On Thursday, May 28, 2015 I had the great privilege of viewing an excerpt from choreographer T. Lang’s evolving work, Post Up. This particular work fuses Lang’s own questions about (longing for) love as they are greatly informed by the death of her father and the search for loved ones forged by newly emancipated black people. Post Up uses dance to vivify the history that scholar Heather Andrea Williams captures in her poignant, well-researched, and thoughtful book, Help Me to Find My People: The African American Search for Family Lost in Slavery.
In the introduction to this book, Williams writes:
“This is a book about slavery and family and loss and longing. It is a book about emotions, it is about love and loneliness and grief, about anger, and about fear, joy, hope, and despair. It is about the forced separation of thousands of African American families, about their grief, and about their determined hope to someday see each other again.” Like the narrative approach Toni Morrison took in writing Beloved that focused on the personal violence experienced as the everyday condition of a person living within an unrellentingly brutal system, T. Lang’s Post Up uses the unsurpassable weight of her father’s death to enact the emotions associated with questing for lost love.
Set against the backdrop of Radcliffe Bailey’s unfinished painting–featured behind the dancers as they performed in his home studio–the performance accentuated the improbability of finding someone you lost when the territory for searching appears to be the entire world. Bailey’s unfinished work as the backdrop for searching for lost loved ones captures the improbability of reunification so broad as to suggest the universe–the solar system itself as the exploratory terrain. In addition to the vastness of the search, the dancers articulated provocative and painful questions about the possibility of a somber joy upon reunification. Can there ever be certainty about the identity of the person you’ve recovered? How significant do the changes have to be for one to make a decision to dismiss the recovered person as merely a semblance, a shade of who you once knew; as someone else; not them? In other words, what makes who you were who I am seeing in this moment? What difference will change make for loving who you find?
On one hand, what I found moving in this segment of Post Up is its insistance on defining love as a verb rather than a noun. For these newly empancipated folk, love was not as much about possession as it was about searching, questioning, and pursuing the person or people that you lost. On the other hand, I was also moved by Lang’s vision of love as a noun. As a “thing,” the only definitive name Lang gives “love” is mystery. So much of the beauty of this work stems from the simultaneity of the many recognizable truths and complicated facets of love.