Review: An Afrofuturistic Journey to the Lunarverse

Even before “Black Hole: Trilogy and Triathlon” begins, it’s already in intriguing motion. When you take your seat at New York Live Arts, you can make out a bumpy mound on the floor of the darkened stage. The points of light that illuminate this spot circulate and swell, so it seems alive. Is there something in it?

Yes, it turns out. Like a cocoon, a body emerges headlong from the tarp — Shamel Pitts, the choreographer of this Afrofuturist work, which had its New York premiere on Thursday. Two other bodies follow: Tushrik Fredericks and Marcella Lewis, members of Tribe, the multidisciplinary artist collective that Pitts leads.

These bodies are tanned and creatures. They are dancers of strong presence and control. As if evolving, they glide, then crawl and crab, then rise and run. Progress is slow and collective. The three articulated bodies are often linked, stacked, nested. They stop together and look towards the light, towards the cosmos, like people do in science fiction movies.

This light, video projection by Lucca Del Carlo, is lunar. You may feel like you are looking through night vision goggles. The sci-fi soundtrack, by Sivan Jacobovitz and Zen Jefferson, suggests the hum and rumble of a spaceship with choruses (from John Tavener’s “Funeral Canticle”) erupting from ambient synths – until the beat turns into a pulse, a beat. This is the birth of the club.

At this point, the lights swirl like the Northern Lights and the waving dancers wave their hands in the air like they don’t care. A supernova explosion sends them spinning together like a teacup ride, then out of each other’s orbit. Isolated, each in a different shade (red, blue, green), they move on their own. Hopeful radio fragments from Nina Simone play – “new dawn”, “new day” – but the dancers crumble, hands to faces.

Eventually, they come together again in a series of sculptural embraces, huddled against the emptiness and cosmic cold but also beautifully arranged for a fashion shoot. The whole hour-long work, the final part of a trilogy with “Black Box” and “Black Velvet”, is curiously elegant and sincere, brilliantly cold and tender. Always visually striking, it is never dull. But it’s happening remotely.

When the three crawl back into the cocoon, it’s not the end. With the tarp as a cloak or cape, they become other composite creatures. Lewis, losing the others, looks like the bow of a spaceship for a moment. Stars of light seem to be sucked into the center of the back wall, the black hole where the three stand entwined. This is where we lose them in the dark.

Shamel Pitts | Tribe

Through Saturday at New York Live Arts; newyorklivearts.org.

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