Counterpulse co-presented Li Chio-Ping Dance’s (LCPD) Here Lies The Truth September 29 – October 1. LCPD the other co-presenter brought this work from their home in Madison, Wisconsin. It is an evocative and powerful piece about racial discrimination.
The performance opens with a woman wearing a George Washington wig. Through a megaphone, she makes a speech in which the phrase “we hold these truths to be self-evident” repeats often. It is interspersed with common phrases that when heard in the context of racial inequity take on a whole new meaning for example: “ignorance is bliss,” “names will never hurt me,” “America is the land of the free,” and “justice is blind.” Stark black and white text slides of the same phrases play on the back wall, amplifying the message.
Eight titled sections follow this introductory one. This is a company piece for eight dancers. They perform well together, with similar levels of expertise and an appropriate amount of individuation in their styles. The opening sequence includes a movement phrase that repeats often through the evening. It involves one arm behind the back as if being cuffed. The other arm is bent at a right angle with hand up and palm facing out, as if taking an oath or raising one’s hand. The oath arm then extends pointing at the sky; the pointing finger curves down from the sky to the center of one’s forehead which forces the performer into a backbend. We see this sequence again later, as JP Alejandro, standing at a microphone, speaks the words “why do they hate us,” as part of his recounting of a racially motivated assault.
During the section entitled The house that Jack built a group of dancers moves with urgent intention toward something out of reach. Suddenly their momentum reverses. They scuttle backwards, unable to cross the invisible border or attain the thing they were seeking. Repeated attempts fail. This motif also repeats later in the evening.
Here Lies The Truth references children’s games in the titles of its sections and in some of the activity. In the same way that the opening the truth monologue made me hear common phrases in a new light, the use of games and nursery rhymes made me think about how our childhood experiences inform our adult behavior. In the musical chairs section, performed to “Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush”, a group of adults in business wear compete for a single chair. Early on, a White woman enters and takes the one adult-sized chair and replaces it with a child-sized chair. Phrases like “you don’t even look like one of them,” “all Asians look alike,” and “these oriental people will always be unAmerican,” play as part of the sound score.
The erasure section was powerful not only for the committed performances of writer Kimi Evelyn and eraser Elisa Hildner but for its directness. Two chalk boards are held at eye level as Evelyn, a Black woman dressed in a black jumpsuit, writes LISTEN on one, and TO ME on the other. Hildner quickly erases the words. Evelyn seeing the erasure writes LISTEN TO and then ME and is again erased. The urgency and speed increases as the writer scribes HEAR ME and the eraser follows close behind frantically erasing. The writer abandons the boards writing in chalk on her black clothes as Hildner attacks these new letters by rubbing her eraser over the Evelyn’s body. Here Lies The Truth ends with a powerful moment of BIPOC solidarity. In holding space and place only the five BIPOC cast members appear. They begin holding plank position spaced out across the stage. Soon they move toward each other while maintaining their plank positions. Side by side they become a sturdy platform supporting each other. Miraculously they stand as one pressed together facing forward. Gratitude for each other is evident on their faces. These BIPOC performers take their bow first before the three White cast members join them. This decision alone carries power. The performance, as presented in this West Coast Premiere, had an “everything but the kitchen sink” messiness to it. It includes contemporary dance, spoken word, visual projections of text and video and numerous costume changes. The sound score is laden with the voices of the BIPOC dancers’ lived experiences of stereotyping, discrimination and abuse. The dancing seemed to take a back seat. It was difficult to focus on the movement, and left this viewer overwhelmed. That dazed feeling may well have been the choreographer Chiao-Ping’s goal. The work and its message felt a bit dated on the Counterpulse stage; a place known for its early championing of marginalized voices. During the post-performance talk-back, as I listened to a White college-age dancer speak uncomfortably about allyship, I thought about how differently The Truth Lies Here might land with an audience in the America’s heartland, the red center of it all. Review by Jen Norris October 1, 2022 ________________________________
Here Lies The Truth
At Counterpulse, San Francisco, CA 94110
Thursday - Saturday, 9/29 – 10/1/22 at 8pm
Full Program here
Concept/Direction Li Chiao-Ping in collaboration with the creative team
Choreography Li Chiao-Ping in collaboration with the dancers
Collaborator/Dramaturg/Vocal Coach Cláudia Tatinge Nascimento
Collaborator/Visual Design Douglas Rosenberg with Hong Huo (design assistant)
Other Images Jacob Li Dai Loong Rosenberg
Collaborator/Sound Design Tim Russell
Texts JP Alejandro, Kimi Evelyn, Li Chiao-Ping, Cuauhtli Ramirez Castro, Douglas Rosenberg, Elisabeth Roskopf, Abbi Stickels, Cláudia Tatinge Nascimento, and verbatim transcriptions of legal and journalistic testimonies
Lighting Design John Frautschy
Costumes Li Chiao-Ping with Veda Manly (costume assistant)
Dancers JP Alejandro, Kimi Evelyn, Lauren Gerlowski, Piper Morgan Hayes, Elisa Hildner, Cassie Last, Cuauhtli Ramirez Castro, Elisabeth Roskopf, Abbi Stickels