Reggie Wilson Discovers the Power of Moving Together

Even choreographer Reggie Wilson finds many people thinking that his new work, “Power,” is just another version of “… They stood trembling while the others started shouting,” premiered in 2019.

“How many people have created Mother Rebecca’s Black Shaker community-inspired pieces?” he said, dissolving into a characteristic laugh. But while the two pieces “have some of the same movement,” he added, “they’re really not the same thing at all.”

When Wilson realized Rebecca Cox Jackson’s mother, a Shaker elder who founded her own community in 19th-century Philadelphia, he was immediately drawn to how the Black and Shaker traditions intertwine — or not. Shaker worship combines dance. Both of Wilson’s works are based on an imaginative speculation: What might the worship of Mother Rebecca look like?

And look is just as important, at least in “Power,” which will have its New York premiere at the Harvey Theater at BAM Strong, Thursday through Saturday, with Covid’s permission. (A community performance in conjunction with the Academy’s tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is scheduled for Monday.)

For “Power”, Wilson invited two costume designers as collaborators: Naoko Nagata, with whom he has a long history; and Enver Chakartashwho designed his “Citizen” outfit (2016). He wanted both voices. “When this project started, I was like, well, this is a crazy thought, Mr. Wilson: Why don’t you have one. two costume designer? ” he say. “Who can do that?”

He added: “I think this is the first time I think about costume design as a major collaboration.”

Chakartash and Nagata were involved from the start, working privately with Wilson and the dancers at Hancock Shaker Village, a museum and ranch in the Berkshires. (“Power” was also developed at Jacob’s Pillow, a nearby dance organization, where it premiered worldwide.)

“Half of the time was with Enver there and the rest was with Naoko,” Wilson said. “I asked them not to talk about what they were going through until they were both back. I understood why they just started doing the same thing right away? ”

“Power” opens with Wilson singing and moving, almost tenderly, pieces of fabric, which become the design for the opening trilogy — long, flimsy skirts, which then expand into skirts and overalls as they unfold. Dressing up takes place on stage or in the wings. Throughout, beautiful dancewear is also on display. For Wilson, the costumes create a world – or three landscapes to be specific – that bring his vision of Shaker to life.

“It has to do with the fact that we don’t want it to be stable in one place or time,” says Wilson. “It’s constantly changing and it’s moving from more art and sport to more historical character to more design.”

While the designers studied Shaker materials – shoes, fabrics, laces and seams – at Hancock, Wilson and the dancers studied Shaker dances recreated from a video by Enfield Shaker Singers, directed by Mary Ann Haagen. “It was like, let me start seeing how this actual movement feels on the body,” says Wilson. “Because looking at it is one thing; trying to do it is another thing”.

For “Power,” the idea was to record different repetitions of a question Wilson was pondering: What if Mother Rebecca’s Shakers community learned a dance from one of the communities in New England and then back to their? How will it change and transform? And all this unfolds in Wilson’s prism of postmodern dance.

Recently, Wilson talked about this new piece and how his company, Holding hands and heels performing group, reacted to communal dancing – it’s emotional – and the power it helps create, both internally and externally. These are edited excerpts from a recent conversation.

Why does the community of Mother Rebecca Cox Jackson interest you so much?

Most Shaker communities are rural. [Jackson’s] are urban and predominantly female. And mostly Black with some Jewish women and a few men. So it was like, what it did look like?

A lot of the research I did was thinking about black cult traditions and exhortation traditions. I was like, OK, so this is one woman’s itinerant preacher with this folk spiritual ability, right? So probably did they do this? Essentially, “Power” is multiple versions of “it can look like this or it can look like that.”

You talked about the power of dance and how power manifests itself in the form of energy. Can you elaborate on how that relates to the work?

When I first started and I titled it “Power”, it seemed like another model of power – not patriarchal power, but some kind of feminist or matrilineal power. inside. This is also consistent with my interpretation of many African practices in which, in initiation, you are searching for yourself. Just as you are receiving your gift from God, you are receiving your role in the community. And the way you enter and ecstasy will be slightly different from the person next to you.

Is it personal?

It is personal power in relation to the community. Not just the community, but the community.

What is the difference?

How do you relate to other people? By being completely yourself. And it’s not about minimizing or shrinking yourself, it’s about adapting or customizing it to be able to exist alongside others.

There’s a lot of choreography in this work, and I think it’s great to see it with my own eyes. I know that’s not the only point, but –

It To be!

It’s like this piece is an energy?

Its power. The part is about power, and it’s inner and outer power at the same time.

When I do a lot of research with Spiritual Baptists from Trinidad and Tobago, they say “higher altitudes and deeper depths.” So you’re always working in two directions at once. The Shakers also have a saying: “Hands to work, heart to God.” For me, it’s also very postmodern!


It looks like [the postmodern choreographers] David Gordon or Trisha Brown. Each step has its own strength, its own trajectory. It has its own… has that word! It has its own power. And how do you give organ and care every step of the way?

It’s like mundane. What did they do in Judson [Dance Theater, the 1960s experimental collective] is putting mundane things back on the table.

And this is putting simplicity back on the table?

It’s put simplicity, it’s everyday, it’s labor, it’s work. The work of a step, labor whether it be an arabesque step or a Caribbean step or an Irish folk step. All are powerful and all have value.

All are equal?

It’s correct. All are equally valuable and equally powerful. Can I put the ballet next to Fosse? Where is Fosse? You will now search for Fosse. [Laughs]

Is it really a Fosse moment?

I am sure yes. There’s always a Cunningham, a Balanchine, a Fosse. Maybe a step or two Sabar from Senegal. Maybe some steps from Zimbabwe.

So we learned the patterns and steps of these recreated Shaker dances. It is the core material. Now, if we want to Africanize it and “Reggie-fy” it, what must we do? It just takes this initial thing and then plays with it.

What does simplicity mean to you for the work?

Think about how much complexity you might get with a simple pattern of repetition. As we began to learn the reconstructed Shaker dances, we began to see the patterns forming and its feeling and impact on religious and non-religious members of Fist and Heel. That’s interesting. See it really manifest on the bodies woven back and forth and how those patterns play out and also see the emotional impact it has on some dancers.


There was a dancer who cried. I was like, God, we’re never going to get through this. [Laughs] And someone in the company is a total atheist – and not an agnostic, but an atheist. And I was just like, “Well, friend apparently talking to Ann’s mother. “Mother Ann [Lee] is the founder of Shakers.

Is it affected? friend emotionally?

[Pauses] As much as any of my works. I joke that we’ve all become Shakers, but no one tries to actually go all nine yards and move on. Sabbathday Lake in Maine. Reggie Wilson Discovers the Power of Moving Together

Fry Electronics Team

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