Musa, and husband-and-wife team Adlyn Carreras and Pedro R. Bayon.
"#BLAQGOSPEL," Blaq's debut performance, incorporated elements of West African dancing, hip-hop and other forms of contemporary movement, with flashes of ferociousness and confrontation with the audience, and softer moments of healing and community building.
At one point in the work, the house lights were turned on as Aneka McMullen sat on stage with a cold, accusatory stare toward the audience, smoking a cigarette, in an unnerving, silent interlude. At other times, the performers turned away from the audience altogether, finding energy and community with each other. Later, they referenced the killing of 24-year-old Jamar Clark, who was shot by Minneapolis police last November, while Kenna-Camara Cottman enacted Clark's death before the audience. The performance concluded with the dancers in a huddle, crying as the lights turned out, not returning for a bow.
Blaq and Stowers' piece complemented that of Zainab Musa, whose solo work, "Would you be my friend if I danced like this?" explored issues of police violence and black identity as Musa embodied characters from Nigeria to New York City. Part dance, part physical theater, Musa moved with an angelic strength, weaving poetry and movement seamlessly, as her majestic arms and body's line used shape to accentuate her storytelling.
Also as a part of "Underbelly," Adlyn Carreras and Pedro R. Bayon presented "And Because Love Battles, Mi Amor," a theatrical piece about the couple's 20-plus year relationship. Hitting a lighter tone than the other two pieces in the show, Carreras and Bayon engaged the charm they both have as performers, in a piece that felt like the beginning of something that could use more shaping and structure.
As a whole, the program reaffirmed Cage's strength as a curator, creating a space for new work to find its footing.
Sheila Regan is a Twin Cities arts journalist and dance critic.