Blackbare in the Basement
March 9 – 11, 2023
Jordan Demetrius Lloyd possesses a special intelligence for the rhythms of gesture. Across his works, including the trio of his dance film, Williamson, last year’s outdoor group piece, Jerome, and his latest work, Blackbare in the Basement, which premiered at Danspace in early March, Lloyd demonstrates a detailed and supple attention to the way meaning both accumulates and dissolves in movement.
Lloyd’s particular rhythm of building and breaking patterns of movement feels familiar in Blackbare in the Basement. The body’s movement, as well as narrative, intellectual, and poetic are made with an almost stunning complexion of precision, humor, and sensitivity. After Williamson and Jerome, Blackbare is Lloyd’s return to the indoor stage. But perhaps stage is still not quite the right word, as Lloyd realizes the St. Mark’s Church as an expansive place of becoming—a house, where bodies dance, watch, lurk, tangle, and untangle.
Blackbare in the Basement begins in silence—the house lights still bright and the audience flushed along the West side of the church—when Lloyd and dancer Owen Prum emerge through the front of house doors in matching denim shorts, white tank tops, and cropped lavender vests. Their movements are discrete, angular, and determined, gathering into syntactic structures: the extended arm drops down across the chest and comes into an “L”; the other arm swipes over this one, draws the fingers to the opposite hand. These tight, cumulative gestures grow into ritualized formations that are subsequently, and swiftly abandoned. Highly choreographed, sometimes even regimented movement dissolves into the pedestrian: walking, resting, watching, as well as gestures of the unwell: a scratch, a cough, a wipe of the nose. Lloyd and his cast—who along with Prum include Jerome dancers Bree Breeden, Wendell Gray II, Mia Martelli, Mykel Marai Nairne, José Lapaz Rodriguez, and Kennedy Thomas—master transitions between movement patterns as well as tone that are at once precise and direct, and at the same time, retain a kind of gentleness, or rather, openness, in their attention.
The gestures of Lloyd and Prum’s opening duet gather in charge as a cough builds into more violently involved patterns which begin to, then altogether more clearly, resemble gestures of a deeper pain or sickness: the body hurling over itself as if attempting to exorcize a lodged disease. Like the wiping of a nose, even these moments have a kind of choreographed precision. The charge in emotion, this sense of, alternately, urgency and languidness, is coupled with a kind of deeper neutrality: an interest in what it means—simply, or not so simply—to be physical.
Almost without warning, the synchronized hurling is taken by a sudden onset of walking. Eventually, Lloyd and Prum make their exit through the corner doorway to, one imagines, a certain aforementioned basement. This opening duet echoes through the next phases of the work, as if a kind of premonition. A series of duets follow the first, and, each time, pose a variation on a similar question about what it means to become physical with, or even through, another.
Both clearly and almost imperceptibly, the whole group—excepting Lloyd and Prum—joins together onstage. It is a landscape these dancers seem to sculpt. Their movements, precise, sensual, pedestrian, and highly choreographed, tune the space with attention.
Under Lloyd’s direction, dance becomes a method of observation that does not exclude its own sensuality. To observe, to pay close attention, with one’s body and of one’s body, is, Lloyd reminds us, a practice of profound, if plainspoken, intimacy. Like walking, watching is an essential activity of Blackbare in the Basement. As the group shifts through new formations, dancers individually dissolve into, then reemerge from, a periphery, where they would take up positions of watching, their gazes both attentive and opaque.
There is a moment at which it feels like the group has truly come together. They are no longer a collection of duets; they move as a group. A charge accumulates, as we hear the looping electronic music turn into what sounds like distant wailing. We can sense action brewing around us. Gradually dancers begin slipping away through stage doors, as the space of performance extends not only to the stage, but to imagined places around us—the other rooms of the house. After the last dancer has left, the lights go dark, it is silent, and we are left to see the stained-glass windows lit by the streetlight.
Hauntingly, the group creeps back in from along this periphery. If the action had dissipated, now it makes its return: Lloyd and Prum appear through the front doors. This time, as the other dancers look on, it becomes clear what the two are getting at. They make stabs at getting closer, clothing disappears, they follow each other onto the gray stands. At last, almost ragged by their journey, they become entwined.