Tania Isaac Dance - photo by Bill Herbert
It’s suddenly fashionable to admit to being a less than perfect mother.
Throwing harsh experience the face of the experts who tell parents how to do everything right (hello T. Berry Brazelton! How ya doing Parents Magazine?) and marketing campaigns that have figured out that model moms with tattoos can look every bit as domestic as the ones teaching their kids to sail in ads for Ralph Lauren, there’s a spate of books and articles and artworks that explore motherhood without the airbrushing. Author Ayelet Waldman, who writes a series of “Mommy-Track Mysteries” admitted she prefers her husband to her children. Oprah’s Secret Life of Moms and other blogs publish confessions that stressed parents want to run in the opposite direction when their kids melt down in the grocery aisle.
Into this vortex comes dancemaker Tania Isaac’s, “Stuporwoman.” The punning title is fun but misleading. Isaac’s current state of mind is anything but dazed. Instead, in this hour-long theatre work she is honest, acute and even funny.
In “Stuporwoman” Isaac exaggerates the “self-pitying violin moments” she has felt raising her daughter, Naomi, with husband, Aaron Hyman. She is quick to clarify that her living situation is fortunate. She is educated and middle class and her partner, a furniture-maker, sculptor and acupuncturist-in-training, acts as an equal caretaker of their five-year-old -- and the family’s primary chef. Yet notwithstanding these advantages, she argues, every mom has the right to indulge in the “guilty pleasure” of whining about being expected to nurture somebody else on way too few hours of sleep.
The model set by her own mother when she was growing up on St. Lucia in the West Indies wasn’t one she could emulate. Isaac describes her mother as “very capable, the strong, silent, stoic type who lived through everything. In the islands there’s a sense that women are the sustainers of culture, of home, the stabilizers. Women have the responsibility of making things work. You don’t complain because it’s your lot.” Her mother thinks, she says with a laugh, “I’m a dramatic American now. I told her I’d get through it, but I’d never do it quietly!”
“Stuporwoman” has grown from a solo to a work envisioned as a sprawling epic to its current form as a quartet. Her collaborative team includes playwright Bridget Carpenter, composer Michael Wall, mezzo-soprano Claire Stollack-Gustavsson and violinist Heather Zimmerman. Isaac wrote the semi-autobiographical text – what she calls a “personal documentary” -- but folded in anecdotes and the perspectives from women she interviewed in the Caribbean and in the U.S. In the piece, Isaac performs the central role accompanied by a trio of warrior-like women who resemble the Fates or the Norns.
Tania Isaac’s movement language is rooted on the loose joints, fluent spine and polyrhythms of Caribbean dance forms augmented by Horton and Dunham dance techniques and the hip hop of her Philadelphia home. In “Stuporwoman” that movement language extends from her body in arcs that reach through space. The eye is drawn to her shoulders exposed by an elegant, cream-colored bustier. If some of the choreography echoes Judith Jamison dancing in Alvin Ailey’s “Cry” it’s no coincidence. Both are dances where tall, lean black women negotiate their environments with dignity and power.
While “Stuporwoman” may seem like a purely personal project, it reinforces Tania Isaac’s ongoing commitment to using the arts as a bridge between communities and generations. For a number of years she has led social action programs designed to facilitate conversations between youth and civic leaders. If “Stuporwoman” jumpstarts the dialog between those who are parenting young children and those who are not, those who are parents now and those whose parenting days are still before them, or behind them, “Stuporwoman” will have leaped at least one tall obstacle in a single bound.
© 2009 Debra Cash