From night to sunrise to day to night, Mise-en-Crise relies upon a documentary-style framework to follow and visiblise the formal construction of atmosphere and persona. By materialising an aesthetics that is admittedly not here, unknown, joyous, flamboyant, gestural, defiant and even ritualistic, the work attempts to create conditional desires for an unspoken and untold freedom and fantasy for the marginalised subject. Dancing on top of the vortex of a crafted, apocalyptic visual and subtextural narrative that doesn’t give into its own fatalism, yet ruminates on the question, ‘And what to be thrown into crisis?’ We create the possibility of hope from nothing.
Vis-a-vis a Pandaemonium: social death, policing and the politics of performance.
by Hélène Selam Kleih
We are gathered here today to speak on existing. The catch-22 of being. Of wanting. Of freedom.
What price do we pay
Mourning and melancholia, nostalgic for a life before, we encounter space used for recreation, for liberation, for monotony, for our usual. Hearts flickering, my community too ! Pre-pandemic wanderings, perusing abandoned space, the desperation in the search, the finding of joy in bleakness. The elation of our escape, and the swooping deflation, the mundane crashing betwixt. We run through fields ardently, a parody of departure, a ruse of rescue. Reminiscent of slasher scene’s and drive-by’s, we are not reticent. A fantasy charting the high of community, and the come-down of society – we shatter the illusion of routine and rigidity, the Uber aux the memento of time, of dusk and dawn, and order is toppled, rituals are our law, belonging is no longer sporadic and identity marginalisation is an abstraction left to the other.
It is not our duty to convey the horror. We live in our truth.
We live not to be consumed. How do we define the depoliticization of black bodies – malleable, there are no borders to intersectionality. Collapsing those lines, Malik is not here to project a homogeneity, rather we are all “protagonists” in their story, the Mise-en-Crise of the individual and the collective. Intentionally fluid, the choreography tells that “everyone has a different quality, but we are all doing the same thing together – let’s do it together, but in our own way.’’ Movement investigates the difference within blackness, the difference in the motions of our existence, how we “live it, do it, be it.” The focus is not reserved for one – movement wavers between chaotic synchronicity of the many and the few, our attention converges on the We, deliberate in creating a world that seduces and leaves the We to embellish. Malik catechizes, “how does dance stitch that information, this crisis into a visual field, how does dance get expanded in that frame?”
the We enacts a social death through performance – but what is performance and for whom are We performing?
Interrogating a moment in a pandemic, we grapple with a life no longer practiced but one that is always sought, where rituals of safety and of sanctity no longer save us – movement has been stifled and rendered mute, an imprint of a previous life. Chasing a moment of a time before, a night before, the chase exhausts an already collapsed state.
When our space was already always so temporary, how do we take up space in the Now?
This is the crisis of our moment – when will we dance Again ?
M: Like I just think about all the spaces that were closing, like everything is so temporary for queer people, to finally find that moment and then like three months later you’re like that place is shut, that’s not happening any more, that’s not sustainable
H: and then suddenly you haven’t got the thing that framed your friendships, your free time, your release, but you’re still there, it’s a bit like you’re missing something, like you’ve lost something
M: no… for sure
H: it’s not as deep obviously but it’s like, almost like, you know, I’m saying this because this recently happened to me – having an abortion where you feel like you lost something – you feel like there’s something that left you. It was never there in the first place, but it was still so intrinsically part of you
M: that moment shaped you. Sometimes it seems small in the moment but then you know over this whole year I’ve realised – oh actually that was so essential for me, like it’s my therapy, it’s where I experimented, it’s where I learnt so much about myself, you know
M: met people that changed my life, you know
M: it’s very interesting…I was talking to people that have younger kids, like not young but maybe like teenagers, who have no access right now to any queer spaces, you know
H: at all
M: at all. And I’m like wow ‘cause when I was that age, that’s when I was first starting to be
curious about shit, and like finding things to understand myself and I just think like, oh wow, actually our spaces are so important
H: they actually are
M: I mean for me it’s so like because I was so like, not weird as a kid, but also like brought up in New York and I just feel like I had little things around me that I saw that made me be like, oh I need to actually like go out and seek that, because like, I don’t know, I’m not getting that at home really with my family. Every time I go home now they’re like what are you wearing, like you know what I mean, and it’s fine, like I’ve accepted it, kinda like okay with that. But then I also went to a really straight, like hetero, wild-ass uni, in the States. That was damaging, like it was damaging. It was like so…it wasn’t close to New York. 3 hours away from New York, 3 hours away from Boston, 3 hours away from Montreal
H: God, so you literally living in the middle of nowhere
M: in the middle of nowhere, so you’re just like- what the fuck am I supposed to do? I lost
H: what were you studying there?
