Some stories are hard to tell
I will start right at the very end. Ligia Lewis covered in white paint, her dress pulled over her head to drape over her back like thick hair, slumped in a cropped body suit, patterned and skin-like, rests on white letters spelling REST. She is exhausted as if, yet again, we have witnessed an attempt at revolution, or the beginnings of a rebellion, much like in the countless years of rebellion led by black slaves and freed slaves, spanning back to the 17th century and beyond. Having been summoned and having passed through her body, her great-grandmother now hovers gloriously in the space. Because, as Lewis declares ominously, “luckily, ghosts don’t die so easily”.
The beginning. A welcome courtesy. A grand gesture, alien to today’s codes, punctuated with a pounding note I can only describe as a harpsichord. It draws our attention towards this very moment. And I stay with her. She stands right at the very front, spilling over into the audience, which she looks straight at. As if studying who is watching, who would be witnessing her this evening, our gaze is being sent back at us again and again. She simultaneously teases and confronts. A contract has been established. We spend what seems like most of the first half of the performance watching her working her way through disjointed sentences, whilst microphones pick up her breath, the clicking of her tongue and the sliding of her bare feet over the brown imitation wood floor panels. Moments of enigmatic movement, sometimes so microscopic, they may pass you by as an accidental slip of the mind. I imagine tracing the origins of her body language and the motivation which informs this vocabulary. (I later find clues as I look up a few of her sources listed in the bibliography.) They are gestures that never quite finish, impulses which start vaguely and at times merely fade, like a wink that flickered through her. The very deliberate ambling on stage, the indolence, undoubtedly to me a political statement, executed through movement, moves us to reframe our beliefs of what we expected to be confronted with.
Ligia Lewis scans the audience, moves between the rows, and lets us know that we will not be pandered to. Her grotesque humour seems to me like a yell of foreboding in anticipation of what is to come. A thrill of a story with many beginnings and no end. The white wig of John Locke sits on her head askew. Ligia Lewis jolts us backward and plunges us into a world where the leg pointing skywards is as beautifully expressive as the soft inner lining of her robe. I think about the process of creating this performance and I imagine that the story unfolding on stage, the interwoven histories, anecdotes and key protagonists, were all explicit and clear at some point, only to become unavoidably tangled in the face of the impossible task of recounting complexities of such magnitude, that have impacted generations. One’s own identity jumbled within, the unwieldiness of a linear narrative will never be as deliberate and emotive as an amble across an open stage featuring fragments and providing glimpses into her thinking, as I assemble myself in watching her meander.
Minutes before coming to rest, covered in white paint, the dress turned gag. Moments earlier, we have watched parts of the stage floor panels being turned and removed, the neon sign REVENGE, now further to the front, illuminates the ground, the plastic skulls are scattered, the sound creeping ever louder has now spilled to the front seats. We focus on her great-grandmother, picturing her. A scandal. Ethereal and transporting, we skip back through chapters. Dropped on this island, this plot of land, a temporary space, a stamp. We search through the smoke that smells of burnt wood, the silhouettes, skulls, and satin. Lewis picks us back up from deep inside the spectacle, post-Locke, somewhere amidst the celebration of the age of revolution. We regroup and take comfort in recognising symbols, dates, oppression, and tearing into microwaved meat. Such unease never goes away. In her own words, “some stories are hard to tell”.
Daliah Touré is a dancer based in Vienna. She has been working in art education at Künstlerhaus in Vienna since 2020, applying movement-based approaches in her teaching. She has an MA in Performance, Culture and Context from the University of Leeds. Drawing from her vast experience as a dancer and choreographer, Daliah has developed a unique way of exploring unconventional spaces and sites, and of connecting to other art forms on an embodied level.