Nia Love and Marjani Forte, who have been working together for around five years now, guided the audience’s lens in the final performance of “Memory Withholdings” at Brooklyn Arts Exchange (April 25-27), and no matter the path each person took, the result was a lasting memory.
Engrained in the title, for instance, is the idea that there will be a journey of sorts. This journey is loaded into a contested space (to use a title from a Donald Byrd work) before the “performance space” is realized when folks share hugs, “hellos” and “longtime no sees.” The audience checks their coats, and then a guide escorts small groups through time capsules.
Love, dressed fully in white, braids atop her head with pieces of thicket poking out, traverses the first time capsule—a mysterious hallway. She allows the wall to be her floor, as she steps, reaches and leans.
In the second time capsule, an intimate room, the audience is asked to write down a memory, then hang it on a tree or drop it in a bowl (more on that later), then they sit or stand. Forte soon joins Love to tell stories, weaving through conversational pieces—a tree with no leaves; jars in each corner holding screws, cotton balls, sage sticks; an armchair; a bucket of water; and a lone broom “standing” with nothing holding it up.
Before long, Black Uhuru’s “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” is blasting in the last time capsule, inviting us in for a longer, more unapologetic ride that merges laughter and wretchedness. Love and Forte are in overalls and aprons. A table is set with vegetables to be chopped, and a pot of beans are cooking, and two rows of a vegetable garden line one corner. What is more in your face than that?
This is today. This is now. The women talk about table manners. Prompted by the line “you do it,” they stand for an uncomfortably long time at the table while holding rather large knives; seated, they slowly gaze over one shoulder and look back; and finally, they dance a spirited duet with chairs as partners.
What drives this synergistic pair is their ability to respond to each other’s verbal or nonverbal cues and to capture opportune moments. In time capsule number one, for example, an alarm interrupts the quiet of their investigation, and from the armchair, Love brings her hands to her ears and gives a silent scream.
Toward the end, they read some of our memory cards, and we are included. The title, these bodies and the reimagined space are so charged that it sends the mind on its own trajectory. What other memories are there?
Video and media design was by Vincent Ballentine of Flux Innovations.