On Junauda Petrus’ Black Solitude/Autonomous Wildness by Theresa Madaus

Junauda Petrus Photo credit Valerie Ceasar
Junauda Petrus Photo credit Valerie Ceasar

I see the long white rope, stretching from the floor of the stage into the sky. Already a highly-charged image in a show that is populated with Black bodies, Black voices, the politics of Black lives under siege. I see Junauda enter, circle the rope, taking its measure (letting it take hers?), a moment that was both foreplay and resistance. She has circumscribed the history of that rope, and now she begins to climb it.

I see her body looping in and out of the rope- circus tricks, but also a relationship to the rope. Twisting it around her feet, creating toeholds out of verticality and air. I imagine that the struggle of aerial work could be a metaphor, but this dance is not dwelling in struggle. The music begins, a sexy club-like song. The lights shift- a hidden disco ball begins throwing shimmers of light across the scene. We are not in a dance club, though. It is still a woman alone with the rope, her body shifting up and down, molding to the rope and molding the rope to her purposes. Black Solitude.

I see tricks- the inevitable tricks of aerialism- and I see images, relationships. Junauda’s body hangs for a moment with an extended heavy weight and I see a reference to strange fruit, momentary lynching before she reconfigures the space and her relationship to the rope, glorying in her body and the power she has. She is in another realm, high up in this glittery song-soaked atmosphere. I may think I see history, I may stretch for narrative, but this piece defies reactive reading. Autonomous Wildness.

Later as I am discussing the piece, considering it in the context of the whole evening, I posit that this rejection of narrative is at the heart of the dance. Where other pieces are responding to or reacting against a current paradigm (necessary, rooted work), perhaps this piece is flying off in a new paradigm (also necessary, imaginative work). Not a rational response to the world we live in, but a vision outside of it, not bound by the logic of known reality. Like a dream, it does not translate, subscribing to rules of its own realm, consistent internally but not crossing over into external expectations. Embodiment of another kind of freedom.

I did not understand this dance, and I feel this non-understanding is its beauty, a suggestion of possibilities outside of the current dialectic. On the ground, we are bound by the histories of the stage, and the stage by the world. In the air, this joyous, effortful autonomous dance is simultaneously a million references, a million shards of light, a narrative fractured, a body circumscribing its own space, no longer narrative at all.

Theresa Madaus

Junauda Petrus, Black Solitude/Autonomous Wildness

Walker Choreographer’s Evening, Walker Art Center

November 29, 2014

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