My most vivid AUNTS memory was a disorienting and hazy experiencing on a boat in 2010. The transience and instability of the rocking vessel created a visceral experience of AUNTS’ charge to defy “the regulation of institution.” As we all humorously swayed, beers in hand, Jmy James Kidd and Biba Bell rolled and writhed topless through the galley of the ship. They huddled between us and scattered around us, threatening to careen off the boat and into the waters surrounding New York City. They were absurdly committed to their ritual, and they hypnotized us in their attention to the act. Meanwhile the gender-fluid performance-artist Yozmit cast another spell with her powerful voice and transformation from a vision in a white diaphanous dress to a near-naked sea siren. Her then dramatic stillness highlighted the wild swaying of the boat and its audience and fellow performers. This event, like all AUNTS events, was bewildering and beautiful, offering up hope, promise and possibility.
Brotha sista, cuz, and fam, are all terms of endearment for non blood-related friends in African-American culture. They are subversive ways of redefining and reconstituting notions of family. In the queer ball scene, chosen “mothers” harbor and hand down their fierce legacies to “daughters.” For over a decade now AUNTS, which I like to think of as a radical contemporary dance company, has given the spotlight to the role of the parent’s sister. An aunt can also be an affectionate title for an older nurturing lady. Well, there’s nothing old or ladylike about AUNTS. Bad-asses Jmy James Kidd and Rebecca Brooks launched a whole new kind of family member, a sassy, fun and generous aunt, also known as an organization for unconventional modes of presenting dance in all its forms.
Laurie Berg and Liliana Dirks-Goodman continue this spirited matriarchy and make much needed space for the marginalized aspects of dance and its surrounding culture. In fact, they prioritize the dancing that you catch out of the corner of your eye or only hear in the distance. The dancing that celebrates dancing and happens next to other dancing. The dancing that bubbles up after too many drinks. The dancing of emerging ideas. And the dancing of shifting, layered connections in a wonderfully inventive community of artists and art lovers. They create a family we all want to be a part of.
Rashaun Mitchell is an Assistant Arts Professor at NYU Tisch School of the Arts Dance Program. A celebrated performer and choreographer, he is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, two Bessie awards, and is a licensed stager of the repertory of Merce Cunningham.