Reggie from on high by Maura Nguyen Donohue
August 4, 2021
Maura Nguyen Donohue is the Writer-in-Residence for Platform 2021: The Dream of the Audience.
“Reggie from on high,” an essay by Maura Nguyen Donohue, reflects on Come and Go ‘Piece a ‘Way, a new short film by Reggie Wilson, created in collaboration with cinematographer, Aitor Mendilibar, and Fist and Heel Performance Group, commissioned for Platform 2021: The Dream of the Audience.
Read and/or listen below.
Reggie from below, Reggie from on high
Reggie serene at the stained glass poking historic morass
Reggie up close and on the nose, Reggie in red converse over those toes.
Reggie at a distance, Reggie just hands,
Reggie sweaty at the outside swiping sweaty glands
Reggie grey haired, gorgeous, and going back in…gimme gimme gimme just a little more of him.
This was something sumptuous, no… this was somethin’ scrumptious
I want to eat this dance and, friends, it’s been an overloaded diet of screen-dances for the last year and half, right? But, this, this was some kinda mango sticky rice for my eyeholes. I want to close the laptop on this one and stare at some water, guided to a nervous system reset nourishing myself with the memory of Reggie re-inscribing into the spiritual narrative of St. Mark’s Church in the Bowery.
With movement material sourced by members of the Fist and Heel Performance Group, Reggie arrives and arrives and arrives in Come and Go ‘Piece a ‘Way. Whether in silhouette complete with flying locks, running across the risers or gazing up at us in an obscured black and white shot from the balcony whose questioned legacy lured Reggie into his 2018 “Dancing Platform Praying Grounds: Blackness, Churches and Downtown Dance,” Reggie’s onscreen presence is both balm and catalyst. I feel myself reaching to my root structure and stretching for a new sunburst to halo against. I am the dreamed audience, I am dreaming the audience because I know that, yes this would sing new songs in my soul if I were to see Reggie dance live like this as if it was the 1900s again, but I sink in with delight that this dear one stayed in the fight and with cinematographer and editor, Aitor Mendilibar, delivered a dance only the digital could conceive.
I started this response. Then, I left the city. And now, I am sitting by a quiet creek… was just staring at water and remembering Reggie, and remembering Reggie and Rhetta Aleong, company administrator and long-time Fist and Heel Company Member, tossing responses and reading the lively chat that flew past me during the post-premiere conversation. And, I am in the echo of the audience. The remnants of the dream of us watching the work float past and I think about how longing is as sweet as meeting. As much as the juice of Come and Go ‘Piece a ‘Way has been sliding through my system, dropping antioxidants and flushing out the sediment of a screen-filled year, there is another nourishing that was the joy, play and curiosity of the viewers who joined the event of the premiere. In there we created a new dream of audience. We were asked to settle the chat during the 10 minutes the film was screening, but then… honey fire, did it light up. And, that, that particular flavor of wit(h)nessing, that exchange and interplay… that written and oral flow… that’s new-ish.
The way Reggie calls out Rhetta when her tone shifts into a formal wrap up was familiar, but, the ins and outs of attention and responsivity carried new spice. It had hot flow, with hellos and jokes among the viewers, sometimes a question or comment could be caught by Reggie or Rhetta as the chat streamed upward, full of activity. It tasted of kitchen conversations in the diaspora with one speaking the adopted language and another sending older tongues back or a dialogue between someone using sign language and another responding through voice. It was digital cross talk, a new fluency of fluid. But, it sits with me because as the final program in The Dream of the Audience Platform, it filled out the promise of our presence. We were there, In Real Time, the new currency for the IRL (In Real Life) meme-verse of synch/asynch. There was a fully present, though remote audience, as if we were enacting a scene easily built in one of many short speculative fiction pieces that Levar Burton might read on his podcast .
City-side again. Fire escape tomatoes are popping despite soggy circumstances. The Indigo Apple ones are just starting to hint the blackness they will shine in the sun on their way to a deep purple. I recall Reggie stating very dryly that it almost broke him to dance that dance. The gem of Come and Go ‘Piece a ‘Way was pressed into Reggie’s solo form from the strands of movement that started in the bodies of Hadar Ahuvia, Rhetta Aleong, Paul Hamilton, Lawrence Harding, Michel Kouakou, Clement Mensah, Gabriela Silva, Annie Wang, Michelle Yard, and Miles Yeung. The lush vocals from Rhetta, Reggie, and Lawrence were filled out by Thomeki Dube and Elaine Flowers. Naoko Nagata and Enver Chakartash approved the costumes, Raja Feather Kelly and Tamsir Sylla gave feedback on the editing, and, Lander Camarero served as cameraman, to Aitor Mendilibar’s entrancing cinematic crafting. The entire root system of the dance and the film is nourished in an abundant soil.
Octavia Butler forged across the dirt road to grow community decades ago when her young leader Lauren Olamina carried seeds in what was then considered a sci-fi novel about climate change and social inequality in “Parable of the Sower.” The description of the adrienne maree brown and Walidah Imarisha edited collection, “Octavia’s Brood: Science Fiction Stories from Social Justice Movements” details that activists and organizers are always engaging in speculative fiction as we try to envision worlds without wars, prisons or capitalism. Spec-Fic’s taking the familiar and making it a bit stranger, is now a shared reality of our common passages through time and space. That so often the stories require apocalyptic settings affirms my sense that we as a species have thrived not due to an ability to synch with the early warnings, the obvious troubles or even the explicit, overwhelming, late-stage disasters but simply from the ways we band together.
As, I wander back into new suns carrying the image of Reggie – vessel, afro-po-mo griot, trickster and sage – and Indigo Apple, Sungold and Sweetie tomato buds, I sink my senses into the shared songs still waiting to be sung together.