Black Box Review by Ora Brafman
The performance location’s address on 23rd Lilienblum street didn’t tell me anything about the show. I wasn’t sure if I’m at the right place. At the entrance there was a strict and severe doorman standing, and as I stepped in, among the young crowd, I noticed they are looking at me as one who surely lost her way. Inside the building the DJ was already working in rhythm and volume that was too much for me. Colorful beams flickered in the space despite the early evening hour. So where is the show?
The entrance to the top floor was completely detached from all of the happening downstairs. In the open space there were a few rows of chairs close to the wall in front of them. Only then a curtain was opened and revealed a space that was maybe 8 by 8 foot small, dimly lit. A black man entered from a narrow and hidden gap at the corner of the stage. It seemed like the shiny body had a metallic shade, coppery. Shamel Pitts’ figure, the creator and performer, came on frozen, not committed, hesitant between exposing and hiding, and in the background a soundtrack, with stanzas from poems and texts Shamel has been writing for years.
Until now we knew him as one of Batsheva Dance Company’s senior dancers, a Brooklyn dancer who met Ohad Naharin while studying at Juilliard, fell in love with his work and he is here for his 6th year now.
The poems and texts expose a scarred soul, extreme sensitivity for the body and the music of the language, imagination that soars from the chains of reality to spaces of freedom, a layer of latent anger and materials on which the movement rely and try to illuminate, sometimes to draw.
The first run was done in Shamel’s own living room, which he painted black, and invited 30 guests. Here (to) too, the number of viewers was no more than a couple of dozens, but the chosen space was felicitous for the show. It had a good sense of “place”, humble, but precise, knowing the value of it but not pretentious in any way. Looking back, it was the perfect location for the creation.
The small space in which the performance takes place dictates a lot of restraint. Even if you wanted to, there is no room for a space filling jumps. You can run in place and what does that say about you? Out of this dark, suffocating, chaining space, Shamel finds a thousand ways to extract a language that doesn’t fight him, but uses him for its needs, to express the ray of strong emotions which is revealed in the chain of words, even if here and there they cling on predictable phrases.
Not much time passes before he steps out of the styled shell and moves to a place of total control.
With him in the room, there is a low table. At some point he stands on his knees while his feet rest on the edge of the table and the body is charged with energy, the face turn serious, the muscle tone raises without moving and ‘hop’, in a single body movement he shoots himself and stretches his whole body to the nearest wall and draws a diagonal line from the tip of his toes on the table to the edge of his arms that lean against the wall. A moment that strikes with a shock, a virtuosic leap in place. Made perfectly, without a single hesitation.
The dimmed light acts in two directions, it demands to focus more than usual as to not lose a single nuance, a quarter of a smile, a spreading of an arm, on the other hand, it gives the body new materialistic qualities, as if looking through a filter that softens the hard outlines. At moments, very rarely, a light comes up for a brief moment, and starts the elusiveness game once again. The skilled body, that is so sculptured, asks the viewer to see the body followed by the movement and the expression through the textual prism. However, Shamel doesn’t ‘act out’ the content.
It’s a less common option these days. Many dance artists before him used text as an ambiance background in some cases, and in others as a masking tool like some type of music. Towards the end he rips sheets of paper off the wall and reveals a word from the end: ‘BLACK’. Is that eventually the thing that sits like a crown on his head, as a sketch of a crown is projected above his head right at the end, someone who’s royalty was taken away from him, or is it about to come?
Shamel has a very strong presence. Here he exposes himself in two parallel channels which rub each other, the physical side, the outer layer with the tactical sensors, and the inner side, that verbalizes thoughts, ideas, feelings and precise them with words.
It’s Shamel’s first full length (40 min) choreographic work and it’s very impressive, a portrait of a gifted dancer and a man of words ,emotions and versatile ways of expression, which without a doubt will lead this creator forward in the future.
As the lights came up, the audience applaud with excitement and Shamel came out wrapped with a robe that covered his body and sent looks of gratitude to the audience. The audience thought he wants to say something, Shamel thought mistakenly that they stopped applauding as if they had enough, he leaned his head a little with shyness and fled out.
And then echoed in my head again the sentence which summed up the evening, a sentence so loaded, heart tearing and as sharp as a blade: “To be young, to be gifted, to be black”.
(This is the translation of Ora Brafman’s review for Black Box in the Israeli dance portal DanceTalk.co.il. Click here for the original review in Hebrew.)