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The title of Shavon Norris’s show conjures up a crowded room. But don’t worry: in the autobiographical Me and Jesus and Prince and Captain Jean-Luc Picard in a One Bedroom Apartment in the Bronx, she makes sure to leave room for us, her audience, and the experiences we carry with us. Sure, we can expect some of the dazzle that Norris’s references imply—including music by the Purple One. But there will also be quiet moments when we can let it all sink in.
These layers are there by design. Norris—who performs this solo show as part of the BIPOC New Work Festival Presentation Track at the Cannonball Festival, concurrent with the Philly Fringe—is a dancer and choreographer. She’s also an educator who taught movement to K-5 students for 11 years. Now, she works with Temple theater students and Jefferson med students, and she is a facilitator who works with various groups on movement and on inclusivity, mindfulness, and healing-centered practices.
Me and Jesus is a “love letter and a challenge to the biological, cultural, and historical artifacts” that formed her vision as she grew up in a “Black sci-fi Christian home.” “My mother was and still is a sci-fi lover,” Norris explains. “The idea of things beyond her imagination: she was always attracted to that. In our house, there was a lot of sci-fi on the TV—which is a curious thing in a house that is also Jesus based!” Not to mention, her mom also allowed Prince’s music.
Inspired by a great uncle, Norris trained in various dance forms. After his untimely death, she took a break from dance; she returned to it in college after seeing Bill T. Jones’s most famous piece, Still/Here. Perhaps not coincidentally, Still/Here centered on autobiography and communal storytelling, and Jones created it after the death of his artistic and romantic partner Arnie Zane.
The movement within us
Norris’s choreography, she comments, is not “dance-y.” There are no codified movement sequences launched with the typical 5-6-7-8 lead-in. Her facilitator-self and choreographer-self are one and the same: “I am curious about the gestures that live within us—and how we expand those into movement,” she says. “All my work is biographical. If I’m choreographing a piece on your body, I’m going to dig into your history, your story.” Last year, as guest director for the fourth installment of Team Sunshine’s Sincerity Project, Norris employed these same techniques.
All of which begs a perennial question about biography: why put personal details in front of an audience? Norris, not surprisingly, offers several answers, a “buffet of options”: “What happens when you’re invited to explore somebody else’s experience? Does that spark you to stay with them—or to go someplace else, for yourself?” Referencing her expansive title, she invites us to consider, “Who were your deities? What was on your TV, your radio—and why?”
What, When, Where
Me and Jesus and Prince and Captain Jean-Luc Picard in a One Bedroom Apartment in the Bronx. Choreography by Shavon Norris. $20, sliding scale available. September 21 at 5:30pm; September 23 at 7pm; and September 25, 2022, at 5:30pm at the MAAS Building Studio, 1320 N. 5th Street, Philadelphia. (215) 413-1318 or fringearts.com.
Proof of vaccination (digital or physical) required; masks must be worn for the duration of the show.
The MAAS Building is not wheelchair accessible.
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