Sunday, February 16, 2014

Benon—Straw or Plastic?

Souleymane Badolo and Charmaine Warren. Photo: Ian Douglas
Souleymane Badolo is one of a few artists who has burnished a reputation by performing solo (coincidentally, his nickname). He has a strong presence—full of humanity, both vulnerable and dignified, that radiates from not just his face, but from every part of his body. For his new work at Danspace Project, Benon, Charmaine Warren—a writer, scholar, and dancer—joins him onstage, also emanating great pathos and power. The audience is seated on all four sides of the St. Marks sanctuary; Tony Turner has created two sculptures made of empty plastic bottles (one is lit from inside), and a panel of black wooden planks. 

Shadowed closely by Warren, wearing a hooded cloak of clear plastic over a dress with a Hefty-strip skirt (by Wunmi), Badolo clutches an armful of plastic cups, dropping one now and then to produce a clatter. Warren looks like a ghost wordlessly guiding him to inflict her evil plastic bidding on the earth. Jeff Hudgins plays the sax in the choir loft; as he moves from one side to another, and then downstairs, the sound shifts like a restless spirit.

After a long spell of wandering, the two dancers face one another, making a burst of small hand gestures. Badolo puts on the cloak, and they both fling themselves on their stomachs like human bowling balls, knocking into the scattered cups. Warren prowls the edge of a sharply lit oval (lighting by Carol Mullins); the music shifts to a recording of a plucked instrument with vocals. She rolls her shoulders, scoops air toward her face, and poses with one foot in a forced arch. Badolo has donned a tunic embellished with grass that sits perpendicularly to his arms and torso, transforming him into a bristling mythic creature of nature. Warren places some grass rings, mats, and fronds in a circle around Badolo, whose every careful pose is accentuated by the tunic. She removes his tunic piece by piece, leaving him bare-chested—the human in between nature and industrialization. He approaches a couple of viewers and stares at them confrontationally, from a close proximity, implying that we are all responsible for the planet. The movement remains upright, at times reminiscent of heroic Greek sculpture. 

Hudgins' sax plays over a recording of music from Burkina Faso (Badolo's homeland). The motifs throughout—the props/costumes, the movement, the music—delineate the contrast between a contemporary industrialized society versus a traditional one more respectful of nature. It's a simple premise, but one that needs all the exposure it can get.

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