‘Bridge-s’ Spans Time and Space at the Getty Museum

 In Critical Drafts, Dd Response

Artist in Bridge-sWORDS AND IMAGES BY BELLA DORADO

On the second level of the Getty’s courtyard, I saw three musicians positioned against a wall, the railing of the balcony to their right, waiting to begin. The bright marigold of their monochrome clothing was a brilliant contrast to the soft cream and white of the Getty Museum’s architecture. They stood stoically, legs planted firmly beneath them, straight-backed and gazing steadily into the space just above everyone’s heads. I lined up the frame, adjusting aperture and shutter speed for the intensity of the noonday sun. I waited for a lady enthusiastically snapping photos on her iPhone to move out of frame and just as I depressed the shutter button, the musician on the right flashed me a bright and mischievous grin. His timing was impeccable, and I laughed at what seemed to be my own personal beginning of Bridge-s.

In collaboration with composer Cooper Moore and choreographic duo  Gerard & Kelly, Bridge-s is Solange’s latest foray into interdisciplinary place-based performance. In Solange’s own words, “Bridge-s is a reflection on how much transition can be controlled and accelerated by our own ideas, thoughts, and movements versus the natural process of time and space.” 

On the main level of the courtyard, just below the mischievous musician and I, the performance space was clearly defined, the white expanse of marble floor divided into quadrants and marked off with tape. Ushers stood at key places keeping clear the “wings” for the performers to travel through. It turned out they did quite a bit of traveling over the course of the 45-minute show. Below, more musicians stood with their instruments, activating the space with a calm aura of patience. Two vocalists clothed in the buttery yellow stood with the passivity of sycamore trees, as though they were here long before any of us arrived and will remain long after we depart. They raised their mics and we were off. 

The vocal ululations of these two women ebbed and flowed ethereally; the musicians, a combination of brass, keys, and percussion, set the pulse. 

A dancer emerged, her body moving quickly along a diagonal path across the space. Her movements were linear and classical and she seemed the slightest bit unsure of her balance and control. There was no build to the choreography; it took off straight away in a series of precise movements executed in quick succession that pushed her sideways, exploding from somewhere just below the balcony I strained over to see. Perhaps it was this frenetic energy that left the dancer quivering in anticipation of what was to come. I quickly abandoned my position and scurried down the stairs to get closer to the action.

As the dancers layered into the space they constructed the very air around them, and patterns emerged, themes revealed themselves. As a lover of costuming, I wanted to be consumed with costume construction. Yet, the materials were thin and ill fitting on some body types. With such a minimalist intention to costume design here, there was so much potential for luxurious simplicity that instead came across as simplistic forethought. The choreography was much about lines and traveling phrase work. Classical movement with pointed feet and stretched and reaching limbs sporadically gave way to moments seemingly inspired by stepping, a form of percussive dance developed by African American fraternities and sororities. However, these movements were not strongly articulated and it didn’t feel like a pointed cultural reference. They returned again and again to angular sculptures. 

At one point far into the piece, the dancers constructed a tower of their bodies atop which stood a saxophone player. In a moment of stillness, he trilled his notes beautifully into the afternoon air. The dancers deconstructed their tower taking him with them and instantly I saw the musician’s trepidation, tension, and slight fear of a “non mover” unused to being propelled bodily through space at the will of others. But his music never faltered, and though that sentiment was unplanned it suited the work perfectly. The dancers’ bodies moved into and out of the marbled floor, propelling each other literally into the space above them, illuminating dimensional notions of time and space. And our unlikely saxophone space traveler’s palpable concern at the uncertainty of it all reflected our own existential grapplings with the intangibility of time.  

