It was with a force of a lion that the dancers gracefully contorted their bodies to the grand bass of the music. The earth-shaking tracks vibrated through Merrill Theater at On the Boards, mixed live at the sound table. Black dancers displayed their choreographed finesse and pride through This Is a Formation, the final work in jumatatu m. poe and Jermone Donte Beacham series Let ‘im Move You. Though the choreographed performance imbued Black Queer pride into a powerful visual performance, it contained elements of full-body nudity that were not highlighted beforehand, creating a somewhat startling performance experience for me. However, the performance skillfully melded ideas of sexuality, beauty, and playfulness into a piece that supersedes the boundaries of dance.
As poe and Beachman guided visitors into the performance space, onlookers noticed that Merrill Theater was transformed to fit the engaging nature of the performance. The seats were blocked off by a long black sheet, eliminating the use of a traditional ‘audience’ structure. Instead, onlookers of the performance were immersed into the formation of dancers. There was no allocated space for the dancers to perform on, no partition or separation between the performers and the viewers. Instead, people circled around the performance to get a closer look at the turns of the dancers’ bodies: the specific positions of their fingers, the darting of their feet to move them to different levels from the floor. This created an intimate and special atmosphere, calling back to a time where performance art was shared in the streets with crowds passing them in the big city.
Long hanging white sheets hung delicately from the ceiling. Projections of lithe bodies swayed on the sheets in arrays of greens, blues, and reds. A small corner of the theater was sectioned off as a video section. A propped-up camera recorded audience members flowing through the space, projecting their bodies onto the same white sheets in live time. A costume rack that dancers periodically changed into sat in the middle of the space. A lighting station was off to the side of the room, along with a DJ table that flooded the room with hip-hop beats that sent your body flying into a dangerous rhythm.
The purpose of Let ‘im Move You was to celebrate the bodies and identities of the Black dancers that took part in the performance. The DJ, lighting designer, dancers, and behind-the-scenes creatives, molded this performance into a display of LGBTQ+ pride and Black Femme creativity. The sensual movements of the dancers highlighted their ownership over their identities and the love that they have for the audience and themselves. Dances and sets alluded to Queer safe spaces, such as gay clubs and pride parades, and the freedom of the space made the choreographed dances incredibly bold. J-Sette dance moves with the backdrop of hip-hop tracks emphasized the immersion of Black culture. It symbolized the unity and love that the dancers had for one another and that their identities could flourish in this safe space. At one point in the performance, the performers all came together to hold hands in a unified stance, proclaiming their solidarity to each other and to the audience.
Although it was quite serious at times, the performance held moments of levity and playfulness. The performers even stopped dancing at one point to sing an acapella about sexual acts with an “ass,” and they would often include the audience in their dance breaks with hoots of laughter. A set of choreography ended with dancers completely stripping and putting on a show.
As costume changes happened throughout the different choreographed sets, dancers would perform in certain dances and change on stage, in full nudity. This choice emphasized the messages of sexuality and pride in the performance’s composition, highlighting the importance of self-love and acceptance. However, this aspect of the performance was still incredibly startling to me, as I could find no disclaimer or warning about nudity on On the Board’s website. I was completely blind-sided by the nudity, and it severely impacted my viewing experience. I think that it’s extremely important to include these disclaimers for shows to make sure teenage audiences are well informed on what they want to view.*
Regardless of the lack of disclaimers, Let ‘im Move You: This Is a Formation, is a masterful conclusion to a years-long series that expresses an intense appreciation to J-Sette dance and Black culture. Viewers were imbued with a sense of power when surrounded by the roar of the mixed music, the thunderous footsteps of the dancers, and the engaged clamor of the audience. As you left On the Boards that night, all you could feel was satisfaction.
Let ‘im Move You: This Is a Formation played at On the Boards September 24-25, 2021. For more information see here.
*Since this performance, TeenTix and On the Boards (OtB) have been in discussion about how best to support teens with the information they need before attending a performance at OtB. We have worked together to make sure we include more context to the On the Boards partner page, and will include specific information about each event. On the Boards will also host a post-show processing discussion after each Saturday night performance, where teens can discuss and reflect on the performance together with an OtB staff member or artist.