M: I was studying dance, but made it- I like, made my own course
M: that’s just like so on-brand for me!
H: *laughs* I was literally gonna say that !
M: I can’t actually fit into any of these things, so I make my own… yeah I tried to drop out, I tried to be like actually, I don’t really feel like this is the place that I can learn, or do what I want, or be myself, even. So I think because of that they were like no no no, like we think we can support you somehow. So I felt like okay, maybe I’ll stay, but it was still
traumatic you know what i mean
M: no visible queerness at all. I think that people who were visibly queer were punished for sure, like socially, or whatever
H: do you feel like you were? Or you weren’t as visibly queer as others?
M: I think I had a good community of people there and because, even though New York was 3 hours away, I was still going on the bus, you know what I mean, I maintained so many relationships outside of there that for me, it just wasn’t as bad, but I also feel there were lots of things about the culture of that place that I could not really fit into, and not in a judgmental way, but you know I didn’t grow up in fucking like rural Montana, like I don’t really have that outlook on life that you have, you know? not to say it means that much, but-
H: it still does though
M: it kinda does, right? Like where you come from
H: I remember when I was at university in Warwick alone, I remember the relief I would get coming back to south London, cycling around Brixton and Peckham and seeing people that comforted me
M: yeah, I get that. I kinda like, knew what I wanted, I was kinda like I’m not going to try to meet this culture that I don’t really get. I was like I’m here, but I don’t really need to adopt this way of like, ‘being’ because that’s like the predominant way to be there. Like, white, middle class and upper middle class culture or whatever. So I was just like I’m actually gonna do me. And also I was there really for my family, you know, I felt like I owed it to my family, they’re immigrants, and it’s like of course I have to like finish my
uni, and like- do you know what I mean?
H: yeah, literally the same shit, but like especially when you’ve got an African mum, it’s just like ah my God. You came to this country to do good and I’m like okay, sure.
M: Do you know what I mean !
H: Yeah, it’s already a failure that I’m not a doctor or a lawyer, so like I’ve gotta like, keep it
M: Do you know what i mean !
H: So do you feel like in that sense, that’s also what I actually noticed in Mise-en-Crise, like it felt that you weren’t performing for anyone. So it’s almost like you not performing for all these people in your past, it’s like you’re not performing for anyone anymore in your work
M: no. Not at all
H: You’re literally just performing for yourself, even then you’re not intentionally performing for yourself, you’re exploring yourself
M: for sure, exploring myself and getting really into just dancing, and just being like that can be it, you know. That can be all the material that we work with. like oh my god, hey that’s fab, actually, what else is there? *laughs*
H: also there needs to be more on- I feel like even when there’s so much on black trauma, that even pieces that are supposed to be joyful, will still have a traumatic storyline, where its like why can’t something just be joyful without any context?
H: and that’s why I kinda felt like even though it had undertones that something else was still going on in the background, it was you all working together and you all simply dancing to overcome that.
M: yeah, yeah exactly
H: but it wasn’t literal at all, it wasn’t like hey we’re in a pandemic
M: it wasn’t like we’re in a pandemic, we’re sad, still happy
H: Yeah, that’s what I mean when I say it felt like propaganda, I dunno i think it was also the costume, the uniform, it felt very dystopian
M: yeah, yeah yeah, it’s a bit like- ‘cause of course, I work on a certain kind of texture and
aesthetic that I like, you know, that’s a little bit like, bleak, but I try to do joy in that, or I try ‘cause I think a lot about like black trauma, and, you know who are we making work for
and why are we making work, and thinking about what my work does, like I can- we can recognise that maybe the situation is bleak, in very like subtle ways, you don’t have to be like this is the saddest shit we’re going through, this is a sad story. If you can be like ok we do it in a place that looks a bit abandoned, it’s a bit dishevelled, doing our piece wearing these costumes, can’t really see our faces cause we’re wearing these you know what I mean, “MASKS”, we do these other things to put little hints in there, and let the joy… come from the dancing
M: … and really like, come out, you know
H: that’s what I got from it. That’s really what I got from it.
