Bait and Switch

The advance materials for a performance that will repeat today at 2 and 7 at Duke’s Nasher Museum of Art show Thomas F. DeFrantz dancing. True, the photo shows him dancing in the Ninth Street Dance studio, but one is led to think that DeFrantz himself will dance in the performance at the Nasher.

No.

SLIPPAGE: reVERSE-gesture-reVIEWed supposedly explores “the provocation of Kara Walker’s Harper’s Pictorial History of the Civil War (Annotated)” and maybe that is what the three dancers did, but most of the audience saw only a small fraction of the movement and the projections. DeFrantz was there, speaking cryptically in a tone suited to first year students in a classroom, and gliding about in his groovy multi-hued seersucker suit (yes, Virginia, it IS still January) and his white buck (heavy sartorial symbolism) shoes, but he did not dance.

DeFrantz is Professor and Chair of African and African American studies at Duke, and I had expected a sophisticated work, and was hoping for something as brilliant as Colson Whitehead’s recent book, The Underground Railroad. The use of technology was sophisticated (DeFrantz came to Duke from MIT), or maybe just cool, but neither the choreography nor the visuals were. What one could see of them.

I can think of three reasons for this performance to have been set up in an empty gallery, rather than in the museum auditorium. 1) They didn’t expect a crowd–didn’t think more than 10 or 15 people would show up–and that many would have been able to see. 2) The real purpose of the live performance was to create a video, so the audience didn’t really matter. 3) DeFrantz may have been trying to make a point about how difficult it is to see the whole picture and how few can actually do it. That is a point that one always must keep in mind.

But to lure people to a performance, people who are curious, and willing to look for what they have not noticed before–and not let them see it, strikes me as sadistic and self-defeating.

If you, like me, are really interested in “the place of Black women’s presence in the landscape of the Civil War,” you would do better to go back to Margaret Walker’s Jubilee. This 1966 book turned my head around when I was 15. The Durham County Library has four copies.

 

 

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