Review: Yellow Towel (Dancemakers’ 2017 Minifest)

Dancemakers presents Dana Michel’s powerful new show in Toronto as part of 2017 Minifest

Yellow Towel had its Toronto premiere on Saturday at the Winchester Street Theatre as part of Dancemakers’ 2017 Minifest. Before seeing Yellow Towel, I had never been to a dance performance. Immediately, I was caught off guard by the intimacy of the venue. There was no elevated stage providing further separation between the audience and the performer, just a plain white floor stretched out in front of a row of seats. 

Yellow Towel started quietly. There was no dimming of the lights or any indication that the performance was starting. Instead, the audience turned quiet as we watched Dana Michel, dressed head to toe in black, struggle to move away from a white curtain.

Michel’s dancing gave the illusion that there was a magnetic pull to the curtain; that most attempts to get away would only result in her being drawn back. The contrast between her black clothes and white curtains isn’t coincidental, as the audience would notice that almost all of the objects placed on the stage were white in colour.

The set design lends itself well to Yellow Towel’s overall premise; the story of a Black woman surrounded and deeply affected by the whiteness around her.

But don’t get me wrong, Yellow Towel is not at all concerned with educating its audience about racism and experiences of a Black woman in a white world. Rather, it only shows us the effects of these circumstances and their consequences on a woman’s psyche.

Throughout the performance, Michel interacts with various everyday objects; glasses, plates, a bowl, milk, mayonnaise, and a toilet. Slowly, through the performance, she strips off her black clothing to reveal a white shirt and yellow tights. The yellow tights are one of the only bits of colour in the performance along with a Trumpet that Michel plays.

I enjoyed Yellow Towel immensely. Though I found it dense and confusing at times, it was the type of dense-and-confusing that still intrigued me. It was difficult for me to look away, fearing that when I did, I would miss some crucial information or emotional resolution.

Throughout the performance, Michel makes vague references to hair. She discusses how much she loves her hair, yet it was covered with a hat at the beginning. Later, she throws the hat off and then she wears an entire blonde wig as an extension on one strand of hair. The play ends with her putting a hair salon sink over her head.

Yellow Towel makes references to both historical events (1879, the year of the Exoduster Movement in Mississippi) and cultural representations such as kinky hair. There were definitely aspects of Yellow Towel that I didn’t understand or was confused about, but I couldn’t deny that its message and effect on the audience was powerful.

That’s probably the one word I would use if someone asked me to describe Yellow Towel in one word: “powerful”.

Details

Yellow Towel performed June 17 and 18, 2017 at the Winchester Street Theatre as part of Dancemakers’ 2017 Minifest.

Photos of Dana Michel by Maxyme G. Delisle

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