DANCE / Great charm that fills the cracks: Colored Children Flyin' By - Riverside Studios

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The Independent Culture
David Rousseve's Colored Children Flyin' By creates its own style of magic realism in the stories it tells about Creole slave children and modern black America. Rousseve himself - dancer, raconteur, polemicist and pedlar of fantasy - is a performer of mercurial charm. He speaks in several tongues, from the rasp of his old grandmother (survivor of a slave childhood) to the camp Texan drawl and gregarious whoops of his own more liberated self. As he speaks, his body dances, acting out the stories.

Rousseve's theme is double - surviving loss and being black in a white world. But while much of the material is angry and brutal, it is also very generous and funny. For instance, before Rousseve winds himself up to a diatribe about Aids, he gives you an easy route into death through a hilarious anecdote about the loss of his pet rat. While his voice hushes at the memory he also has the audience in fits ('My parents called it rat cancer; all the pets had cancer, dog cancer, rabbit cancer, the cat died of a very bad case of kitty cat cancer').

You're still laughing when Rousseve switches to his grandmother's far more harrowing life - seeing her cousin raped; loathing herself when she's confronted with her own 'nigger' status. While Rousseve talks, his company of five dance a sketchy chorus, letting their hands crawl spider-fingered over each other's limbs as Rousseve describes the screaming itch of the children's open sores.

Rousseve's grandmother survived by willing herself into a magic trance - flying with the moon. Rousseve's way of coping is self-mockery. He talks about his first day among white children at an integrated school, when his teacher asked him who he'd like to be and he lied and said: 'Martin Luther King.' As the teacher beamed, Rousseve says: 'I knew then I'd hate being in the white world because I'd be entirely too good at it.' Simultaneously raising a smile and wiping it off our faces, Rousseve celebrates and denigrates his own charm.

So great is this charm that it fills most of the piece's cracks - disguising the fact that much of the choreography is fairly thin, that the stories jump around so much that without Rousseve's beguiling delivery they would hardly connect. If anyone does resist him they still have the finale to reckon with, where gospel singer B J Crosby (previously the silent presence of Rousseve's grandmother) launches into a show-stopping 'Amazing Grace'. With breath control worthy of a Wagnerian diva and a much bigger smile, her voice wraps you in a pulsating embrace.

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