Processing Sugar Notes

Bernard Brown

For the past few years, I have worked to diversify my creation modalities to include research to performance, performance as research and a handcrafted comparative study. More continues to reveal itself. Within these modes, notions of legibility arise. Is contemporary dance, infused with Africanist forms, impactful as a mode of transmission for this topic? Can writing be a result of a rigorous choreographic creative process for movement practitioners? How does collaboration support these practices, aiming towards a legibility beyond the folks working within the niche field? This reflective essay seeks to provide clarity on the aforementioned queries.

Inspired by the research on blackness, desire (including homoeroticism), sugar production, and plantations by noted scholar Nadine George-Graves, “Processing Sugar Notes” is a dance theater work choreographed by Bernard Brown. The work examines the lasting effects of colonialism on global communities of color through the prism of sugar, the most important harvest crop to the trans-Atlantic slave trade. George-Graves states “The practice of licking, tasting, consuming slaves, bringing a part of the slave into the body moved beyond the clinical assessment of metabolic sugar and salt levels…Sampling the merchandise within this thinly veiled erotic, homoerotic desire has left traces in all aspects of US life, including the rendering and reading of black bodies.”  She goes on to say, “The links between the desires for riches produced by the sugar industry with the desire for sugar itself; and the desire for black bodies to produce sugar which gets inextricably linked with desire for blackness, so that when we think of what we want from black bodies, blackness, black bodies moving in space, there’s an unceasing ghosting of this pathological desire for slave labor.”

Beginning with movement is commonplace for me as a choreographer. This process began with transcribing George-Graves’ keynote on Sugar, seeking to make her words more legible, an (un)necessary labor. Collaboration with people of color, near and far, uncovering lived experiences with labor, permeates this work.

This is an excerpt of an evening length work. "Processing Sugar Notes" focuses on colonialism and its lasting affects on Black, Indigenous, People of Color in terms of health, wealth and interpersonal relationships through the lens of enslavement for the purpose of sugar production.
Performer: Chris Salango
An excerpt of the same work performed last September at Highway Performance Space