Everytime the lights came back up throughout this night, the story of a life was shared. It created a current that coursed through the Jerry H. Labowitz Theatre for the Performing Arts in the Gallatin building last Wednesday night, as a group of three students performed spoken word as part of the week-long Gallatin Arts Festival. Running 40 minutes, three stories were unspooled from the lips of these NYU students to the sounds of claps, snaps and even laughs. While each piece synthesized the ideas of understanding one’s background and the world, every piece of prose punctuated a different tone.
When the lights came back up the first time, out came the soft-spoken words of Gallatin senior Donna Gary. The femme queer poet concentrating in The Poetics of Embodiment: The Way Marginalized Folks (Re)Imagine Their Value preformed a piece that seemed to encapsulate her studies. Entitled “Ode to Asthma,” Gary peruses through her lifelong struggles with severe asthma while dwelling in urban environments. Divvied into four parts, Gary utilizes a high number of nautical imagery to command a beautifully performed vessel through both her adversity and acceptance of living with the condition. Rather than admonish her disposition, she embraces her embodied difference, viewing it as a space where one can find themselves as opposed to belittling their self-image.
When the lights came back up a second time, out came the paper-holding, calm aura of Aaliyah Iman Jihad. The Gallatin senior studying the role of narrative storytelling through africana history read off her sheet the words to her piece “Ron,” which transcribes an interview Jihad had with her mother about her brother, whom she lost to sickle cell anemia. As she flipped through the pages, the words flew off and became spears that lance the listeners, specifically targeting those who have ever dealt with immense grief. Her mother’s takeaway — of which Jihad is the conveyer–is to learn to put things on the shelf; be able to move on from one’s grievances.
When the lights came back up a third and a final time, out came a vibrant figure, along with a table, a mirror and the sound of tropical music. Dancing to the tune of this beat was Kiana Sosa, a graduate Gallatin student studying Hip-Hop Theater Pedagogy. Once the music stopped, Sosa’s dancing turned to spoken word as she introduced her piece “Domincanidad,” a work-in-progress theatrical experience that details Sosa’s interpretation and experience with her Dominican roots. Utilizing audience participation, she entwined personal history with Dominican Republic national history, the result of which is often quite humorous and engaging. But beyond the pizzazz, she left the audience with a message of simple optimism: don’t be ashamed of your heritage — learn it and come to embrace it.
When the lights went down, the audience was left with a split second to breathe, only to then erupt into euphoric joy at what they just witnessed. This magical sensation occured Wednesday night at the Gallatin Arts Festival, from the words of three NYU performers people should keep a close eye on.
Email Matthew Holman at [email protected].