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Looking for Lost Love: T. Lang’s POST

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T. lang POST
T. Lang’s POST centers on the efforts of freed slaves to locate their loved ones after Emancipation. (Photo: Malika Deshon)

We finally have POST, the fourth and final installment of T. Lang Dance’s Post-Up series that began with Post Up, which I wrote about in June 2014 for this publication. Taking inspiration from Heather Andrea Williams’s 2012 book Help Me to Find My People: The African American Search for Family Lost in Slavery, which dives into the efforts freed people made to locate their loved ones after Emancipation. Using the “technology of the day,”[1] the newspaper, freed people submitted requests for information about a family member or friend they were separated from. For this last iteration, the viewer encounters reproductions of some of these newspaper posts installed in the venue’s bathroom. “Dear Editor – I wish to inquire for my three children.”

Perennial Properties

The series of works – Post Up, Post Up in the House, LIT Variations #1-10, and POST – depicts a searching and a longing, for lost love or a lost loved one.

T. Lang POST
POST is the final installment of a four-part series. (Photo: Malika Deshon)

POST is performed in the Little White Chapel at Fort McPherson, a former military base located in southwest Atlanta. Though Fort McPherson only became Fort McPherson after the Civil War in 1885 (it is named after Union Major General James McPherson, who died during the Battle of Atlanta), it is said to have been used for military and militia purposes since 1835, and had served as a base for the Confederacy. Now, Tyler Perry Studios occupies the property. I describe this property history because it is significant to the finale of this series. Here we have a place bloodied by the Civil War that now houses a black entertainment powerhouse, hosting a contemporary dance work about being reunited with someone who has been taken from you, where the distinction between the dancer’s laughter and weeping blurs.

I have seen this work in different stages of its development, and it feels almost strange that the series is “finished” or “over.” I put these words in scare quotes because none of this feels over. POST does not leave us with a clear resolution. And, that’s okay. Actually, I think it’s necessary. The impact of slavery is not over and done with. And, as Michelle Hite, POST’s dramaturge, states in an ArtsATL video, the separations that led to these newspaper posts are happening right now, as families are being divided through immigration regulation and deportation.

T. Lang POST
POST is performed in a chapel at the historic Fort McPherson. (Photo: Malika Deshon)

POST displays the continued development of T. Lang’s movement vocabulary – leg and arm extensions, repetitive hand gestures that seem to take on different meanings with each repetition, breath, popular dance moves, and spasmodic muscular contractions of the body when crying and hyperventilating. In this performance, a dancer’s circling arm conjures the hands of a ticking clock. Sometimes the clock seems stuck in time. Sometimes the hour hand seems to spin round and round.

POST also incorporates digital technologies, which were an integral component in Post Up, with its scrim walls used for projections that surrounding the dance floor, creating a whole other world for the dancers. This time, there are two projection surfaces that are activated with video and imagery by David Baerwalde and George Long at key moments. The imagery vacillates between representational and abstraction. Drawings by Long of the dancers during rehearsals were turned into a quasi-animation that appears to be either in synch with the dancers or echoing movements they have just performed.

T. Lang POST
(Photo: Malika Deshon)

Other drawings of hands are laid over a windblown field, the significance of which is not lost on this audience member. Whose hands worked this field? During these moments, the visual imagery and the performance work together to create a whole. However, this was not always the case, and I found myself wondering about the relationship between the projections, choreography, and sound choices instead of engaging in the performance. At times, the projections seemed unnecessary, as if they were there simply for the sake of incorporating another media element.

Towards the end of the performance, former weeping shifts into an ambiguous laughter. For French philosopher Sarah Kofman, who was also separated from a loved one – her father died in Auschwitz – laughter opens the space for protestation, grief, loss, contemplation, and madness. Sometimes, laughing is the only thing you can do: “when the masks fall, there is nothing left to do but laugh.” [2] Though she is writing more specifically about comedy, there is an element of universality here. At the end of the day, when all is or seems to be lost, what else can you do?

Meredith Kooi is a visual and performance artist based in Atlanta. 

1. T. Lang, spoken introduction to POST (March 23, 2017).

2.  Sarah Kofman, The Childhood of Art: An Interpretation of Freud’s Aesthetics, trans. Winifred Woodull (New York: Columbia University Press, 1988), 172.