Reggie Wilson/Fist & Heel Performance Group’s ‘Citizen’ at BAM/Harvey

Charmaine Patricia Warren | 1/20/2017, 10:41 a.m.
It is not surprising that for Reggie Wilson’s latest work, “Citizen,” he begins by directing his audience to keep thinking ...
"Citizen" choreography by Reggie Wilson

It is not surprising that for Reggie Wilson’s latest work, “Citizen,” he begins by directing his audience to keep thinking about these unreasoned times in the Black man’s history. “Nigger, run!” are the first words we hear. “Citizen,” begun in 2014 from curiosity, like most of Wilson’s work. When at Versailles, Wilson saw “Portrait of Citizen Jean-Baptiste Belley,” a Black man painted in 1797 by French artist Anne-Louis Girodet de Roussy-Trioson. In the Playbill, he notes that this painting was the only image of a Black man in the entire collection. This absence of Black images prompted even more curiosity. Belley’s history and that of his time, a harsh mix of slavery and the continued fight for freedom, is then likened to current times. Wilson writes, “It all seems like a bit of history repeating… It’s amazing how life and current events change the perception and meaning of artwork.”

In the white space, white fabric covers all three corners, a large color photo of Belley is against the back wall, and dancers wear a blend of black and white plaids and stripes. Rehearsal footage, various images of the dancers and a short black and white film of Raja Feather Kelly running, or was it dancing, in a field would also come and go. The other backdrop is the music, which ranges from American Baptist spirituals, to African traditional and pop, to handclapping, foot-stomping well-tuned riffs from members of Fist & Heel, and it is chilling. Wilson’s “Citizen” is riddled with movement repetitions for each dancer at various times and for various lengths throughout the work. Solid solos by Yeman Brown, Kelly, Clement Mensah and Anna Schon sometimes overlap in passing, and each time they appear they alter the space. Repetition is part of Wilson’s meditation on memory here, and sometimes matching movement and movement maker proved satisfying. Brown, for example, always sliced his long right leg through the air from head to floor, and Kelly’s sequence often began with bent knees and luscious unending hip circles. Towards the end, in all black, Annie Wang enters, and then one-by-one the others join and finally, they are all together.

In “Citizen,” Wilson’s attention to “… legacies of our cultural identities…” is championed because of his mix of post-modern idioms with African and African descended forms. Whether to remind us of what happened during the times of European-clad leaders such as the Senegalese-born Belley, or to draw comparisons to today’s very real fight, “Citizen” pulls you in, but it also leaves space for questions. Ever the intriguer, Wilson asks, “What do any of us—immigrant, refugee, outcast, common citizen—have to do? How do we get from here to there? It’s just a dance. But then again …Take what you will and leave what you won’t. Be blessed.” The choreography is by Wilson, the photographer/dance cinematographer is Aitor Mendilibar, lights are by Christopher Kuhl and costumes are by Enver Chakartash.