Born 1986, Saginaw, MI/ BFA University of Michigan; MFA University of Iowa/ Lives in Highland Park, MI
Jennifer Harge is a student of the body — the black body, to be exact.
She lives to make them move, play, and most of all to speak; yes, speak, truth to hard social traumas and silent terror. And do not for a second misread Harge’s intention or vision of dance as an invitation to be entertained. In fact, keep your applause. This dancer turned movement artist, choreographer and educator, is after more – your mind.
Why merely dance when you have the power to make meaning, to shatter stereotypes? So goes the process that Harge draws upon to confound and challenge audiences. Her site-specific installations and performances straddle the line between interpretive dance and subversive storytelling. And she rarely moves alone. In 2014, she founded Harge Dance Stories, an arts storytelling collective, to showcase her research as a dance educator and to empower others who see experimental movement as a means of social disruption and community engagement.
It’s also worth noting that no small subjects catch Harge’s eye. Leap big or leave it alone could easily be her professional mantra. In WIGS (2017) Harge and four other dancers weave their bodies into an interwoven exploration of joy, grief, pleasure and protest, with each dancer embodying, through jagged and subtle movements, the ways these raw emotions often blend together in the lives of black women. In FEDS WATCHING (2018) Harge and her dancers set out to unravel the somatic responses that grow out of living black while under constant surveillance and scrutiny in America. The piece, which debuted at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit, is the first installment of larger yet-to-be-unveiled work entitled Fly, Drown.
Harge fuses head and heart, turning personal curiosity into universal search. “Creating movement and making a physical response is how I make sense of the world, of life really,’’ she explains. In mourn and never tire, (2016) one of Harge’s most nationally celebrated installations, and cussing and praying, a “loose variation” of mourn… from 2017, viewers are thrust into a wrenching investigation of grief and gun violence at the hands of police. Looking for a way to process her own anguish over America’s “state sanctioned violence against black bodies,” Harge turned to her body. The result: a performance which features Harge, sometimes solo, sometimes accompanied, literally running in place while reciting the name of every person of color killed by police since 1999. “Every time I do it, there are more names.’’ In the performance, a near breathless and sweat-drenched Harge recounts each victim’s date of death and the city where they died. This, she says, is how movement honors the dead and challenges the living to question their silence. “As an artist, I’m always wondering, what is my responsibility in all of this and how do I use my position responsibly so the work I’m making is never just art for art’s sake or dance for dance’s sake?”
Much like her approach to dance making, Harge’s career has been neither linear nor predictable. She came to Detroit in 2013 more out of exhaustion than excitement. Back-to-back stints living in small, overwhelmingly white cities left her hungry for cultural connection and recharge. The plan: six months at grandma’s house, then head off to New York.
But the city had other plans for Harge. “I got here and started moving a little bit and making and teaching and I literally forgot to move. The whole idea of needing to be in New York in order to be a dancer just left.’’In Detroit, Harge the conscious creator has taken flight in ways that Harge the mere dancer might have only longed for in New York. Count her 2017 selection as a Kresge Arts in Detroit Fellow as one sign. Add teaching duties as a lecturer at Oakland University, the University of Michigan and Wayne State University. There’s also the call of a city in transition, twisting and turning, and at times seemingly tone deaf to the depth of its own stories. This is the stuff of which movement should be made; stories of resistance and rise, says Harge. Her big black notebook is filled with new ideas
“Being in Detroit in this moment really pushes me to stay curious and connected to the kinds of work that I want to be making and to get even more specific about centralizing black stories, especially when you’re literally watching things being erased every day.’’ Of these things Harge is sure: “I know it’s why I’m here.”
Nichole Christian, May, 2018