M: yeah. I feel like I’ve been a bit nervous about that actually. Cause like, will people just think that we’re like taking the piss or something, like we’re just like… we just wanted to party, so we *laughing* literally, like, had a party
H: i’m here for it!
M: actually, so what?
H: that’s what I was gonna say, why do you care?
M: yeah, so what? You know? Honestly, true, true. Say that again! People are bitter though
H: especially when it’s black queerness, cause it’s like white queerness has its limitations still, I know, but there is more freedom, there is more space to just be, you can be a Lena Dunham and that’s it
M: for sure, for sure, or you’re like you know, doing the most mainstream acceptable version of queerness, like Ru Paul’s Drag Race- like they can still film their thing, they can still be close to each other, so for me I’m like ok but like is it about money? Is it about a kind of queerness? Or a kind of working that’s palatable or something? That’s only allowed to happen in a pandemic?
H: I had a question that I wanted to ask before I forgot. Ok, that’s what I wanted to ask, I was just kind of reading about social death through performance, and then also just looking at what is performance in itself anyway. And I just wanted to know, not necessarily even specifically to do with this piece, but do you feel like you’ve ever had, like even a moment of social death?
M: yeah, I think so. But I guess I’d like to hear you say a little bit more about social death
H: I was kind of toying with the ideas of what you said about how we present ourselves and what the acceptable forms of queerness are, it’s similar to what the acceptable forms of blackness are. So, like how all of these palatable versions of ourselves are the social norms and the socially accepted parts of ourselves and no-one really sees the other parts because we keep them hidden
M: because you would like socially die if you like did too much
H: so like, I feel like I’m in the process, kind of, of a social death because I’ve started the journey of overcoming a really bad eating disorder, it’s been a process where it’s been like understanding the root of everything and it’s very much to do with control. Like, the whole notion of personal control, but then it also becomes entwined with control from society. So like what people perceive as the perfect version of you, and what you’re treated like with this new version of you versus this old version of you. But I think especially since ‘coming out’ of this, I’ve been more aware of how black bodies are policed and how queerness is policed – I don’t know, in terms of even professions – I don’t think I’ve ever met an openly queer doctor so theres the respectability politics of everything. For me, I really rated that you created this piece for an audience that might not always get what you’re saying or even trying to say. That in itself is social death.
M: yeah, I feel like, it’s something that I’ve really struggled with and I’ve started processing this in therapy, and I’m like so bad with doing therapy consistently because of issues with like intimacy, so usually what happens is I do have sessions but then when it gets too real… I’m like deuces I’m out!
H: that’s me- always a deuces !
M: like i’m out, I just drop it, I like disappear you know. But that’s just regarding insecurities. I don’t say deuces when people are like- I dunno policing me. There’s a lot of policing that happens in any community, in any world, that happens on a state level. Then that also happens on a personal and social level. So I feel like in subtle ways – I really feel I was punished the more free I portrayed myself, the more like shifting or not conforming or doing things differently, the more you lean into that, the more you’re punished, actually, for it, unless- until you’re really celebrated for it. A lot of punishment happens, I felt that so much living in the States, that’s part of the reason that I can’t really live there, because it’s so- like white people punish black people, you know what I mean
H: it’s violent
M: it is violent, and it’s like ok so I had that experience you know what I mean, so I’d like take that with me, and I feel like it did make me look at myself and be like you have to destroy these things about yourself if you’re gonna survive
M: and it’s like, damn
H: did you feel like you were in the process of doing that at any point?
M: yeah, for sure, for sure. And I think to be honest, it led me to this place now. I’m now starting to really reflect these last two years, I’ve been really being like, what the fuck was I doing? Like the thought, you know what I mean?
