JOSEPHINE: THE JOSEPHINE BAKER STORY
nytheatre.com review by Jeffrey Lewonczyk
I knew next to nothing about Josephine Baker going into
Josephine: the Josephine Baker Story, and, since programs
weren’t yet available at the first performance, any hope of
gleaning information from program notes was immediately
squelched. However, it turns out that the FringeNYC program
guide’s description of the piece is misleading: though Jo
Bouillon is given a writing credit, and the show is ostensibly
based on a novel by Baker about her life, this is not the type
of biographical one-person piece in which the famous figure sits
and tells the audience his/her thoughts. Except for some fuzzy
recorded voice-overs, all in French, Josephine is
actually a wordless hour-long solo dance piece; and though I
still don’t know much about the particulars of Baker’s life,
boy, did I see a show.
August 15, 2002
After I got over being impressed that Aja Jung, the Belgrade-born dancer who choreographed and performs the piece, was actually dancing without stopping for an hour straight, I realized how unbelievably well she was doing it. Though she doesn’t hurl energy out into the audience the way the legendary Baker is supposed to have done, she utilizes a dizzying range of physical expression to convey the inner existence such a performer might have lived. Ranging from whooping sensual curves to the type of angular contortions you could draw on an Etch-a-Sketch, Jung’s tireless movements combine with her almost frighteningly intense smile to create the portrait of a person. Starting with Baker’s childhood, in which an innocent game metamorphoses before our eyes into what can only be called jazz hopscotch, we watch the story of a life unfold through gestures, beckonings, shrugs, sighs, lunges and leaps, all to the helpless rhythms of a tumultuous moment in history.
The question remains whether the passion and the movement were a liberating force for Baker, or if she was a prisoner of her own restless gyrations, a la "The Red Shoes." But the time for questions is later: when in the presence of Jung’s incredible performance, as in those of the legendary Josephine, all you can do is watch, stunned.