(Originally published in Boston Magazine, 1998)
Six dancers, wearing animal masks and carrying white paper flowers and big bleached bones, stretch out on the shiny black floor of the Green Street Studio in Central Square while Paula Josa-Jones — the Boston-based dancer, choreographer and director of Paula Josa-Jones/Performance Works — takes a break from rehearsals to talk about her newest dance project, Ghostdance. “The dancers will be dressed in layers and layers of white fabric — I’ve been buying up old tuxedos and bridal gowns,” says Josa-Jones, a thin, intense, bird-like woman with beautiful, strong hands and feet. “The dance is about ghosts, and the voices of our ancestors — animal ancestors, earth ancestors, and the voices of the earth as well.” Josa-Jones created Ghostdance, which was inspired by the imagery of the Mexican Day of the Dead — Dia de los Muertes, during a US/Mexico Cultural Exchange Fellowship funded by an Natonal Endowment for the Arts. Ten dancers from Monterrey, Mexico, will be travelling here to perform with Josa-Jones’s company in August, when Ghostdance will premiere at Lincoln Center Out-of-doors before coming back to Boston. The music was composed by Pauline Oliveros. “It’s powerful magic,” says Josa-Jones. She flips on the tape, and the music begins: eerie and melodic, like the sound of wind and water, with strange, unearthly voices.
“The dancers will be carrying white flowers and bones and and brilliantly colored objects — orange of marigold, magenta of coxcomb,” she says. “They are carrying the objects as offerings. I made all the flowers myself; they came from a poem by Jeffner Allen called Cascades. Moonflowers. Flores lunares. I play the chanracter of a bride of death.”
The dancers assemble in the corner of the room. Josa-Jones calls out instructions: “Greetings. Then Decay. Then Ghosting with Relationships. Then it goes into Swirls, then it goes into Fragmentos, then it goes back into Swirls, then I walk through and you do Body Stories, then Obsessions, then Chango.” The dancers start to dance across the room, in a slow, wavelike motion, rising and sinking, falling and rising; their masks and flowers trembling as they dance. “At the basis of the movements is a raggedy, disintegrating quality,” says Josa-Jones. “It’s as if they were taking a journey through a landscape and their eyes were caught by something — a memory, or the fragment of a memory, or the memory of a past life — and that pulls them into the movement.” She chants aloud from Cascades as the dancers dance:
“Reverberaciones. Falling stars. Thousands of stars. Oceans of worlds. Moonflowers. Flores lunares. Has vivido un gran amor? Have you lived a great love?”
The dance is ghostlike, dreamlike — hypnotic, frightening, but also strangely beautiful.
“It’s an offering,” says Josa-Jones. “To all our ancestors, ghosts, spirits of the earth…”
by Rebecca Nemser for rebeccanemser.com