M: and really thinking like, damn, like, actually, because when I expressed myself in a free way, like I lost things, you know, people would take things away from me. You lose your job, you lose your, this, you lose your, that. You know what I mean? And so it makes the turn to, turn it on you
H: yeah. So you equate this expression of freedom to a form of oppression, that’s going to equate to more oppression, even
M: for sure, for sure. And you know, so it’s very interesting that all of those experiences, I have to be honest, like feed everything about how I make my work and stuff. You know what I mean? Like how I carry myself, probably why I don’t want to be really so intimate.
Like I’m long to be intimate with
M: and I don’t really want to touch like, certain subjects about my personal life, because there’s a lot of trauma, you know what I mean? And it kind of does lead to a certain not self-policing, but because you know, you experienced people being like, I don’t know, policing you
M: oppressing you in a way. So even on the most minute level, like if you’re not going to be that deep, but it adds up
H: microaggressions are still so violent and when people’s reactions to you are not what you wanted them to be, when you are being so truly yourself and not accepted, it is an attack to your very being. So do you then just either dilute yourself or lower your expectations – or both?
M: yeah. Often both. Isn’t it? I feel like it’s definitely both. And I just, I’m kind of now, you know, I don’t know. I don’t know if I’m making what choices I’m making and if I’m making the choice that I wanted to make, or if I’m doing… because I just feel a bit lost at the moment, but I’m actually trying to remember that queer people being free is the exact representation that we need actually. It is essential for our survival.
H: literally- it’s like, so visceral that I can’t explain it. It’s like the ebbing away at
like- something that… like a way of life that you knew
M: for sure. For sure. No, no, no. For sure. Definitely. Like approaching… I do think it’s really a little bit about freedom because I think, yeah, we have a- I don’t know. I have, I’m going to say something that’s like, maybe wild, but I’ve been really feeling like actually… is maybe… white queerness can actually just be cops. You know what I mean?
H: yeah. In what sense?
M: I think that obviously for safety reasons, people kind of like, make a space that’s very specific. And in order to do that, you have to say these things, we’re not allowed in that space. That’s fine. You know what I mean? But I do think that something else happened after that, which has done it. Because I think if you do it on that scale, you have to be very careful about, not to also do it on the personal level, in a space where it’s meant to be… I don’t know, actually being, being a space to investigate freedom, you know, like that’s why we have our spaces – to be like, okay, well, we can’t really be ourselves in that space. So this is a space for us. Sometimes, in that, I dunno, I have felt that there’s another kind of policing that happens between people sometimes
H: so within the community?
M: Yeah. And I, I dunno, I just think, Hmm. I don’t know about it. You know, I don’t, I just, honestly, I don’t know
H: do you feel like its like white queer people policing black queer people or do you feel like it’s a type of white queer person or it’s a type of queer person?
M: I think it’s a type of queer person, maybe like it’s type of space. Cause maybe some spaces they’re not that deep, right?
H: yeah, it can be more superficial
M: but also there’s queer spaces that are set up in so many different ways. It’s a different kind of proposal than like, if you go to a night where it’s like, this is a queer night but anyone can come
H: there have been loads of incidents where yeah, like we haven’t felt like the safest and like it’s specifically trans women and who people who present as femme
M: because it’s like, I think because we’re having so many like conversations around like policing, right? Like I feel like policing is like, yeah, somehow a very socially relevant topic to be talking about dissecting and trying to shift our relationship to it. And it’s like happening obviously on the state level, if you’re talking about police, people who have jobs in the police, right, but I do think that the whole verb of policing is something that also must be interrogated, but it’s so it’s like, what is the system that we uphold to keep people safe, but also like not make a space hostile? Do you know what I mean?
H: yeah, because there are boundaries to freedom, to personal freedom, because what you decipher as freedom is completely different from someone else. So, someone can say they were exercising their freedom by doing something that could potentially hurt someone else. Thinking back to some experiences with friends who are trans, and I think in this case specifically trans women, curiosity should always have boundaries. When you mix intoxicators, a lot becomes justified. It’s like when they see a space so free, they don’t think there are any more rules, so like the rules of like basic humanity, just go out the window, and really there just should be freedom whilst respecting each other
M: yeah. And I guess like, you know, when you run like a club in London, it’s like, there are so many things that play in that it’s like, it’s probably really hectic to organize and expensive. So like you have that pressure of making money, so it’s hard then to then- I don’t know
H: enforce rules?
