Drawing on African and African-American cultures, ‘The Good Dance’ makes room for a little Jewish dancer
- Anna Schon explodes with energy in The Good Dance. (Photo: Antoine Tempe/Reggie Wilson Fist & Heel Performance Group
A fascinating dance work,Â The Good Dance: Dakar/Brooklyn, being performed this weekend at the Walker Art Center, draws inspiration from the cultures that grew from the waters of two great rivers, the Congo and the Mississippi.
ChoreographersÂ Reggie Wilson, of the Brooklyn-based Fist & Heel Performance Group, and Andréya Ouamba, a native of the Congo who leads the Senegal-basedÂ Compagnie 1er Temps Danse, have created a fluid, energetic series of dances to the music and rhythms of Africa and the Mississippi Delta.
And in the midst of the African streams of The Good Dance,Â spritely dancer Anna Schon, a 24-year-old Barnard College graduate and a Modern Orthodox Jew, stands out. Schon is white and petite.
The Forward published a feature on the talented dancer last year, which noted that “when she is not studying the Prophets or the talmudic laws about transactions in the tractate Bava Kama, Schon leads a very different kind of life. She is an active member of four New York dance companies — an unusual profession for an observant Jew, since many performances take place on the Sabbath, and since, according to the laws of tsniut (modesty), dancing with or performing before unrelated members of the opposite sex is not permitted.”
Indeed, in The Good Dance, Schon slithers over, around and through the legs of the male dancers. The dances are dramatic, and brimming with gracefulness and strength — not overtly sexual or sordid in any way. The Walker-commissioned world premiere deserves a large audience; this evening of contemporary dance is accessible and entertaining.
In the Forward story, Rukhl Schaechter delves into the conflicts Schon has navigated in her dance career. At Barnard, she “became enthralled with African dance”:
“I realized that when I do ballet or modern, I’m very conscious of my technique; it feels like a performance,” Schon explained. “But when I do the African dances to the beat of the drums, I’m transported to a desert alone somewhere. It’s a very spiritual experience.” She spent the following semester in Cape Town, South Africa, learning African dance traditions.
During her senior year, Schon was one of 12 women chosen to dance in a piece created by Reggie Wilson, the celebrated black choreographer and founder of Fist & Heel. She felt a kinship with Wilson, who, ironically, once had danced with Ohad Naharin, the Israeli choreographer who now heads the Batsheva Dance Company. In fact, Wilson told her that there was a time when he had considered moving to Israel.
After garnering praise for several performances in African dance, Schon asked Wilson if she could join Fist & Heel. He didn’t reply, and a week later she asked again. Wilson looked at her squarely and deadpanned: “You know, Anna, you’re white.” But after Schon described her experiences studying dance in South Africa, and her own spiritual struggle to remain both a dancer and a religious Jew, Wilson was impressed.
“We have dancers from Senegal, Trinidad, Jamaica,” Wilson told the Forward, “and many of them recognize that they’re working outside their strict religious tradition. So Anna fits right in there.”
Dance aficionados will appreciate the passion Schon brings to The Good Book. Wilson certainly made the right decision in including her among the talented dancers in his company. — Mordecai Specktor
Performances of The Good Dance: Dakar/Brooklyn continue at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Nov. 13 and 14 at the Walker Art Center. For information, go to: calendar.walkerart.org.