Game Changers: A response by Carole McCurdy

When Iva Met Eunice choreographed/created by Aaliyah Christina

Performed by: Ambe’r Johnson and Brianna Alexis Heath

Presented at Co-MISSIONS Work-in-Progress Series, Links Hall (*)  October 24, 2018

image credit Tori Brown-Rice

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I’d seen Aaliyah Christina as a dancer in a lively work last year by Darling Shear, but from there I couldn’t have imagined her power and charm as a choreographer. Her work- in-progress, When Iva Met Eunice, however it may land in terms of the final production, is already substantial. It is a sharing of pain and pleasure, with a strong emphasis on pleasure and nostalgia for childhood games. The work unflaggingly engaged my attention. Each section of the piece lasted just the right amount of time to explore its message without overkill, and yet the entire piece felt unhurried and thorough.

Aaliyah Christina’s online program notes explain: “When Iva Met Eunice explores our daily movement negotiations in our pedestrian lives. It translates those actions into our technical practices as movement artists. It tells the stories of black girlhood with the duality of growing up with colorism and the intersectional differences in the way we are raised. In loving memory of Iva (Homeny) & Eunice (Nina Simone).”

For this work-in-progress showing, the audience was seated in the round, some in chairs, some on the floor. Even in moments when some of us couldn’t see the faces of the two performers, their body language conveyed all we needed to know. Ambe’r Johnson and Brianna Alexis Heath, whether in movement in stillness, whether in unison or opposition, manifested powerful presence and emotional charge throughout the work.

The piece began with a short clip of the children’s play-rhyme “Miss Mary Mack” on the soundtrack, both dancers holding space in what suggested a frozen moment of pursuit. Then Johnson began to generate gestures with increasing vigor, alternating between defiant, prayerful, and struggling. Meanwhile Heath remained frozen in a strong pose, seemingly on a journey, facing away from Johnson.

The moment morphed, and Johnson and Heath, both dazzling improvisers and movers, began playing out a series of game structures that brought them into closer and closer proximity. Partnering, echoing, competing, they sat together with knees bent, pushing each others’ legs down with their hands, exchanging provocations until Johnson manifested a sit-down strike, deliberately ignoring Heath’s playful pleas for attention. Heath played peek-a-boo behind Johnson’s back, then forced herself into her embrace. Comfort was sought, rejected, and then finally offered. This was a moment of pure physical comedy, beautifully played.

The moments when the two dancers vocalized were perfectly timed. How much was improvised I wouldn’t dare to speculate, but each move and utterance arrived as a fresh surprise, including a joyful twerking battle to “Back That Azz Up,” Johnson declaring “I’m tired” and collapsing to the floor, and a verbal dozens game “The Bigger the Hoops” that was raunchy and hilarious.

Then came a wallop at the end, mixing joy with fear, humor with endurance and pain. Johnson and Heath virtuosically played a hand-clapping game with the chant altered: “Shame shame shame, I don’t wanna live in USA no more more more, there’s a big fat policeman at my door door door, He will shoot you in the back, Girl you betta pack, I don’t wanna live in USA no more more more, SHAME.”

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Carole McCurdy is a Chicago-based artist whose work addresses grief and anxiety, duty and resistance, and the absurd mysteries of embodiment. She has performed at spaces including the Chicago Cultural Center, Epiphany Dance, Links Hall, Hamlin Park, High Concept Laboratories, and Defibrillator Gallery. She received a 2016 Lab Artist award from the Chicago Dancemakers Forum and was a Fall 2016 Sponsored Artist at High Concept Laboratories. She created and directed an ensemble piece, Waver, with support from CDF, HCL, and 3Arts Chicago. carolemccurdy.com

(*) PRJ is partnering with Links Hall to celebrate their 40th anniversary by providing a platform for artist-to-artist responses to the work that is presented as part of the Pay-the-40th-Forward season. Thank you, Links Hall, for all that you do for the dance and performance communities in Chicago. Congratulations on 40 years!