H: and especially in a space where you said that there were no rules
M: for sure. So, what do you think? So what do you think, like we should do, because I’m kind of interested because I’m really thinking, it’s not like I have firm opinions about, like, I don’t have strong opinions about anything. I’m just kind of, I look at the world, I’m like, okay, like, this is what people are talking about policing. I haven’t like, taken a position on should people… should we have no police? Let’s talk about that. Should we have no police? You know, it’s really a big thing to ask that question because we live in a society where there has always been the police
H: we don’t know anything else. Or anything other
M: and I’m kind of like, you know, I had some thoughts about it. I’m not like, strongly opinionated either way. I don’t like the police obviously, you know what I mean?
H: I know you can be a good cop and protect and serve. But I think it’s essentially about both the individual and the system, the culture in the system that enforces casual violence and how that interplays with both the individual and collective cyclical struggle for power
M: for sure. I’m very interested in the state, you know, and the people that run things, you know…I actually… it’s hard for me to think about agency. Like I can feel agency on a personal level, I guess, but… we live in a world where there’s so little agency given to people and then we’re free, but we’re not really, you know what I mean?
H: yeah, we’re free but to like what extent?
M: like there are laws, there are ways of being that you cannot be, you know what I mean? So when I think about like, the government, the state and people in the police, I also think it really is a culture. Because there’s the belief that society must be policed or something. And they’re like, what is that? You know? Like let’s get into that. Like, cause I’m like, okay, yeah, we need a space that has rules. So that those people- so people who are marginalized and vulnerable in spaces cannot be traumatized further in a space where they’re supposed to be safe. And then, and I’m like, okay, but we also can’t police because I’m like, imagine… police. I mean, I don’t know, police and clubs. For me, I feel like this is scary
H: I’m not going to go to the clubs when they open up if they implement the undercover police officers. I’ve decided that I’m just going to throw my own nights
M: yeah. I’m so excited for that because I think that’s the way forward. I think, you know, I can’t, I would not enjoy clubbing if I knew there were police in the space, you know, like that for me is not okay
H: I know a warehouse in Bermondsey next to a Shell, that reminds me of your petrol station scene. Like, I don’t know if you listen to UK grime or rap, but this guy Chipmunk always films his diss tracks outside a petrol station at a Shell
M: I can imagine, *laughing* kinda like start spitting some…
H: I really didn’t feel like that scene was part of film, I was quite curious as to why you included it
M: yeah, so the physical language of everything is so interesting to me. So obviously, we were trying to be like playing with the movement of pop music videos or something, you know, like looking at the movement of that. Like the process of making a music video and the history behind them passes down in the creation of each new video. And, in the scale of at night, I just thought I was like a rock star doing a video
H: yeah. Yeah. It literally, it literally looked like that, but it will say, look like you’d happen to pass on it by accident. Like you’re almost like filling up the tank and then was like, actually this is a moment- like
M: yeah, yeah, yeah. For sure. For sure. And playing with that as well. Because it’s, like I dunno, people were like, we, we stopped so much in petrol stations actually. Like we even shot some of the dancing in the petrol station of me and put it in the end. Like people, someone came, they got out of their cars and started dancing with us. It was really fun,
H: what time was it at that point?
M: it was like, shit, what time is it like 1am or something? Yeah. It was like 1am
H: that’s actually really fab. And then you started shooting at one time?
M: um, so we shot, actually these, this video shot over two weekends. So like some of it was shot like the weekend before
H: yeah. Somewhere like closer shots, like weaving between like- people.
M: yeah, for sure
H: was that a different day?
M: same day. Same night. Yeah. So like, after we like got all the kind of like, you know, the
choreography that we like do together, like in the skirts and stuff, once we got all that, we were like, okay, well, let’s just like, create a situation where we filmed with some night cam and kind of just like, go around and capture, like, kind of go sleep, like presence of the people and really liking that texture, like to kind of bring the night down, you know what I mean?
