A Veil Over the Moment: “News of the World” Program Notes

Natasha Adorlee Johnson and Mia Chong in “News of the World” . Photo by Margo Moritz

When choreographer Brenda Way and New York-based painter Doug Argue first talked about collaborating, Way was interested in applying painterly issues over choreographic ones and exploring the possibility of constructing a dance that would evolve toward two-dimensionality. The dance would be inspired by Argue’s making process, its successive phases diligently captured through photography.

That was not taking into account the painting that Argue ended up making for the project, Footfalls Echo In The Memory (2017), and a surge of sexist and violent discourse against women, which manifested at the time in the relentless onslaught against presidential candidate Hillary Clinton or in the infamous Access Hollywood tape about then-candidate Donald Trump.

Footfalls revisits Pablo Picasso’s revolutionary 1907 Les Demoiselles d’Avignon by reproducing in reverse the original image of its five nude prostitutes and applying a layer of Argue’s signature semi-elliptical letters on top of the canvas, thus creating a veil over the picture. With two of Picasso’s models wearing masks, concealment was already at play in Les Demoiselles, questioning the viewer about what it is we are watching and who is watching whom. About these accumulative layers of concealment, Argue offers:

“There are many different histories in the world, in both art and politics, and we often see things in the current moment, yet have no idea what lies beneath. One language is always turning into another, one generation is always rising and another falling, there is no “still” moment. I am trying to express this flux — this constant shifting of one thing over another, like a veil over the moment itself.”

Are Argue’s letters defacing the women or commenting on the critical and academic chatter about works of art in particular or in general? A discourse that describes, analyzes, deconstructs, theorizes, tears apart and ultimately violates. Not unlike the ways the media keeps (mis)representing women. “I realized that Doug’s version of Picasso’s disruptive imagery of women in a brothel — painted the year that Harriet Stanton Blach formed the Equality League of Self Supporting Women- was an appropriate foil for a focus on women in our contemporary world,” Way shared. “Who makes up who we are? Who decides?”

Transposing painterly tropes onto choreographic composition, Way uses motion as a potent source of dialogue. Just as Argue’s letters explode on the canvas surface, the dancers’ moving bodies activate the stage in grand gestures reminiscent of expansive brushstrokes. Adding a layer of information to the projected visuals rearranged and composed by Alexander Nichols, they continue the conversation about our gender expectations and assumptions, prompting us to consider how identity is manipulated or distorted by the gaze of the other, by the dominant power structures, by the times. As Laurie Anderson announces at the conclusion of the piece, “This is the time. And this is the record of the time.”

Dance Around Town “News of the World,” March 15–18, 2018, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. For tickets, click here.