Melissa Lewis

Last post of 2018/First post of 2019

One of the last dance performances I saw in 2018 was Performing Diaspora 2018 at Counterpulse featuring choreography by Cynthia Ling Lee and Melissa Lewis (with Kim Ip and Nina Wu). It was an exceptional way to end a year of watching and writing dance. I was grateful to learn about the Santa Cruz, CA Chinatowns and Chinese labor camps that existed between 1860-1955 in Lee’s Lost Chinatowns. The layers were sometimes hard to see through, but some points resonated – the value of testimony, community, and memory. I couldn’t help but think about my grandmother, my Oma. She immigrated to the U.S. after WWII with my 7-year old Mother. How did she manage to make a home and find a place after the atrocities of war? Then I thought about how much she never talked about that time and how many stories get lost – the unspeakability of things.

It seemed fitting for the evening to end with I dreamed Bruce Lee was my father. It was poignant and funny, thoughtful and fun. I wasn’t sure what to expect (I explicitly avoided the KQED review of the piece before seeing the show). As part of the Performing Diaspora Residency at CounterPulse, I suspected this piece would be about racial identity in some way. Race was part of the conversation, but it didn’t dominate, which allowed for Lewis, Ip, and Wu to dig deeper into issues of ancestry, identity, and longing. Part dance, part theater, part movie set the pieces of  I dreamed Bruce Lee was my father added up – the dancing amplified the content along with the costume changes, karaoke singing, and spoken word. I didn’t get lost or wander too far.

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I dreamed Bruce Lee was my father, CounterPulse December 2018. Photo Credit: Robbie Sweeny

This multimedia, and multimodal piece asked the audience to consider the past as part of how we are now, in the present. What are the lineages that keep us moving, keep us asking not only who we are but who we hope to be? This inquiry, as played out by the dancers, is serious and also humorous. Writing for KQED, Gluckstern claims the piece “doesn’t lead to a greater revelation of the persistence of outmoded stereotypes.” I noticed that too, but that criticism didn’t linger for me. What lingered for me were questions about ancestry and a longing for connections between parts of ourselves that we don’t know to connect or wish we could do better.

As I walked out into the night, I thought about what I long and hope for. I can’t think of a better way to end 2018 and begin 2019.

 

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June 11th, “60 Second Dances”

Curated by Melissa Lewis, Choreography by Many

There was a warm buzz in the tiny Book & Job gallery on Saturday night.   On view was a debut photography show, Multiples, by Melissa Lewis.  Lewis states that the “show is an attempt of understanding what a multiple is.”  I came on Saturday night not only to see Lewis’ photographs but also to watch “60 Second Dances.”  Lewis commissioned and curated 21 dancers/choreographers to make one-minute responses to each of her photographs that hung in the gallery.  

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The dances extended the show’s theme as a reflection of multiples upon multiples – an interplay of different parts, an arrangement (or composition) that allowed for more than one connection.  Even Geary St. added a sonic/atmospheric multiple.    

What does a 60 second dance look like?  I’m not sure I have an answer, but for me it wasn’t about the individual dances. I was more interested in how “the whole” of these pieces came embodied a collective response to Lewis’ photographs.  As I moved around the tiny room trying to watch these dances, I started to see them as parts of a larger conversation.  In this conversation, I noticed humor, delicacy, honesty, peculiarity, and others.  The connections made between the dances and photographs were explicit and implicit, as well as reactive and reflective – a speaking of wishes, desires, and whimsey.  

There was something tender about the 20 or so minutes of dance, which might be indicative of Lewis’ personal connection to each of the performers or how her photographs included so much of herself in them.

I wonder how my response fits into the conversation.  Is this response here part of the multiples?  Could I dance it?  I truly appreciate dance experiences that can provoke me to think in new ways not just about dances, but about how I respond to them.   

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