The dancers further anatomized our perception of space and time when, deeply engrossed in the sights and sounds of the central courtyard stage, music drifted across the green expanse of manicured lawn from one balcony outcropping or another. We turned, as one amoebic body to see the glint of three marigold musicians in the near distance. They emitted music, they emitted movement, mirroring that which just happened or was still taking place in front of us. There was a moment of this, where I had decided on my favorite dancer, a habit of mine for better or for worse: Emiliano Jimenez, a short and sleek dancer with a shaved head and a neck dying to grow 2 inches from the base of his scapula as we all looked on. His presence reverberated in silent explosions of force all over the stage. I was just drooling and fully in love with him when, music sounds in the distance, we turned, and there he was. Yards and several staircases away and I was left wondering how the hell did he get up there so quickly? Space contracts. It expands. Time travel. 

In the suspension of music, when time seemed to pause, a dancer continued to count the rhythm. It brought us back to the themes of control and acceleration of transition. The dancers controlled the flow of time with their rhythmic chanting and together as one they accelerated through space until the musicians took over the flow once again. In fact, at times it was difficult to discern who was driving the timing. The performers seemed to pass the responsibility from one to the other throughout the piece. The singers vocalized the dancers’ silent movements as they executed them, the dancers set the beat for the musicians to follow, a musician counted for the dancers in a moment of silence until his companions joined him again in a rhythm that never ceased in their absence. Like a hive of bees, they danced and droned messages to each other, each one dripping in shades of gold and honey.

In a statement made to The Guardian, the Getty said this of Solange’s work: “We have long been inspired by the unique performances Solange has staged in various iconic art and architectural spaces, and her ability to both inhabit a locale, while simultaneously pushing its boundaries. Her bridging of cultural worlds is especially full of potential at the Getty, a cultural center that stands within the diverse city of Los Angeles.” I wondered about this. For one, nestled among the hills, surrounded by stunning vistas of beaches and sprawling cliffside homes, it felt a world away from downtown L.A., Chinatown, East LA, even the unlikely demographic mashup that is the gentrifying Echo Park neighborhood, for example. And for this reason of geographic location and the distance an actual L.A. denizen must traverse and by what available means raised the question of accessibility. I most fortunately own a reliable vehicle in this land of the constant commute. Even still, while the Getty boasts free admittance it is a whopping $20 for the privilege of parking your car for the day. While artists like Solange are challenging the erasure of black and brown creative presence in institutionalized spaces of art, those same institutions are still engaging in practices of censure by denying access to many of the very people Solange is speaking to.

But perhaps most importantly, for that weekend, this space, truly accessible or not, was constructed and activated by black minds and bodies. In a space of white making and authority, disrupting the racialized flow of tradition was a radical reclaiming of time stolen, denied, and lost. In a moment, that was generations in the making, a space was appropriated and reconfigured through a completely different lens, to illuminate an unseen perspective. And it was as if it has always been this way. 

This performance could last for hours yet it would feel as if we were only approaching the middle. Graciously the dancers prepared us for the end.

“The house that was built could crumble at any time.” Rinse, repeat, reconstruct.

Please forgive my potential misquoting of this phrase, but this was the sentiment, the essence of what I, we, were left with. What and whose house could crumble? When and how? Nothing is permanent, everything is in flux, and it could all collapse as we know it at any moment.

I am new to LA. Only three months in to what I am told will be a long and grueling adjustment period. I am wracked with impatience to find my community; to rebuild the house I myself demolished when I said goodbye to Atlanta and headed west. I push and pull at the fabric of my own time here, desperately trying to encourage stitch and weave where perhaps the fabric is not yet in existence. What do I manifest and what do I compress into obscurity as I rush towards an inevitability independent of my forcing? Stuck in this purgatory, I pine for experiences that obliterate time. Dance obliterates time too. And so does music. These actions, requiring whole, physical attention are instruments of transcendence and in Bridge-s they were poetically and effectively employed.  

Overall, I was moved. Literally compelled to prance about the edges of this world trying for many angles of what could be viewed perfectly from any vantage. In a moment when I personally am mired in the ebb of time, I thank Solange and her collaborators for thrusting me back into the divine flow. 

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