Performance Review: She the Black Child in the House Mar 8, 2016

by Joyce S.C. Liao

Joyce Liao is a post-disciplinary artist from Seattle, often using improvised and choreographed movement, writing, videos or visual images as her creative media. This piece of writing is a reflection of the story woven in her mind while watching the performance.

Yellow Towel was a very sad piece to experience. There was no way to exit. The stage was white - so white that it was brighter than the backdrop of a million-dollar MTV showroom, but you knew that it happened in the corner of a house of poverty and substance addition, where the parents barely made enough money to feed their kids. They may be addicted to alcohol, cocaine or other kinds of drugs; the woman you saw on the stage could be a crack baby - or that her nervous system was perhaps damaged from excessive alcohol consumption; her entire body was tremulous, convulsive, spastic and distorted; it took her great efforts trying to stand up or to walk across the room. Above all these, you noticed that she was black, and that was what trapped her down and a curse that haunted her and her parents and ancestors, the reason she was trapped in the world of poverty and suffering that you were then witnessing. The stage was white; the objects on the stage were set up white - sharp, tidy, light and comfortable. Our entire capitalistic system was set up white - a system that polarizes the population into either the rich or the poor, with the majority abandoned into the dark corner of poverty with no resources, poor education, being forgotten or purposely ignored and had no way to exit.

The wind was blowing west - the grandmother limped across the living room, mumbling to herself. I saw Dana Michel's body became a medium of the embodiment of her elderly family members, while we as the audience became the young Michel sitting aside in the same room. They would not give up; Of course not - grandma had to teach her children to make better lives. By how? - Social services, charitable resources, a "systematic solution", something that will not go away and evaporate. Like a business of their own; they had to run a profitable business of their own that would not be taken away and would stay with them. Something that would make their lives better and would not ever let them down again. Of course - the wind was blowing west and perhaps it was a storm that they needed to prepare for. But grandma knew what to do. She had experiences and she could tell her children how to make a living that was much better, out of the cave of poverty and filth. Grandma was the powerful one; she made money to feed her children, and she would teach them to become strong individuals that could earn decent livings of their own.

However, the young Michel was not convinced. She knew she was black - a little poor black girl with black braided hair, in a black hoodie and oversized loose black pants - "hip-hop pants" as we would call them. She imagined that if she would have been a blond, things would get so much better and her parents and grandparents wouldn't have been alcoholics, and she would not eat old bananas day after day to fill up her stomach, and they would be able to make delicious real food for dinner, like the foods she saw from the cooking class on TV. But these wishes were only a castle on a cloud; she was black. BLACK - BLACK - BLACK - that was the cause, the story and the result - the beginning and the end.

It was intensely uncomfortable for a privileged person like me to witness this piece. It did not feel resolved in a way when we donated a hundred dollars to some charity organization that you were told that your money would buy them thirty good meals on a Thanksgiving. The piece did not provide solutions of any kind, but was putting the naked nasty truth in front of your eyes; and since you had bought the ticket, you were tied down to share Michel's world for 75 minutes. That was the whole point and why we needed a live performance like this one. We sat there together in a room and we shared the experience of Michel's world for 75 minutes. Thank you Michel for you and everything you've brought.

Photo at Vanessa DeWolf's Collapsible Suffle by Nikolai Lesnikov