The beat is quick and clear, and it can race like a pulse. The dancers are out in the open, in bright sun, and in the trees around the stage they have hung bright quilted banners in reds and greens and golds, like stoles. They are performing against a hazy blue sky with the valley behind them and turning this mountain into a sacred place.
Contra-Tiempo is performing at Jacob’s Pillow, in bright colors, each one unique, and this is choreography that moves to the music. They leap to the beat. They move all together in full-body arcs. They open their arms to the day. They are here from Los Angeles, and as they introduce themselves later, they have come there from many places and traditions. They are Black and Latina and White, and as they talk about their company, they are friends.
Now they’re here with us, dancing again after a long year — to perform a new work, joyUS justUS, an embodiment of radical joy and justice, with original music by East Los Angeles Chicano band Las Cafeteras and d. sabela grimes.
They open with shared thanks in shared languages. They call our attention with thanks for the earth, madre tierra, for water, for sunlight and standing together here today. Right now all of these things feel rare. I think I recognize the words, and they affirm later (in the Q&A), they are honoring the Thanksgiving Address.
I’ve read about the Haudenosaunee tradition of bringing a group of people together, opening a conversation or a debate, by celebrating parts of our lives we all share. (Robin Wall Kimmerer writes about it in Braiding Sweet Grass, and I often think about it now, any time I come into a conversation where I’ll need to build trust.) It feels fitting to hear it aloud here on Mohican homelands, near the six nations and the Kanien’kehaka.
Now a woman in a blue skirt calls on water in undulating waves. Six dancers move together as an ensemble, sliding fluidly into pairs. And I’m struck by how much I’m moved to see people close enough to touch. They hold each other at waist and shoulder like partners in a salsa, and they’re moving together in rhythm, and I can feel suddenly how much I miss that.
Words weave through the music. A new mother tells us about the morning she met her adopted son. Two Black dancers join in a duet, and they’re holding each other. They’re carrying each other’s weight. The music turns quiet and deep, and they look close. The mood can change swiftly from one movement of the dance to the next, now sad, now angry, challenging and comic, fast and exuberant — but a current runs through it. In a hard world, they’re holding on, and they’re not backing down.
A woman comes to center stage alone and offers us a perspective on the meaning of justice and healing. She is taking legal language and flipping it, proclaiming her actions — an intent to distribute joy across all boundaries. People call out to her. Around our wooden benches, we have streamers of cloth to wave if we feel it and make some noise. She moves me with her directness. More voices join her, the six of them together, and in this hot clear bright air, I feel aware of the looks they pass between them, the words they hand on to one another, the messages they send in an expression, a gaze, a movement in shared space — all the connections they embody.