Reggie Wilson Fist & Heel Performance Company – review

Written by:
John Sullivan
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Reggie Wilson/Fist & Heel Performance Group

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Forum, San Francisco

February 9-10, 2007

Denied their drums, enslaved Africans in the Americas reinvent-

ed their spiritual dance traditions as a soulful art form that white

authorities dismissed as merely“fist and heel worshipping.” “Fist

and heel is clapping and stomping, shouting and hollerin’, explains

Reggie Wilson. “It is a continued manifestation of the rhythm lan-

guages that provoked, appeased and controlled spirits.” This tradi-

tion kept the culture alive.

Reggie Wilson calls his form, “Post African/Neo Hoodoo Modern Dance”. Recently, his four-person dance company arrived to show San Francisco audiences what that looked like (it was the company’s first engagement in the city). Those who came expecting Alvin Ailey-style theatrics probably went-away perplexed and disappointed. This was an evening where theory and representation were explored more than movement. Wilson is interested in context and meaning much more than he appears to care about dancing per se. This approach has its merits. The ritualism communicates. Wilson offers depth instead of flash, a kind of cumulative spiritualism rather than any ‘wow’ moments. Virtuosity is replaced by authenticity.

In Introduction (1996) a solo performed by Wilson, what begins as a kind of auto-biographical talk-back with the audience, becomes a worshipful look at life’s journey once Wilson transitions from talk to ritual by means of fist, heel and percussive breathing. Someone should advise Barak Obama to deliver a fist and heel speech some day. It might change the world.

Jumping the Broom (1994) was a meant-to-be-humorous couple dance to old blues recordings of Blind Willie McTell, Papa Too Sweet and others. Here, modern dance repetition was blended with comic acting, and, again, little regard for virtuosic movement of any kind. Tales from the Creek (1998) a solo performed by Michel KouaKou (from the Ivory Coast) in red sequined pants, offered a similar take on movement to blues, although the theme centered on masculinity in this case. Kouaku is a committed but somewhat raw performer. The choreography might be better served by someone more technically proficient.

(untitled) was a solo for the company’s one female dancer, Rhetta Aleong, a full-sized powerhouse from Trinidad and Tobago who offered a seated journey along a stage diagonal. Here, the simplicity of the ritual offered open space for personal reflection and interpretation, an opportunity for making spiritual connections. The Dew Wet (1997) featured KouaKou and Paul Hamilton (a Jamaican dancer) in African garb. Lots of unison, not much choreographic interest.

European dance has taken a turn towards the conceptual, and Wilson seems to represent a culturally-questioning, American version of this. There are times when dance can and should provide catharsis, but there is also room for artists like Wilson, who want us to pause and wonder.

reggie wilson

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