Rashaad Newsome, en Vogue
BY Jordan Hruska
May 17 2010 7:35 PM ET
Newsome casts women from the streets of cities like Paris, New York, and Atlanta and films them in screen tests acting out these gestures before he includes them in a group performance. In live stagings the performers stand together, with a few initiating the first moves and corresponding verbal sounds and then more following, each standing in place and repeating their move. Some snap their fingers and jerk their heads, and others thrust their hips out and call out expressions like "Girrrrrrl!" Newsome records all these sounds with a Nintendo Wii gaming machine that he hacked into, using the wand controller as a bespoke conductors' baton. He takes these live sounds, along with some that he prerecorded, and loops them back during the performance until they overlap, recycle, and crescendo in a rich remix.
"For Shade Compositions certain women would be hesitant to get into character or perform the gestures," Newsome says. "It proved that this body language has a stigma. They’re kind of embarrassed that they do it."
Everywhere he travels he picks up on and records regional gestures, like the mutations of American hip-hop body language he found in Paris's North African baneuil neighborhoods. In this way Newsome acts as an anthropologist, scouting and observing the way urban women interact in globally connected but sometimes marginalized societies. And he has even slyly incorporated men into Shade Compositions.
"What people don’t often know is that some of the sounds that are prerecorded and looped in are of a man’s voice. In my research I found that what is considered to be stereotypical body language of a gay male is also the same as a black female," he says.
Tropes of gender confusion are also rife in his work with vogue dancing. Newsome has been attending the vogue dance ball competitions for years now in New York and in other cities. Here, mainly young black and Latino men and some women battle in varying styles of vogue as they walk a catwalk dressed in elaborate costumes with a minimalist house beat fueling the moves seen most notably in the 1990 documentary Paris Is Burning. Newsome’s use of the subject evolves almost as rapidly as the style of dancing itself.
"Vogue is a dance form that has been totally bastardized by the dance community, but it’s a huge part of the black gay diaspora," he says. "So I really wanted to archive it for the pieces in the Whitney. The dancing in Untitled is really the style called vogue femme, which is the newest style of vogue."