Jumatatu M. Poe and Jermone "Donte" Beacham created "Let 'Im Move You: This is a Formation" at EMPAC in Troy.
At any fine performance, I can often feel transported. But it’s rare, if ever, to completely lose a sense of time and place – when I forget that I’m at a show, viewing a fabrication of an experience in a defined time and space.
But somehow Jumatatu M. Poe and Jermone “Donte” Beacham in their work-in-progress “Let ‘Im Move You: This is a Formation” did just that. As I and about 100 others meandered around in Studio 1 at EMPAC in Troy, I stopped thinking rationally and believed, albeit briefly, that I was an insider at the world’s hottest and hedonistic dance club.
The haze, the flashing lights, the dark corners, the throbbing music and even the warm temperature added up to a world in which pleasure-seekers inhabit. And the most indulgent were the dancers – seven gender-fluid men and women who performed what is known as J-Sette – a quasi follow-the-leader pop style that blends voguing and cat-walk strutting with African dance flare and rhythms.
The form was born in Mississippi, cultivated by black all-female drill teams. The popular Simon Say-like parade of dancers was then adopted by black queer club scene. Now it has been dramatized by Poe and Beacham in a series of “Let ‘Im Move You” dances. And it’s fascinating.
Just to enter into “This is a Formation” was a well-known ritual for club goers. First was the line. Audience members waited anxiously outside in the lobby as one of the dancers would come out and invite a handful of people in. Of course it took a while to all get inside. But once there, the chosen felt special. My guide Nikolai McKenzie made us feel at home, graciously introducing us to each performer including the DJ Zen Jefferson to my small group.
As he showed us around, we dodged silky panels, designed by Precious Lovell that hung from the ceiling. They divided the space into intimate alcoves where dancers in tutus, jump suits or neon yoga pants and bras could groove and audience members could gather.
There was no real start to the piece. Rather the DJ signaled a start with an increase in the volume and pulsation of the music. It naturally pushed the audience back to the studio’s walls in an attempt to try to take it all in.
That was impossible to do. The darkness and the panels obscured views. There was one taped off rectangle with a blazing circle of light that served as a both a respite and spotlight for some dancers. Maria Bauman-Morales captured the light early on, shimmying and striking sharp dramatic poses. McKenzie, who was stripped bare, had a brief sensual encounter with Poe in the small space.
And if you didn’t like that, the audience was free to wander at will, watching what we wanted to watch and turning from what we didn't. It was liberating.
The one annoyance was frequent costume changes. A rack of colorful clothes was rolled around while dancers selected different items to put on or take off. Some chose to parade around in their underwear. Even the DJ took off his sweat pants.
I’m not sure that was anything more than a distraction. I would have preferred to see the performers just continue to dance in their bold and confident ways. But then again, their unabashed changes amped up the decadence of “This is a Formation.”