Critics Page

Ligia Lewis

I don’t want to talk about identity within performance. I’m more likely to think, usually, how to fuck up, fuck with, and fuck identity out of itself so long as it insists on the “I” coming out first. Performance offers a magical opportunity to be in practice with so many things outside the self. Being outside the self or the sense of self and being in service of the time of others. A good performance is an act of being pulled outside yourself. It’s transcendent, and in the best way possible, through its confinement in time and in a public’s time.

Ligia Lewis, Minor Matter (work-in-progress) at White Flag Projects, performance view, March 2016. Photo: Kat Reynolds.

As my friend Ariel says, performance is “thinking in the box.” The box of presences and co-presences, the confines of imagination, the material manifestation of this imagination and within the limits of our time and attention. For me, this constraint is a kind of freedom, perhaps the best kind. The intra-action of this inside/outside is what drives my creative engagements. The endless negotiation between those two sites, between thought and flesh, enables a becoming, a liveness captured by embodiment, beyond reason and beyond the limits of representational orders like identity. A fleshy substance—be it my skin or the skin of space—cannot be contained by a border. Instead it generates an imaginative ground to be otherwise in time.

Ligia Lewis, Sorrow Swag at Sophiensaele Theater, performance view, January 2015. Photo: Dieter Hartwig.

Ligia Lewis, Sensation 1, Paramount Ranch, performance view, January 2016. Photo: Deborah Farnault.

My favorite performers always refer to the amount of time they spend rehearsing. Jessye Norman: “I’m not a diva, I work.” She insists on the time given to her practice as integral to her performance. She’s quite literally doing things. Maybe by surrendering to “the doing,” we can alleviate ourselves of this border of self and get into the messiness of departure; leaving one’s self, leaving what we already know? Fuck logic. Let’s get into this mess.

When thinking about the identity trend in performance, the cynic in me says: “We’ve been here before, what’s different?” Is it a consequence of allowing the abundance of whiteness to be staged in our cultural realm? Is it an essentialized need and will to manifest the difference? I’m hopeful though that beyond the often prescribed misnomer of “identity” there is a genuine interest in a new set of narratives, positions. Nothing is more dreadful than the same story on repeat.

Right now, I am playing the last twelve minutes of Keiji Haino’s “So, Black Is Myself” with Future’s “56 Nights,” chopped, just underneath, Future setting a seductive tone to Haino’s drone and wail. I’m enjoying trying to lose myself in it.


Ligia Lewis

LIGIA LEWIS is a dancer and choreographer based in Berlin. She works in multiple contexts including visual arts and theater. She was awarded the Prix Jardin d’Europe for her work Sorrow Swag. Her latest creation in development is Minor Matter for the theater.