Fire is a process.
As G. Colette Jackson pointed out in a portion of the performance series "Women on a Mission," this chemical fact is a powerful lesson for Los Angeles. Last April's fires, sparked by the verdict against the police in the Rodney G. King beating case, are part of a continuum of racial inequity and friction whose outcome is not yet determined.
Improved communication is essential to make that outcome a positive one; Los Angeles' artistic community, with programs including the "Word L.A." poetry and performance series, Highways' current performance forum "Fire in the Treasure House" and "Women on a Mission," is providing an arena and a model for discussion about important issues.
The "mission" of producer-performer Joyce Guy and the six other African-American women in this series--Jackson, Brandyn Barbara Artis, Adilah Barnes, Michelle T. Clinton, Robbie Mescudi and Satori--is to facilitate dialogue on issues including homophobia, ritual, cancer, AIDS and sexuality, particularly as they affect the African-American community.
The performers discuss their work after each performance in the series that is funded by the city's Arts Recovery Program and continues this weekend at the Watts Towers Arts
Artis' excerpts from her full-length one-woman play "Sister, Girl," about her victory over breast cancer, which premiered at the Los Angeles Theatre Center in 1991, is an engrossing examination of a life in crisis.
We follow Artis' emotional trajectory from anger to despair to defiance (her fierce, wry humor epitomized in the rhyming chant she invokes to shout down her disease), to elation. Assured throughout, but never glib, the piece achieves a rare resonance.
"We Are Not Exempt" is Guy's raw and gripping wake-up call to the African-American community about the AIDS crisis. The focal point of her performance is a sweater that symbolizes--and perhaps belonged to--a male friend who died of AIDS.
Guy alternately dances with controlled frenzy around the sweater, talks about her friend and reads clippings about the spread of AIDS. She offers no easy final message to dilute the anger and fear. The lights fade on her disconsolately cradling the sweater, swiveling silently in a chair.
Jackson and Clinton's moving collaboration, "Outcast Flames: How the Weave Is Broken," is a combination of testimony, storytelling, ritual and movement on varied subjects, most prominently homophobia. It is still coming together, but intriguing even now.
What is most disarming about their performance, and could be its greatest asset, is the contrast between the seriousness of their subject matter and the ease with which they inhabit their performing environment.
Having admired the controlled power of Clinton's poetry readings in the Word L.A. Festival, which she coordinated, it's fascinating to learn that she's a black belt in karate. Her narrated demonstrations of martial arts techniques are a compelling synthesis of word, motion, intelligence and strength.
* \o7 "Women on a Mission," Watts Towers Arts Center, 1727 East 107th St., Los Angeles. Tonight, 7 p.m.: Program B (Brandyn Barbara Artis, Michelle T. Clinton & G. Colette Jackson, and Joyce Guy); Saturday, 2 p.m.: Program A (Adilah Barnes, Robbie Mescudi and Satori); Sunday, 2 p.m.: Program B. Ends Sunday, free, (213) 569-8181.