“Back in the day the club was my safe place-and losing myself on the dance floor has always kept me centered.”
The Let Go is artist Nick Cave’s new work at Park Avenue Armory, a multi-sensory performance using visual works, sounds, and movement to transform the Armory into a dance-based town hall aimed at bringing together visitors, performers, DJs, dancers and community members to participate in a collective act of catharsis. The audience is asked to let go of frustration and negativity, and to uplift one another as they participate in this powerful socially-engaged piece. Stringing together a series of interrelated works, The Let Go is bounded by the installation Chase, and where a performance titled The Up Right, featuring one of Cave’s signature Sound Suits, is activated by a jazz keyboardist, choir and opera singer. Concluding the performance, the “town hall” becomes a dance hall, complete with DJ.
As one enters the Wade Thompson Drill Hall, one sees Chase towering above, two multi-colored 100-foot-long kinetic strands of mylar. The sculpture swishes back and forth on the dance floor as if a monumental moving curtain, at once both concealing and revealing itself to the viewer, and mixing alternating colors of red, black and green against a counterpoint of blue and black. Cave’s color choices offer a symbolic tribute to American minorities subjected to police brutality (hence the title “Chase”). On the opposite side one sees gold, silver, copper and bronze as a commentary on class infused with hints of wealth and power, strung in a way that brought comparisons to a swirling ocean or waterfall. The bright stage light reflected on the mylar makes the installation into “Chase” its own reflection as the curtain itself shuffles with a soft trickling sound reminiscent of a waterfall.
On the weekday evenings, Cave’s Up Right Performance, accompanied by singing choirs and operatic performers, features the artist’s iconic Soundsuits. Cave’s first suit was created in response to the brutal beating of the unarmed Rodney King by officers of the Los Angeles Police Department in 1991. The suit was made of sticks, twigs and debris gathered from the streets creating a rustling body armor that “erases gender, race, and class.” The performance here begins with a jazz piano solo. Then 30 or so predominantly African-American adolescents accompanied by baritone Jorell Williams and Vy Higginsen’s Sing Harlem Choir march down the hall. The performers march three in a row shouting “Walking Home” repeatedly as they raise their hands up, as one might when confronted by a police officer. The piece mimics the realities these same children might face subjected to police oppression while going about their daily lives. The group comes to a halt at the piano where there is a microphone positioned. Then the Pianist plays a solo in a minor key, evoking somber, staid emotions.
With the choir singing “Change” repeatedly, 12 “initiates” walk in with their arms up, take off and fold their street clothes, and place them on the side, then sit on the wooden stools. “Practitioners” walk in wearing white gloves and lab coats. A lengthy ceremony of constructing Soundsuits begins. This is a ritual act of disassembling and resculpting the soundsuits on the body, piece by piece. This physical transformation reflects a cleansing of mind, body, and spirit that empowers the initiate to assert their selfhood and forge their own path even as police “chase”and harass them. The practitioners slowly brush the hair and sticks making up the suit and place them onto the initiates. As all the initiates are dressed, singers sing, “Are you afraid?” and “Yes I am” repeatedly. Singing “afraid” for many repetitions they then sing “don’t be afraid” together.
Following the assembly of these suits, the initiates perform a choreography by Francesca Harper, celebrating independence and self-determination. The excitement rises and the Soundsuits break out from the floor and move into the audience, causing a rush of cheers and shouts. The mood of the singers becomes optimistic and positive as the choir singing “walk” over and over. The initiates begin to move together as a tribe. The group wields power coming out of discrimination. As the music flows into an exuberant, high tempo section, the depth and humanity of these performers seems to surge forth, pouring out from their exuberant movements.
Nick Cave, The Let Go (2018), via Greem Jellyfish for Art Observed
“It’s an overwhelming experience of liberation,” performer Aarron Ricks said of the piece. “Coming into the performance you’re stripped down and built back up. I feel these are our experiences in everyday life, having to shed the layers we’ve come from in order to be built up stronger than we were before.”
This sense of strength is vital to Cave’s work here, addressing societal issues of police brutality and racial inequality through a lens of shared experience, and shared energies. Drawing together the performers and audience through their shared enthusiasm, the piece seems to seek a space for both expression and healing.
— G. Jellyfish
Nick Cave: The Let Go [Park Ave Armory]