Essay

Burning dancing blackness blurs

An essay by André Lepecki on “Let it Burn” by  Marcela Levi & Lucía Russo in collaboration with Tamires Costa.

By André Lepecki
March 2020


In the black box, a black body is already moving, already twerking, already jerking, already sweating, already dancing, already stomping, already grimacing, already repeating, even before our arrival. Perhaps she has been there for an eternity; perhaps she will remain there forever, sweating and dancing in a corner facing the empty double rows of black chairs waiting for their audience, for her audience, under the loud and repetitive rolling of a drum resounding away in the confined space, drumming also forever.


Let it Burn by Marcela Levi & Lucía Russo © Paula Kossatz

The movement of flesh and the movement of sound and the movement of the (non) colour black are sutured so tightly in the black box as to fabricate a very particular timeless place, timeless because filled to the brim with resounding matters. In the black box where a black body is already moving, it’s as if there is nothing but the accumulation of what Simone Browne calls “dark matters” in an endless superposition of pasts, presents, and futures. Tamires Costa, the dancer, introjects and extrojects those black matters in wave after wave of gestures, expressions, grimaces, tremors, agitations, convulsions, twerks, partially recognizable dance steps from the repertoire of pop music, partially recognizable movements from the repertoire of contemporary experimental dance, partially recognizable steps rising from the living archives of Afro-diasporic gestuality – gestures and archives and repertoires that she must incorporate so to ex-corporate them otherwise, in waves after waves of proliferating repetitions. She is a relentless rhythm. She expresses an essential polyrhythmia. She becomes both a contrapuntal beat and blurred image. She expresses through her tremors, exertions and humour the uncannily virtuosic motions of her flesh.

Let it Burn by Marcela Levi & Lucía Russo © Paula Kossatz

Black flesh, black box, black pulse, black rhythms, black skin, black ground, black curtain, black doors, black chairs, black eyes, black spit, black feet, blacklight, black drums, black histories, black surfaces, black depths, black holes, black luminosities, black fever, black fire, black flame, black blur, black burn. All waiting for our arrival, already and forever active, already and forever an archiving their febrile activity, vibrating the inside as if there were no other outside other than that black box.

Burning dancing, blackness blurs and smudges the contours of whatever one believes to be defined, separate, and individuated, says Fred Moten.

A drum drums in a loop, a black woman’s body in a black T-shirt with a kind of blue mane on her back and tight red shorts shakes and bends and undulates and smiles and grimaces and gesticulates as in a loop. We enter and are looped into the loop right away because the situation, exuding from her dancing, fills up our senses in overdrive. We enter and walk towards her, through her, past her, as we navigate our way into the black box through a thick black velvet curtain, a black thickness that both bars and opens the small, low-ceiled space to us. We step awkwardly across the black floor, we sense the low black ceiling looming close above our heads, claustrophobia as spatial-affective condition, and sit on one of the two rows of empty black chairs that had been waiting for our arrival since the big bang, all the while Tamires had kept on going, because she has been dancing, remember?, since the beginning of time.

We enter, and she does not acknowledge us, as if we were not there, and yet she also totally sees us, since she is there and knows that she is there only so that we can also be there – with and because of her. Together. For us, thanks to us, against us. Her body is less an archive than a hyperlink.

Burning through her dance, flickering sequences of references or quasi-references burst forth in such quick succession that her body becomes a kind of suprachronic vortex, beside and beyond past-present-future. She expels particles of times out of hinges, spelling them out, spitting them out, through a body that will not be shut down and a mouth that does everything a mouth does except falling into articulated speech. Because the histories and stories she has to tell are so vivid, and so pressing, and so crucial, and so real, and so close to her flesh as to be unspeakable.

Let it Burn by Marcela Levi & Lucía Russo © Paula Kossatz


Her febrile, fibrillating, intra-animated body is those unspeakable histories’ most trustworthy witness. And thus she tells them, standing right in front of us, mouth foaming, for some good five minutes or so, mouth contorting into improbable shapes, guttural noises emerging from it, spit everywhere, eyes rolling up, all producing a voice that will not fall into recognizable and recognized speech. And yet, we all get what she utters outside of language. There is no need for translation. Because her black luminosity and burning testimony is her embracing of opacity as an ethical gesture towards a history that must be told through her body. And she tells it all without revealing it all. This means that her audience has work to do, and Tamires will not make our work easy. But she will also give us plenty of occasions to laugh and relax and enjoy her labour of love of dance because her burning is also the burning of love. And if we do have endless work to do, then we will happily do it together - thanks to Tamires’ commitment and virtuosity and surrender and absolute control of all that must remain incontrollable, anarchic, anarchived, and fugitive. This is hers and Marcela Levi’s and Lucía Russo’s art and their strength, as well as their fierce coreopolitical black commitment. They will not waver from the opaque. Because the opaque is a demand for another order of transparencies, one which would require the acknowledgement of a black history that is here for all to see, that has always been here for all to see, and hear, and sense, and touch, and be touched by, and yet it has also been a history denied, repressed, refused, glossed over, misremembered, discarded, misfiled, and forgotten by racist-colonial-logistical-capitalism. Thus, Tamires has to plunge completely into the moment, dive deep into the endless multiplicity of the moment produced by her repetitive movement, dive into all the pasts and all the futures and all the presents that blackness convokes. Her black parahuman flesh becomes multiple, with the resonating shudders emanating from all sorts of black histories. Plunging and diving, she also becomes a voyager, a hybrid of sea-creature, land creature, cosmic creature and human creature -- a maritime human-animal spitting black fire. The silky, wavering, blue mane at the back of her black T-shirt becomes then also a fin, a set of micro wings, a spinal antenna moving in waves according to her undulations and jerks. Marcela Levi and Lucía Russo have talked about how for this work, they kept a sentence from Nijinsky’s diaries in mind, written as the dancer was falling into his schizophrenia: everything that we are, everything that there is, he wrote, are but “proliferating waves of differences. ”Let it Burn" furthers this truth, but only to choreopoliticize it even more -- under the force of Tamires’ proliferating burning black blurring waves

André Lepecki



André Lepecki is Full Professor and Chair of the Department of Performance Studies at Tisch School of the Arts, NYU. An essayist, dramaturge and independent curator, he is the author of Exhausting Dance and of Singularities, and the editor of several anthologies on dance and performance theory.



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