When Dana Michel performs her award-winning Yellow Towel at the Contemporary Arts Center this month, expect anything but a low-impact evening. The choreographer-performance artist inhabits a persona that falls in and out of “normality,” a figure the audience will at times empathize with and at times fear. She moves like the dancer-athlete she is, but also like the metaphorical ledge-walker she is. You won’t get bored.
The performance is about race, and stereotype, but not in a thematic way. It is as much about putting audience members in a state where things happen and uncomfortable thoughts flood in. “It’s a highly structured improvisation,” Michel says by phone. “I’ve set up several situations and then live them with people”—the audience—“around.”
Michel’s style exists in the same space as a number of high-profile African-American artists—writer Paul Beatty, artist Kara Walker, even rapper Kendrick Lamar—who use racial assumptions and issues of identity in open-ended, ambiguous, and non-preachy ways. She describes Yellow Towel as “a kind of prodding—like if there were a big garbage heap of base level stereotypes and I had a stick and started prodding it.” Each time she performs, something different shakes out.
Feb 18 & 19, 8 p.m., Contemporary Arts Center, Contemporaryartscenter.org