Challenge Post: The Power of a Turntable

A few weeks ago, we worked in small groups to imagine how we would might stage a performance depicted in Sassafrass, Cypress, and Indigo. In my group, we looked at the performance titled “Blackout” which starts on page 102. It is unclear when the performance ends, but we assumed that it ends on the chapter break two pages later and the shift from the stage to Cypress’ apartment is all part of this performance of blackness.

An example of a turntable I found was in this performance of Les Misérables: While there are probably many examples in this whole play, I was looking at when the table spins starting around 1:58:19. Here, the table is used to get a 360-degree view of the men fighting, drawing the viewer in to the scene and showing the other side of the battle. I think that setting the company’s performance – specifically at the beginning of “Blackout” – on a turntable would allow the audience to get a 360-degree view of the performance and further illustrate the fullness in which the dance encompasses the black experience and take the audience through time to look at the history of blackness.

To signify that the party at Cypress’ house is a continuation of “Blackout,” we proposed a turntable if this were to play out on a stage. Here is an example of the turn table from Hamilton: While I was unable to get a clip from the actual performance due to strict copyright, this is an example of the mechanics we talked about. In the actual performance, the actors put on and take off props as it spins to show a shift in the scene while still giving the performance a fluid feel; all of scenes seem to bland into each other, creating a smooth narrative. After the dancing on stage is done, we thought that the actors could put on props to resemble Cypress’ apartment/kitchen while they are still dancing to show that for the performers, “Blackout” has not truly ended, and they are still performing blackness at Cypress’ party.

As far as the dance itself, I imagine it looking like this performance by the Katherine Dunham Dance Company: This dance is upbeat and very similar to the description in Sassafrass, Cypress, and Indigo; however, what really inspired me was the scream at the begging of the performance. It was discussed in Goldman’s “Sound Gesture” how Lincoln screaming in her music “is bound with real life horror that is racialized, gendered, sexualized, and frequently played out on the body” (Goldman 131). Screaming is not just for shock value; it allows women to be heard in a world that is dominated by men. In the novel, the dancers are said to “scream and sigh” as they dance (Shange 102); these sounds seem to replicate the power of Lincoln’s screams, and I think it would be very important to keep them in if this were to be performed on a stage.

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