The dance piece “Still Not Still” by Ligia Lewis, which was planned for April 2021 in HAU1, was presented for the time being in film format (in collaboration with film director Moritz Freudenberg) on 11 June and released on Vimeo. The work’s focus is an emotional corporeal mise-en-scène, which relies heavily on humor to express the exclusionary mechanisms of colonial and neo-liberal structures.
On 28 May 2021, more than one hundred years after the disgraceful act, the German federal government declared the atrocities against the Herero and Nama people in what is now Namibia as genocide. Although history, or rather this crime, can not be undone, this recognition is nevertheless an important step towards reevaluating the colonial era, the horrible traces it left behind, and the long shadow cast over the present day. The ongoing repression of subaltern groups of people reveals that this history has always been marked by violence. Whether it’s about Black people, women, immigrants, or members of the LGBTQ community (as is currently the case in Hungary), the criminal power of the state apparatus is not an exception, but rather the conclusion of the capitalist-imperialist dispositive. However, racist incidents are by no means exclusive to political-ideological contexts. On the contrary, they have also occurred in the realm of culture, or to be more specific in theater, where the question of diversity has only emerged as a volatile and hotly debated topic in the past few years.
In her new work “Still not Still”, which was originally planned as a live performance and can currently be viewed as a video film, choreographer and dancer Ligia Lewis grapples with the gaps in the “western” historical narrative. Seven performers (Boglárka Börcsök, Darius Dolatyari, Corey-Scott Gilbert, Cassie Augusta Jørgensen, Justin Kennedy, Jolie Ngemi, Damian Rebgetz) create an ethereal, scenographic event that unravels intense and emotional situations and fictionally charged visual constellations, which defy straightforward interpretation. The accompanying text (dramaturgy: Maja Zimmermann) states that the work was inspired by the image of a Black Madonna (8th century) from southern Italy. The inscription on the Black Madonna is especially telling: “Nigro sum sed Formosa” (I am black, but beautiful). A second reference point is the medieval French “Complainte” (dirge), which seizes on the pain and grief over an imperfect world. On a formal level, the choreography is marked by energetic movements, which alternate between sequences danced in unison and solo performances. The quick shifting of scenes at the start of the film imparts an impression of radical discontinuity and fragmentation, which resists the call for wholeness, progress, and coherence. One leitmotif, whose repetition defines the rhythmic structure of the piece, is the constant falling and stumbling of bodies.
Alongside the choreographic and visual devices, delicate soundscapes (sound design and composition: S. McKenna, acoustics and electric guitar: Joey Gavin) play an important role in the unfolding of the aesthetic ambiance. The performance vacillates between surreal tableau vivant and an ecstatic party where bodies merge in orgiastic constellations, their individual borders faded. The conceptual target of “Still not Still” is the exclusionary mechanisms of the global, or more precisely neo-liberal, power structures reproduced and perpetuated by colonial division and injustice. By invoking the world of the dead and reintegrating it into our present, Lewis creates a fictional-performative alternative world, which defies discrimination and degradation. It is at once a wild celebration, a ritual, and a melancholic lament, which lends the image of history a dialectical framing.
During the film, I had to think of Achille Mbembe. In his book, “Critique of Black Reason”, the Cameroonian philosopher and historian proceeds on the assumption that the persistent exploitative and plunderous model of the capitalist machine leads to a becoming black of the world. The questions he addresses in his text: “How can we think through difference and life, the similar and the dissimilar, the surplus and the in-common?”, can also be linked with “Still not Still”. Are the falling bodies in the choreography a potential answer? Is this vibrant time of dance that schism in the architecture of enslavement, an escape into the freedom of becoming equals?
English translation by Melissa Maldonado
“Still not Still (scenes for camera)” by Ligia Lewis & Moritz Freudenberg is available for online viewing at the following HAUthek link until the live presentation of the production: https://www.hebbel-am-ufer.de/en/programme/hau4/ligia-lewis-still-not-still-film/