Parallels: The End

Performed by David Thomson
30 March 2012
St. Marks Church
Danspace Project
Ralph Lemon curated this closing event inviting twelve performers into a marathon event. Each performer had one hour to improvise within a set designed by Nari Ward. This solo was part of that final performance. This ‘character,’ Venus, was developed based on instructions of invisibility and questioning of the black identity within the postmodern aesthetic.  Named after the Hottentot Venus, aka Sarah Baartman, an enslaved black woman who was exhibited as an exotic in the early 19th Century London and Paris, this character is layered with references to black face, gender ambiguity and coupled with the incongruities of dominance, vulnerability and erasure; echoing distorted racist, sexist and gender paradigms.

In 1982 Houston-Jones created the original Parallels asking the question, “What is Black dance?” He chose to look at artists working outside the mainstream definition of Black dance at that time—the mainstream being Alvin Ailey. In his original program Houston-Jones said, “While all the choreographers participating are Black and in some ways relate to the rich tradition of Afro-American dance, each has chosen a form outside of that tradition and even outside the tradition of mainstream modern dance.” The program, the first ever dedicated to African-American experimentalists, featured Ralph Lemon, Bebe Miller, Blondell Cummings, Fred Holland, Christina Rrata Jones, Gus Solomons, jr., and the late Harry Whittaker Sheppard. In 1987 the group performed at the American Center in Paris adding to the mix choreographer, Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, founder of Urban Bush Women.

Thirty years later Ishmael revisited this question with the original group and other artists presently working in the field.

This work was made possible, in part, through the Movement Research Artist-in-Residence Program, funded, in part, by the Leonard and Sophie Davis Fund and the New York State Council on the Arts, celebrating 50 years of building strong, creative communities in New York State’s 62 counties.


Photo credit: Ian Douglas
Video: Peter Born