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Voguing Meets Drawing, and the Results Are Spectacular

Using the Drawing Center’s gallery space, a tricked-out Xbox Kinect, and the exaggerated rhythmic stylings of expert dancers and musicians, Rashaad Newsome created a template for sculptures like no one’s ever seen

The voguing that went down in the Drawing Center last Thursday was pretty fabulous, but for Rashaad Newsome it was the means to an end.

That is to “turn what the dancers are doing into physical objects,” he says.

Rashaad Newsome, FIVE (The Drawing Center), 2014, live performance. All images courtesy the artist. Clockwise from left: Dancers Ousmane Wiles, Alex Malandrino, Ade Allen. Photos: Jena Cumbo.

The New Orleans-born, New York-based artist, who wields high and low, hip-hop and heraldry, and Nintendo Wii and Xbox Kinect with equal finesse, has been staging his voguing performance—titled FIVE—since the 2010 Whitney Biennial, showcasing the distinctive esthetic of the gay ballroom art with a changing roster of dancers, musicians, and choreography.

In earlier works, Newsome used technology to translate the dance into fluid  drawings. But FIVE (The Drawing Center) marked his first attempt to capture the action in three dimensions–which he did by writing code to make the XBox Kinect function as a motion tracking device when connected to his computer. This allowed him to follow the different parts of dancers’ bodies, recording the nuanced movements that will form the DNA of his future sculpture. 

rashaad_newsome_final_2_600_crop Dancer Kassandra Ebony. Photo: Robin Cembalest.

Newsome dyed the hair of five performers five different colors, with nails, eyebrows, and contact lenses to match.  These correspond with the five elements of Vogue Fem, a technique influenced by modern dance and ballet with exaggerated feminine movements: blue is hands performance, red is catwalk, pink is floor performance, yellow is spin dips, and green is duck walking.

rashaad_newsome_final_9Left to right: Neveaha Thomas, Aaliyah Junius Booker, Sasha Fatima McBride. Photo: Jena Cumbo.

Act I of FIVE featured hair performance, a disputed sixth element of Vogue Fem. Newsome choreographed this portion (which was not motion-tracked) to pay homage to the trans women of the ball community and their contribution to the language of Vogue Fem.

rashaad_newsome_final_5Left to right: Dawn Ebony and Kevin Jz Prodigy. Photo: Jena Cumbo.

Vogue commentator Kevin Jz Prodigy with dancer Dawn Ebony.

rashaad_newsome_final_musiciansLeft to right: Dan Vosk on guitar, Marcus Miller on saxophone, Nathan Kamal on violin, Jillian Ryan on flute, and opera singer Stefanos Koroneos. Photo: Jena Cumbo.

Baritone Stefanos Koroneos headlined the musical accompaniment, which ranged from a piece from Newsome’s SWAG the Mixtape sampling the lyrics of Samuel Barber’s “Rain Has Fallen,” to a minimal drumbeat with vocals from Monteverdi’s opera L’Orfeo.

15_600Left to right: Ade Allen, Ousmane Wiles, Kassandra Ebony, Kevin Jz Prodigy, Rejean Tornado Veal. Photo: Jena Cumbo.

Five belongs to a tradition of using the human body in motion to make a line that extends back to early modernism and through the work of artists ranging from Yves Klein to Janine Antoni to Robin Rhode.

14_600Left to right: Kevin Jz Prodigy, Ousmane Wiles, Kassandra Ebony, Ade Allen. Background: Tim Smith on drums, Dan Vosk on guitar, Marcus Miller on saxophone. Photo: Jena Cumbo.

Real-time projections of drawings transmitted by the software accompanied the performance.

“What we were watching was the equivalent of an artists’ sketch,” says Joanna Kleinberg Romanow, the curator who commissioned the piece. FIVE is one of three new multidisciplinary works, funded by a grant from the Rauschenberg Foundation, that illuminate links between drawing and the performing arts; next up is “Drawing Lessons,” a nine-day installation during which Andrea Bowers attempts to teach Suzanne Lacy to draw.

rashaad_newsome_final_12Left to right: Star Revlon, Neveaha Thomas, Dawn Ebony, and Sasha Fatima McBride. Photo: Jena Cumbo.

Floor performance. Along with creating a physical record of the performance, Newsome is interested in exploring what the language of poses communicates in this dance form that emerged predominantly in a black and Latino gay subculture.

rashaad_newsome_final_11Left to right: Aaliyah Junius Booker, Neveaha Thomas, Dawn Ebony, Star Revlon, Kevin Jz Prodigy, and Sasha Fatima McBride. Photo: Jena Cumbo.

Act 3 was an ensemble piece that brought voguing back to its roots as a “battle dance.”

rashaad_newsome_final_10Dancers and vocalist Kevin Jz Prodigy with artist Rashaad Newsome. Photo: Jena Cumbo.

At the end of the performance, Newsome joined in.

Photos: Robin Cembalest.

Left: Afterward, the crew stepped out of their costumes (note multicolored palette on hand of makeup artist Jewly Gainy). Right, Newsome posed with dancer Ousmane Wiles.

Next Newsome will analyze the scans to determine how to proceed with the sculptures, each of which will be suspended from the ceiling at the same level the dancer’s body was. The media he is considering include bronze, glass, or even holograms.

“I’ve got a lot of experimenting to do,” he says.

For scenes of the performance, click below.

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