I have enjoyed the short films and performances that have characterized the Covid season. But until now, limitations on social contact and the learning curve for new media have left us bereft of longer works that develop more complexity and depth. Combining dance and words of her own creation, choreographer Hope Boykin filled that need with Redefine US, from the INside OUT, a lengthy meditation on the struggle to give new meaning to how we create, and redefine, identity in the solitude of a pandemic.
The lowest point
The piece opens on the Annenberg’s darkened stage with four dancers, Meagan King, Alisha Peek, Martina Viadana, and Terri Ayanna Wright, in black slip dresses. Lighting designer Al Crawford isolates them in just enough light that it gleams against their skin. King falls to the floor, curled on her side, and the others join her to hold and support her. Then they roll away, leaving her weeping at the center of the stage.
The solo, in Boykin’s words, tells us that the Lowest Point is not failure. It raises King from anger and grief—bent over her knees, head in hands—to a more assertive dance, arms reaching, posture erect and almost martial at times as she confronts doubts, exerts her power, and falls again, until a dancer takes her place and a new solo begins.
The dance cycles through quartets and solos as it explores the self in relation to community writ large in the quartets. Each solo represents a phase of stock-taking; I pulled the words from the narration that signaled the movement through the meditation: the lowest point, my own, why is my way not acceptable, cycle of disappointment.
Viadana, in red, dances the power dynamic between a couple, but there are no men in this piece, no duets or trios. We are looking at a woman’s inner world. The solo ends with the words “him or me. I choose.” From the floor, she raises her arm, but the words fail us then. What does she choose?
Where do we start?
After 20 years with Alvin Ailey, Boykin was scheduled to leave to pursue new ventures just as the pandemic hit. In a discussion after the performance, she said that in lockdown she was feeling bad because she couldn’t fit the mold, what she thought she should be. She knew that she had to find a new identity. Through the process of creating the piece, she discovered that the text she had written was about defining herself.
Nowhere is this clearer than in the segment Boykin referred to as “Conscious quiet.” The choreographer takes the stage, dressed all in black. In the background she moves her hands restlessly, while the dancers in their slip dresses dance to the compelling pulse of Bill Laurence’s music. Boykin’s voiceover expresses consciousness but not quite. “So loud,” she says, “so sharp, quiet chaos like hearing a dropped pin.” The piece is about the contradictions, seeking calm against the chaotic solitude of lockdown, until the dancers have gone and she is alone on the stage.
But Boykin does not leave us with chaos. The dancers return in white, and she ends with the question, where do we start? And gives us an answer, “Let’s begin.”
Image description: Four women dancers with different skin tones, wearing simple black dresses, pose on a black stage with a black backdrop. Two lie on their sides in positions suggesting distress, one rises partially with her arms uplifted, and one stands over them, bending one arm.
What, When, Where
The Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts presents HopeBoykinDance in a commissioned work livestreamed on March 11, 2020, and accessible on demand through March 13, 2020. (215) 387-8200 or www.annenbergcenter.org.