Special to the AmNews

Marjani Forte-Saunders thinks big and dares us to ask questions. For her recent presentation of “being Here…/this time” (May 6 to 9) at Gibney Dance: Agnes Varis Performing Arts Center, this meant not just sitting in our seats and watching a show. Instead, it meant embodying and experiencing the work. Her charge was the plight of mental illness, addiction, systemic poverty, substance abuse and other real, sometimes ignored realness.

This evening stemmed from a three-year project wherein Forte-Saunders presented different iterations. For this version, our duty was to enmesh ourselves in this journey. The audience is first directed to the street, where the experience begins, then, out of nowhere, comes a scream followed by somewhat inaudible words from Jasmine Hearn dressed in an awkwardly pulled overcoat, rough sneakers and veiled. We follow her inside, arms swinging, unevenly stepping and ranting. “Do you know what’s in your heart? I know what’s in my heart,” is just one line.

We are then led into a small, dimly lit space for the balance of the transformative experience, with Ni’Ja Whitson and Tendayi Kuumba already in place. Each seat is fitted with headphones required for the entire performance no matter the distraction, rightfully so since Everett Saunder’s palpable sounds are true to the experience. Media designer Wendell Cooper’s wildly re-imagined space and Monstah Black’s fashionably unkempt costumes helped make the journey an extraterrestrial one at first.

Fabric hanging from the ceiling morphs into a cape and outer space activity track the walls. Enveloped by the very close audience, Whitson, Kuumba and Hearn are celestial beings swirling and swinging, moving through solos that challenge the space, slamming against the wall, leaving black makeup marks, squatting, crawling, arching, crouching.

“It’s about context,” says Forte-Saunders as the narrator. And there are many contextual lessons given in narrative that circle back to the cause for making the work along with some truths to ponder. Here, in Forte-Saunders’ real life dreamscape, Whitson, Kuumba and Hearn confront, question and possibly defeat the dark side. They make real the complications of living the system, much like they navigate a ride on the subway in feigned or real time. The work is complex, there is a lot going on, but peal back the layers for some answers.