Arika Episode 6: Make a Way Out of No Way

Review by Jean-Xavier Boucherat | 02 Oct 2014

Much like 2013’s Episode 5, Arika set something of an agenda for Episode 6 with a club night both spectacular and spectacle-heavy. The Friday saw the return of Vogue practitioner and Ballroom celebrity Pony Zion Garcon, an officially endorsed ‘legend’ of his scene. Pony’s Femme Dramatics are complemented by performance artist Kia Labeija’s own fluid take on Voguing, and DJ MikeQ’s masterful knowledge of the angular, razor-sharp sound of modern Ballroom House. 

Episode 6 also brought a further style to the proceedings via Miss Prissy, AKA the Queen of Krump, the Afro-American street dance popularly (and, in Prissy’s view, regrettably) associated with battle dancing. Joined on stage by members and friends of the Glasgow Open Dance School, she performs her single Bounce to devastating effect. Everything about Prissy seems to scream resistance. Everything about tonight seems to urge celebration. 

During the following day’s discussions, the club is referenced repeatedly. As the audience take their seats for Saturday’s You’ve Never Seen Pain Expressed Like This, the speakers quietly erupt with the sounds of last night. Seated on stage are Miss Prissy, Pony Zion, Kia Labeija, and dancer Danielle Goldman. Pony prompts them to respond to what they hear. All four light up. Suddenly the audience and performers are bathing in the afterglow of this incredible space that, together, they briefly forced open. Suddenly there’s a large room of people collectively buzzing in the same way you do the day after a great night out, hangover permitting. 

It’s wonderful – a real moment of warmth, vulnerability, perhaps unity. But how useful is any of it? Might it really give us a glimpse of how communities under continuous assault, whether black, gay, transgendered or other, can hollow out a space not subject to the societal norms they’re so brutally compelled to conform to? 

“When you run from the man, that suggests a divergence from the self too,” argues poet and academic Fred Moten. Can the experience of Vogue illustrate how, following this split, people and communities engage in a potentially life-long process of “entering positions to leave them”? This is a reality for those tied to the ballroom scene, many of whom, including Pony, ran away from home at a young age – a very literal split. 

Similarly, is Krump’s violent posturing a way of railing against the imposition of a discrete body? Is the fact that Michael Brown was with a friend the criteria that made him so threatening to one Fergusson police officer? Was his murder an attack on black sociality? “Kids think it’s all about beating each other,” says Prissy, in reference to Krump’s competitive nature. Its contestants are angry. “You’d be angry too if you were 18 with a gun in your face,” she adds. 

Fundamentally, what might any of this have to do with an overwhelmingly white audience? Come the Sunday night, this question is asked directly. “I don’t see any white people in here,” replies Moten, perhaps an allusion to the audience’s shared goals and struggles. “If there are any white people in here, well, fuck you. I’m just assuming everyone in here wants to kill evil… I’m interested in what’s so threatening about homosexuality. I want to activate that threat.” 

What’s more, it’s almost certainly true that, as one audience member suggests, “we’re moving towards a horizon where most people in Scotland will be criminalised in one way or another.” Sound familiar? The working poor. The unemployed. The disabled. ‘Domestic Extremists.’ For that reason, Arika’s conversations remain extremely necessary – so that, if nothing else, we may at least collectively chart our downfall, or perhaps even our destruction.