During this most unusual fall dance season, the Dance Center has offered an innovative array of virtual public programming called the “Dance Buffet.” For the series' season finale of special events, burlesque artist and inaugural 2020 Rebuild Foundation dance artist-in-residence Jenn Freeman (a.k.a. Po'Chop) debuted the latest edition—the 24th—of her archival digital project called “The Brown Pages,” which lives on her website. Missouri native Freeman has been blessing Chicago stages and audiences with her captivatingly visceral performance works for several years. “The Brown Pages” essentially function as Freeman's digital multipurpose treasure trove—an archive of her dramaturgical research and performance documentation, as well as her very own social justice art “blogzine.”
On Thursday, Freeman took us on a guided tour of this new edition of “The Brown Pages” which features the third of Freeman's five-part dance film, "Litany."
In under five minutes, this solo, black and white dance film, titled "Collage," takes the viewer on a fantastically abstract journey of Freeman's existential duality, and in turn, as viewers, our own. Though Freeman frequently collaborates with longtime friend cinematographer/director Jordan Phelps (co-founder, VAM Studio), "Collage" hits differently. The collaborators' trademark elements are still there—the enthralling beauty of Freeman herself, for example, and stunning angles and edits from Phelps—but for "Collage" there's a Dali-esque level of playfulness at work in the use of minimalist costume, special effects and soundscape.
This combination sensually compels viewers' undivided attention despite ongoing pandemic screen fatigue. For example, in one sequence Freeman's image is manipulated into a nuanced Vitruvian man/woman while a layered soundscape blends electronic music, Serena Williams' unmistakable mid-play vocalization and Freeman's own reading of an excerpt from late warrior poet Audre Lorde's "Litany for Survival." Personally, especially in this post-election moment, it was pure joy to be enveloped by all that visual and sonic Black Girl Magic.
Freeman's 2018 Chicago Dancemakers Forum Lab Artist award served as the support-driven spark for the project. Through CDF's partnership with the Dance Center and Rebuild Foundation, Freeman was empowered to pivot her practice to the virtual realm this summer, during which "Collage" was shot over a total of three days at the Dance Center. During the Q & A Thursday, Freeman explained that she is an autodidact quasi-techie and that collaborator Phelps is also "a self-taught beast" from whom she's "learned so much about releasing film and digital content." The five-film "Litany" release schedule is in fact fueled by Freeman's perpetual burlesque sensibilities "to tease out." On her approach to developing her digital platforms and projects, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, Freeman shared that "making solo work in the pandemic still requires collaboration" and that “The Brown Pages” allows her “to dream freely” and to “believe in my power to troubleshoot and problem solve."