A half-naked dancer gallops wildly around the stage, squealing and grimacing while another dressed in drag suggests to audience members that they have sex with "the uglies." A third sings plaintively, "Don't you know you have your daddy's eyes?" These are just a few of the provocative moments that electrify choreographer Trajal Harrell's evening-length Medium (M), also known as (M)imosa, one of the pieces in his multipart work Twenty Looks or Paris Is Burning at the Judson Church, which will be performed at the ICA January 17 and 18. (M)imosa had its premiere in New York in 2011.
A collaboration with the dancers Cecilia Bengolea, François Chaignaud, and Marlene Monteiro Freitas, the larger work was inspired by Harrell, a 2012 Guggenheim Fellowship recipient and a 2012 New York Dance and Performance Award winner, asking himself the daunting question: "What would have happened in 1963 if someone from the drag-ball scene in Harlem had come downtown to perform alongside the early postmodern choreographers at Judson Church?" In response, over the last 10 years, he has produced a series of dances that includes seven sizes, from extra small (XS) to extra large (XL). Twenty Looks or Paris Is Burning at Judson Church (S) was presented at the ICA in 2010.
"Trajal — like Matisse, who used black to paint light — uses stillness, like no other dance-maker I know, to choreograph motion," says Richard Colton, founder /director, with Amy Spencer, of Concord Academy's Summer Stages Dance. "I love his combination of demonic and angelic qualities."
(M)imosa brings together two very different worlds of dance, the ascetic and purist postmodern, which eschewed spectacle and virtuosity, and the mock and extravagantly theatrical Harlem balls of the '80s, a product of gay black and Latino culture, celebrated in the 1990 documentary, Paris Is Burning. "The source material helps me understand the historical imagination," says Harrell in a phone conversation from his family's home in Georgia, after three months in Europe, where he has won a devoted following. "I'm looking at what is underneath the work. I honored Judson but didn't know what should come next. I was bored with conceptual dance, but I didn't want to simply embrace virtuosity. Then I saw how voguing related to Judson's insistence on authenticity. It's taken a long time to articulate to others and myself, but I now know what I'm doing and understand how they work together."
TRAJAL HARRELL'S (M)IMOSA/TWENTY LOOKS OR PARIS IS BURNING AT THE JUDSON CHURCH:: ICA, 100 Northern Ave, Boston :: January 17-18 @ 7:30 pm :: $20 :: 617.478.3103 or icaboston.org