Not A Single Story

Sarah Zhang, Explorations in Humanities: Connections and Conflicts

Camille A.Brown & Dancers, Black Girl Linguistic Play

Selected Post from Unit 5

Past Posts

Yesterday I was lucky to be one of the audiences for Black Girl Linguistic Play, choreographed by Camille A. Brown. I expected to see a dance piece that focuses on the complexity of finding a self-identity as a black female in America. Yet what the performers conveyed in Black Girl Linguistic Play exceeded race and gender, instead they achieved something further beyond it. As what the performers explained after the dance, the story in the dance is not about racial conflicts, but about sisterhood, mother and child. The story was perceiving everyone equally, as human beings in a society, with relationships that everyone has across cultures. And I thought I was understanding the sense of “healing” in the piece, because by going beyond the conflicts and seeing what is common deep down, it almost felt like a unite, an appeal to more understanding. It was also very interesting that the artists named the piece with “Linguistic Play.” In the performance, the language that the performers spoke was movements, actions, motions, that while being personally expressive also varies in interpretation. Language can act as the a unifying marker for people within a group, but can also act as a barrier that blocks understanding between the group. In this piece, the language was inward, meaning that the language was unifying those that belong to the group that speaks such language, but it was also outward in the sense that the audience were welcomed to ponder on the actions, connect them to their own experiences. Yet another question came to my mind. What does it mean for me to sit in the audience? How is it affecting my approach to the art piece? These movements are not directed at me, and thus I was able to appreciate it while me myself are not involved in the interaction. What if the movements are directed at me, does it change my understanding of the piece? As my title suggested, a dance is not telling a single story. While I need to realize my position and my relation to the dance, I also need to imagine what other sides of the stories are.

There are also a lot of questions that come to me when I was reflecting on the dance. First, how can we “decipher” movement? There were a lot of motifs that are repeating in the piece, like raising the head, combing the hair, spreading out the arm and drawing circles on the chest while raising the right hand. Sometimes I could grasp what they might imply but some were also very culturally specific. Sometimes I need to know the language to understand the movement. Also, I know that the piece is inviting the audience to project themselves into the broad picture, but what is the relationship between the audience, especially as someone who is not that familiar with the culture, and the choreographer? Or does it really matter? And when we are watching a performance, or other kinds of abstract art, does it really matter to understand the work?

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