Clark Studio Theater at Lincoln Center, New York, NY.
June 23, 2023.
For most of June, Sydnie Mosley, artistic director of SLMDances, shared the work of her performance collective with PURPLE: A Ritual in Nine Spells at the Clark Studio Theater in Lincoln Center. As per the program, this was not a show, but a ritual of spells. It was more performance art – and while not a show in a traditional sense, a show nonetheless.
For the uninitiated like myself, it was a bit confusing (this was a work six years in the making) and while the artist statements in the program were prolific, we did not have time to read them before the performance began. We waited in the lobby before being guided to our seats, with some audience members given objects to carry and a specific seat to occupy.
After reading the program post-performance, I had a clearer sense of the intention and it’s one I wish I had known in advance. I believe it would have enabled me to more deeply understand the work, which at two hours without an intermission and required audience participation, was a lot to take in. In short, the evening “illuminated the power of deep sisterhood for social change through storytelling and movement,” using elements from Alice Walker’s The Color Purple as inspiration.
The ensuing time with the artists was that – in myriad representations: dance, spoken word, music, percussion, audience generated movement, visual art and food. Audience members were asked to create a movement based on the object they received on the way in, and then all movements were combined to make a group dance of sorts. Each member of the collective had a role, although I wasn’t aware of what they were until afterward when I had a chance to read through the program. The performance/ritual consisted of nine spells (resembling vignettes), but they bled into one another seamlessly.
I understood as the night went on that there was a cultural and historical backstory to the work with which I wasn’t familiar. I appreciated the obvious care and thoughtfulness that went into the work, despite my unfamiliarity with some of the components. Different groups of people experience life differently, and this work succeeded in revealing its truth in that, even though I had not followed the work for the past six years, or am not part of the community portrayed. I can’t say exactly why, but I left with a poignant, intangible sense of these people’s experience and the history they keep alive. For any art, expanding oneself or the consumer is always the goal, and this work achieved growing my mind.
By Emily Sarkissian of Dance Informa.