H: it did feel like it was slowing down, like, especially the ending with the windscreen – it was almost like a climax, but it was lazy, like in slow motion
M: yeah, exactly. I love, I love shit like that
H: like, yeah, that was my favorite bit – it was mesmerizing to watch. And I watched every single person moving and their different movements
M: so good. Yeah. It was just! And also, we tried to get things where there’s like, hardly like
multiple people in one shot. So it kind of made it like, like together, but also like isolated in a way, just like that texture, you know what I mean? Like playing with this whole idea about like crisis and like, whatever. Like, I don’t know. I just wanted us to make something that was hopeful and just raw.
H: it was, I felt like it was kind of like the individual versus the collective because you were still all a collective, but there was still always a focus on an individual, but like also it was so subtle that you couldn’t decipher a protagonist. A collective slow release – it was graceful
M: yeah. Yeah, for sure. For sure. Because like I just like made that material, then we kind of fit it into a narrative, right? Instead of just going around the studio and just fooling around, it’s like what are we gesturing to? And then it turns into this long, the kind of slow and meticulous like phrase, and always in my work, I teach the movement. Like, I’m like, I made the movement, but I teach it. And then I’m like, do what you want with it or within it, like you show yourself
H: and you’re not policing people.
M: no, no, no. I try to give like the choreography, just like as a frame we get our movement to be in
H: so that’s also what I wanted to…just going back to like policing, but like the freedom of
expression, even like how free are you really to express if you’re working within the confines of someone else’s ideas or vision, and Mise-en-Crise really gave that freedom of expression, excuse the cliche. But the thing is you also didn’t give it or grant it to anyone. You just let it be. So that’s what it came across even the subtlest of movements, even if at some points it was actually quite meticulous, that you were all moving exactly in time. Like everyone’s movement was still their own
M: yeah, for sure. For sure. I think sometimes I think giving someone like a framework actually leads to more freedom. I think those are sometimes the questions I have as well. Like sometimes structures do help you be more free. Like it’s not that we want no structure at all. Sometimes structure can make you like elevate.
H: yeah, I do get what you mean, because sometimes too much freedom is insanity. I need some structure, some sort of reality
M: for sure. No, you do need reality. You need, like, not a system, but like you need something like…
H: like substance, like sustenance, something solid, stodgy, as in like bread, bread. Yeah. Like no one wants bread, but you need bread
M: *laughing* Yeah. And like, you literally need it. Also, like in order for you to see the practice of the artists, they have to put things in place, like structures in place for you to decipher their work. I feel like, I feel like the whole time, I just feel like, wow, I try to work on freedom in my work, but my life’s not working like that, but there is a structure in my life
H: yeah. In what sense would you say?
M: I don’t know. I just know that like, my routines are important
H: yeah. They’re like rituals. We need structure to thrive
M: rituals, emotions to go through, something to return to, to keep me like, as grounded as
possible. Yeah. I don’t necessarily want to only build around it, sometimes it’s nice to like fly into the clouds and just to be like, somewhere else, but I think I need balance to be moving right.
Hope is momentary, it is in flux, it bears no substance when the systems around us are upheld by violence. Hope is sometimes boundless, but often aimless – it is a point of no return, a road that persuades complacency.
Faith is what binds us, propels us, Faith is what holds us down.
Faith is in We.
Malik Nashad Sharpe (Marikiscrycrycry) is an artist working with choreography. They create performances that are formally experimental and engaged with the construction of atmosphere, affect, and dramaturgy. Their performances often utilise social themes and topics as portals to unveil and unearth ulterior and undercurrent perspectives. Often making underneath their alias and aesthetics project marikiscrycrycry, they have been especially concerned with the affective and textural qualities of dance and how it can transform, disarm, and critically reflect upon mourning and melancholia.
Hélène Selam Kleih is a writer, publisher and model primarily concerned with the politics of language and its ability to elevate the voices of those marginalised, ultimately working towards the depoliticisation of language. Her work concentrates on inter-generational trauma as a result of displacement and the abolition of slavery, criminal justice system and data. She is the writer and founder of HIM + HIS, a charity and anthology on men and mental health, and currently works alongside psychotherapy practices offering resources to young black men in the boroughs of Southwark and Lambeth in London.