Presented as part The Sharon Disney Lund Dance Program at REDCAT, What Remains is a collaboration between world-renowned poet, essayist, and playwright Claudia Rankine and New York-based Guggenheim Fellow choreographer Will Rawls. I found it an inconsistent experience of intrigue and boredom. When it was good, it was excellent and when it failed to meet its goal, it felt endless. What was very noteworthy, however, were the performers, the music/sound design by Jeremy Toussaint-Baptiste, the costumes by Eleanor O’Connell, and several riveting sections of choreography by Will Rawls.
What Remains premiered at the Fisher Center at Bard College in 2017 and inspired by Rankine’s texts on racial violence, What Remains was extremely physical for its four actors/vocalists and dancers. There were moments of frustration due to not being able to clearly understand some of the dialog, or to see the action because it occurred in almost total darkness or behind a barrier of blinding white light. Perhaps this technique was meant to be an extension of the work’s physicality to give the audience a momentary sample what people of color have endured on a daily basis for decades; barriers to keep them out of freedom, wealth and power. Perhaps my discomfort was the idea behind this collaborative dance theater work.
The four performers (Leslie Cuyjet, jess pretty, Tara Aisha Willis, and Jeremy Toussaint-Baptiste) spend much of the work dressed in black loose fitting outfits that enhanced the movement but hides the bodies, giving them an eerie presence while moving and vocalizing around the darken space. This eeriness is doubled when a light change turns their black costumes into a strange glossy dark red while the trio of women perform a wonderfully exhausting section of repetitive rhythmic patterns with their torsos curved over. This at first walking, lunging movement eventually morphs into a faster running variation on the theme and one begins to feel the women’s exhaustion, and perhaps, physical pain from its repetitiveness. Also, very memorable was the final solo performed by jess pretty. Her ability to demand one’s attention, dressed in black and only half lit was extraordinary.
What Remains was laced with humor as in one spoken word section by Leslie Cuyjet which ends with a brief story of a conversation she overheard between two men. The backup singers banter with the musician/actor/mover Toussaint-Baptiste was very funny, as was the excellent timing of the strategically placed expletives throughout the evening.
In the end, I left the theater wondering why this work did not work for me. It had great moments and the talent on the stage was outstanding. My final conclusion was that What Remains lacked consistency, slipping in and out of brilliance. Do I recommend seeing it? Yes.
Claudia Rankine is the author of five volumes of poetry, two plays, and various essays. The texts on racial violence mentioned earlier that were the inspiration for What Remains are Citizen, An American Lyric (Greywolf Press, 2014), winner of multiple book awards, and Don’t Let Me Be Lonely ( Greywolf Press, 2004) which the Star Tribune (Minneapolis) writes “Rankine has graced us not only with her presence, but the ability to make ourselves present—to separate our consciousness from the droning media that drowns out life’s possibilities.”
Will Rawls is a 2021 recipient of The Herb Alpert Award in the Arts in Dance. In the program notes it states that Rawls’ work “explores the relationship between dance and language through the prisms of blackness, abstraction, and opacity.” His work has appeared in numerous venues around the country and he is a recipient of a “Bessie” New York Dance and Performance Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Foundation for Contemporary Arts grant, a Robert Rauschenberg Residency, and a Hodder Fellowship at Princeton University.
What Remains has one more performance, tonight December 11, 2021 at REDCAT at 8:30 p.m. (PT)
For more information and to purchase tickets, click HERE.
Written by Jeff Slayton for LA Dance Chronicle.
Featured image: (L-R) Leslie Cuyjet, Tara Aisha Willis, and jess pretty in What Remains by Claudia Rankine and Will Rawls – Photo by Ian Douglas, courtesy of REDCAT