Gesel Mason's evening-length manifesto, "No Less Black," cast a clear and bold eye on one of our last taboos: race. Mason, a gifted dancer and choreographer, searches out hard subjects in her dances, her theatrical vignettes and her poetry. Saturday at Dance Place, a fully appreciative audience basked in her elegant movement and eloquent words.
What better way to begin than with a nudge and a wink? "How to Watch a Modern Dance Concert, or What in the Hell Are They Doing on Stage" tweaked the public's apprehension of high art with an arch narration read by Holly Bass while Mason expertly captured the art form's movement cliches with well-placed Aileyesque arms, an emotive mug and a gut-busting Graham contraction.
The seven dances, interspersed with five "Interludes," probed the question of whether black is a skin color, a state of mind, a way of life or a communal association. High parody elicited laughs in "JeoParody," a quiz show takeoff, where Mason--wearing an oversize African-style head wrap--couldn't get a correct answer. "Blacklist" pitted candidates for blackness against three judges who asked nosy questions--"Did you wear pink tights in ballet class?" and "Were you part of the Million Man March?"
"A Lullaby for Sylvia Soumah" honored the local African dancer and teacher with an original song and dance incorporating classic West African motifs, expressive modern dance and theatrical improvisation. "Mister, Mister" seared with its uncomfortable subject--homelessness--and accompanying music and text by the Fugees and Robin Harris. "Black Angel" featured Mason as an angel pained by the earthly: hate crimes, cross burnings, lynchings. Video and sound clips brought Mason's restrained athletic ballet into compelling relief. "Loving a Black Man" and "No Less Black," both thoughtful meditations to Mason's spoken poetry, concluded the evening. As a self-described "middle-class 'high yellow' black woman from the suburbs," Mason fearlessly asked the tough questions and found that she could live comfortably in her own skin.