Context Notes: niv Acosta/Tess Dworman

“I am not that assemblage of limbs we call the human body; I am not a subtle penetrating air distributed throughout all these members; I am not a wind, a fire, a vapor, a breath or anything at all that I can imagine. I am supposing all these things to be nothing. Yet I find, while so doing, that I am still assured that I am a something.” -René Descartes, Meditations on First Philosophy

“Denzel surrounds me.” -niv Acosta, denzel mini petite bathtub happymeal

To place Tess Dworman and niv Acosta on a Venn diagram of contemporary performance would be to see two separate, gathering storms of creativity, but with virtually no crossover. However, in 2012 both collaborated on one of Acosta’s performance projects, called excerpt hearts, an “under rehearsed cover band” exploring “an abstracted stereotype of our lesbian past lives” in Ralph Lemon’s all day event, The End, part of Danspace Project’s Parallels Platform; but for all intents and purposes their own choreographic strains are pleasurably dissimilar. However, in each runs a dynamic strain of self-reckoning, an attempt to explicate the ways that we see and experience ourselves both inside of and because of our bodies. What histories, what dilemmas, these bodies present (and represent) is a central question to both, albeit in very distinctly different constructions. The presence of each as a performer in her and his own work continues to be a central (and heretofore essential) element.

Seen comparatively with Acosta’s deeply personal i shot denzel, Tess Dworman’s macromen is an anti-personal micro-scale study of the body, with its complex and mysterious stories. One regularly witnesses the bizarre body in juxtaposition with the trained body, a world of highly ordered strangeness that brings to mind the stream of consciousness crafts of both Ivy Baldwin and Tere O’Connor (with whom Dworman has performed). Herein lies a cultivated virtuosity coupled with an often quotidian manner. (To me, Dworman’s earlier trials & variations & variations is like an early John Waters movie–a close-up, intentional, almost perverse aesthetic of oddity). Idiosyncratic movement is executed with complete matter of factness, set against classical shapes and relationships. The pas de trois structure allows for an abstract and unique exploration of a classic form, with moments of unexpected pleasure in unison and opposition. The work develops inexplicably, with events or physical states beginning and ending with arbitrary abandon (delivered nonetheless with a captivating pre-determinism), but the continued emphasis on the micro-functionings of the three bodies both as separate entities and often as one meta-unit is fascinating, compelling us toward itself with its theatrics and internal dynamicism. What can the body (and three bodies as one) do? What can it tell us? How much does it contain? How much can it be? How much can we be?

niv Acosta’s i shot denzel is the sixth, and perhaps final, episode in the denzel series, which he has been building and performing since 2009. Acosta works regularly with notions of impossibility, failure, and confinement in relationship to his queer-identified black trans-masculine body/identity/experience. The role and psychological projection of the American black male and black masculinity, as represented (almost like a poster on a bedroom wall) by the actor Denzel Washington is, again and again, an opportunity for a confessional, autobiographical grappling with Acosta’s basic quest: his fluid, indefinable self. That this self is a political and physiological crossroads of race, blackness, gender, queerness, sex and class makes this a powerful framework to explore the many ways that he, and we, might seek to answer that question. And of course, in the culmination of that quest, Acosta has perhaps inevitably arrived at patricide. We cannot survive under the same roofs as our fathers. As both a creative and metaphoric method for annihilating the overarching stereotypes and embodiment of what is and isn’t a Black Man, the patterned ways of seeing that are used to constantly define his existence, the very images and experiences he has simultaneously emulated and rejected, Acosta must destroy the archetype in order to fulfill his own destiny, to make room for his own undeniable being, seen/taken/accepted on his own terms. Distilling the previous denzel editions down to a final solo state, Acosta goes to battle like Oedipus with these kings, using Stravinsky’s sacrificial Le sacre du printemps as his soundtrack. Then, with a live brass band to back him, one wonders that he isn’t giving Denzel, and denzel, a New Orleans style funeral parade. A phoenix will rise from these ashes. Die, die, die.

–Aaron Mattocks