Letters to Marsha with Viewing Hours (a diptych)
There was a tension in the audience, a palpable sense of expectation in the crowded lobby at JACK, waiting for Letters to Marsha with Viewing Hours (a diptych) to begin. Outside it was a cool February evening, the air thick with humidity; inside four-dozen bodies huddled in a liminal space, part of a community ready to bear witness. We came to experience dancer/choreographer mayfield brooks’ work, to celebrate and be in the presence of ancestors.
Inspired by a missed connection with the queer activist Marsha P. Johnson in 1992, the event combined dance, installation, video, as well as written, recorded, and spoken love notes and journal entries. Tracing brooks’ own evolution as a “Black, non-binary queer connecting specters of Black queer death to memory, movement, sound, humor, and pathos,” the performance nimbly wove together strong visual imagery, haunting choreographic sequences, and electric oral recitations. Opening with Viewing Hours, the audience was invited in small groups (the first to enter were those who identified as persons of colour) to go backstage and contemplate relics from previous iterations of the work. In a procession between everyday life and the world-building of the oeuvre, we were then directed into a small, poorly lit back room where the artist lay covered by a mound of dirt and flowers. Standing close to one another while listening to a recording of brooks’ voice entreating us to bear witness to racial violence, the visible rise and fall of the artist’s breath under a bed of fra-grant flowers was powerful and captivating.