When artists capture the community's attention with their creative prowess, they're encouraged to spread their wings and decamp to cities like New York City or Los Angeles. Thankfully, for Miami Light Project, local artists have started to recognize that leaving South Florida is no longer necessary. The area is not only a wellspring of inspiration but the site of a flourishing, supportive community for the arts.
This year, Miami Light Project celebrates the 25th year of Here & Now, its signature commissioning program for South Florida-based performance and multimedia artists that proves the artistic talent contained within Miami-Dade and Broward counties is near limitless. Here & Now 2023 performances will be held May 11-13 at the Miami Theater Center in Miami Shores.
Miami Light Project is a cultural organization that commissions and presents contemporary performance art across disciplines. The five artists chosen to premiere new dance and theater short-form works for this year's Here & Now offer performances at once profoundly personal and political, espousing universal messages in unique forms only they could produce.
When Miamian poet and spoken-word artist Arsimmer McCoy bought a copy of Mississippi Records' True Story of Abner Jay at Sweat Records and dropped the needle on vinyl, she felt she had found parts of herself that had been lost while navigating the dissolution of her marriage, isolation compounded by pandemic-necessitated distance from her family, community and artistic practice as a teaching artist, cultural worker, and collaborative artist. Her new poetry-driven stage play I'm So Depressed chronicles her journey of regaining her sense of self — but don't expect a neat, Disney-esque happy ending.
"This show is about how this album helped me to finally put the pieces together of what I went through. This is a show about resolve, not necessarily about resolution. We're always trying to put a nice bow on things and package them up nicely, but sometimes, you have to be OK with the fact that you got through it," McCoy explains. "However, you need to get over, to find peace, to find resolve — even if it's anger — let that be. Fall into that, and don't let anybody tell you that's not enough."
For McCoy, whose artistic practice exceeds a decade and has reached international levels, the positive impact of performing live and interacting with audiences is two-fold.
"Being raised in the church, the call and response are life. When somebody hears something you're saying and responds with a noise, a grunt, a hand in the air, a 'You better,' it lets you know you're in the company of your tribe," she says. "I also like that performing allows me to be still, in a moment, and only worrying about that moment. We're always constantly moving, so when you take the time to go to the event and just listen, we're each giving each other a moment to just be still."
Letty Bassart, who will debut the improvisational duet Here, Now, says live performances hold power to connect people, be they intimate partners or complete strangers.
"It's my hope that within the room in which I'm performing, I'm holding the kind of space where those heart-to-hearts are happening, even if they're silent or they're delayed," Bassart says.
For each unique, site-specific performance of Here, Now, Bassart will move in response to recorded music by Daniel Bernard Roumain, sounds Bassart will not have heard until each performance begins. Bassart's work challenges America's consumer culture, marked by values of marketing, replication, and distribution, and instead offers renewable performances whose meanings and impacts unfold in real-time.
"Performance is often described as being ephemeral; it can be new every time. I wanted to take that one step further. Even if the same people are there in the theater participating two nights in a row, my performance will be completely refreshed and overhauled each time within the same framework," they say.
Carlos Fabián, a multidisciplinary artist, actor, director, and creative producer from Caracas, will present new work featuring two actors — Fabián and Miami singer and movement artist Gaiya — in a series of vignettes that question the current technocultural climate and our subsequent challenges to find moments of presence.
"Towards Now is a multidisciplinary performance that explores notions of presence within the current global landscape of virtuality, fictionality, delusion, and mass communication," he says. "It asks, what are our relationships with the things we perceive to be our reality: our relationships, our technologies? When a baby cries, its mother gives it an iPad. When I'm uncomfortable, I pull out my phone. It's getting harder to be present because the world is getting tougher. This piece is about how to remain present in this world right here."
Born in Miami and a graduate of the Juilliard School who danced with the Ailey II company, Gentry George is a faculty member in ballet, composition, and choreography at Miami Dade College's New World School of the Arts. For Here & Now, George will debut Afro Blue, featuring seven dancers swaying to the rhythms of American jazz vocalist Abbey Lincoln and Cuban percussionist Mongo Santamaria, both of whom released versions of the jazz standard "Afro Blue." George says this performance exemplifies the truth of life: it's both a celebration and an experience of loss.
"A lot of this material was created during the pandemic lockdown. It begins with a female solo number in which she's mourning the loss of her husband or perhaps her son. We've all experienced that sensation of loss and isolation," George says. "Another number, 'Brother, Where Are You,' is a tragic, longing song. Growing up, I always wanted to make this piece for my father in reflection of the loss of his brother. Toward the end of the song, one male dancer lifts the other in the air. It's quite moving, the simplicity and passion of this moment."
Darius V. Daughtry is a South Florida-born poet, playwright, director, and educator whose new work, Reverie in Black, utilizes theater, spoken-word poetry, and music to exemplify the duality of life experienced by many Americans.
"I like to explore issues that are going to connect to and touch people right where they are. I deal with concepts of racism, discrimination, and what that feels like," he says. "I'm also intentional about playing in a field of joy, and I believe joy and resilience are revolutionary practices. This work has heavy moments, but they are moments that exist in this eternal search and longing for joy, for that reverie in life."
Daughtry will be joined onstage by an ensemble whose makeup has perhaps never been seen at the club nor the performing arts center: upright bassist Portia Dunkley and DJ Rickyy. As the founder and artistic director of Art Prevails Project, Daughtry aims to cultivate community and equitable access to the arts through performance and arts education, a mission not unlike the one Miami Light Project has furthered over the past two and a half decades of presenting Here & Now. Daughtry says he hopes Here & Now audiences end the weekend with openness, emotionality, and the sense that they, too, were critical parts of the performances they witnessed.
"Whether it's work I'm performing or work I've written or directed, I want to create a bond with the audience. When there's trust, you're more open to receive whatever's happening. When I'm performing, I create that trust by being as vulnerable and open as I can be in that space. The audience is getting reality and truth at that moment. If I'm open, hopefully, they're willing to be open, too, in their own ways," he says. "I love when people cry when the work pricks something in them. I don't think crying is bad at all. It's a beautiful thing that means you have been moved and you're human. When that happens, I feel like I've accomplished being a bridge to their humanity."
Here & Now 2023. 8 p.m. Thursday, May 11, through Saturday, May 13, at Miami Theater Center, 9806 NE Second Ave., Miami Shores; 305-751-9550; miamilightproject.com. Tickets are $20 to $25.