Race and gender roles play out in an intriguing fashion in Caribbean music. If you're listening to reggae, arguably the Caribbean's most popular form of music, the gender roles and inequalities are more overt: some of the lewd lyrics and daggering associated with dancehall leaves little to the imagination.
But outside Jamaica, and within the larger Caribbean diaspora, gender, politics, and dance are often more subtle. Dancehall stars write hit songs like "Ramping Shop" that objectify women enough to make 2 Live Crew blush. Sexual mores and dancing are still at the center, but it's less common for women to get the opportunity express their side of the story.
That's something celebrated choreographer Cynthia Oliver hopes to expose and discuss this weekend with her latest theater piece, Rigidigidim De Bamba De: Ruptured Calypso, which premiers in Seattle tonight at the Erickson Theatre Off Broadway. For the next two nights, local audiences will be treated to calypso theater, a play that is just as much about rhythm, dance and movement as it is about six women from the Caribbean diaspora expressing their shared identity and history on stage. A lot of the dances will center around basic windin' and grindin' moves—hip rolls and pelvic thrusts that, on the surface, look like mere sexual simulation, but carry heavier forms of cultural expression.
I chatted briefly today with Oliver (who was born in the Bronx and raised in the Virgin Islands) and asked why she wanted to tell these stories via calypso rather than soca, reggae, or another Afrocentric Caribbean form of music.
"The reason I wanted to look at calypso," she told me, "was that as I encounter more people from across the Caribbean, one of the signifiers that we use to enjoy one another is calypso. It’s a significant common denominator, so I wanted to use that as an impetus to discuss how we talk about home, how we identity one another, what’s taboo, what resonates with the music, [and] what resonates against the music. Calypso is a perfect way to do that."
This is dance theater, rather than traditional theater or dance. "It’s a combination of disciplines," Oliver says. "I [use] nonlinear storytelling, a combination of breath and sound, and adding to that is my dance background. It’s a mixture of those things."
The CD Forum presents Rigidigidim De Bamba De: Ruptured Calypso this Friday and Saturday night at the Erickson Theater Off Broadway, 1524 Harvard Ave., Seattle at 8 p.m. Tickets are $15-$20. Oliver is also teaching a Caribbean dance workshop at the Erickson Theater on Saturday, Feb 20th from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. for $5. You can check out a mini-trailer for tonight's performance below. [youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=si80zG_y0XY[/youtube]