In what might have been a rewarding retching, affirmed by his joy-filled guttural sounds, the performer/creator/choreographer David Thomson, in stilettos and a skin-tight mask, swinging the tail of a long white dress, offering fleeting peeks of his naked body, exits the space at the end of “he his own mythical beast,” his latest work at the new Performance Space New York. This final installation comes from a confluence of ideas over many years. He began in 2012 with “The End.” “Mash” (2013), “Voyeurs” (2013), “Venus Redux” (2014), “The Venus Knot” (2015), “see yourself when” (2015), “The Voyeurs” (2016) and “Chimera” (2016) followed. When “he his own mythical beast” was over, audiences exited through the same doors, following Thomson and company, and only then were they given programs.
Everyone in the cast is listed as collaborators. Thomson is with Paul Hamilton, both Black, long-limbed and tall, and Jodi Bender, the only white member of the group, is with Katrina Reid, who is also Black. So from the beginning, race figures into the equation. Throughout, Thomson celebrates the enslaved African female icon, Hottentot Venus (Sarah Baartman), plus, for those who don’t know, he reminds us that he was one of the few bodies of color as a member of the Tricia Brown Company. The late Tricia Brown is white, and the Company was part of the mostly white “downtown” scene.
Much later, Bender pushes and shove Hamilton in and out of the floor, amplifying power—racial power, and then toward the end, Bender and Reid outline Hamilton’s body with chalk. Also, carefully guiding each story, Thompson punctuates each telling through movement canons that traverse the “post/modern dance” field. Early on, for example, Thomson and Hamilton start with lush post-modern movement inside the Tricia Brown-inspired chalked square on one side, while the veiled Bender and Reid move like set pieces, sometimes mirroring each other on the other side. And, at times with his “beautiful speaking voice,” rejected as model for Apple’s “Siri,” Thomson would chant, sing, hum or “testify” with a deep and unforgettable laugh. Ergo in the long and narrow space, where attention is drawn to one side or the other through confounding texts about race, identity, survival and even biscuits that Thomson’s father made, stories upon stories build with a history long before the 2012 premiere.
To be sure, audiences are invited into Thomson’s tender and personal confrontation with the Black body in a postmodern dance world, and though six years have passed, we wonder if there is still more. For now, as voyeurs, the invitation might just be a call to receive.