As a remix of Beyoncé’s “Yoncé” boomed through speakers, India Davis, Antoinette Chen See, Ana María Agüero Jahannes and guest dancer Toni Cannon got into position. They began to contort their bodies into blossoming shapes in perfect rhythm, balancing on each other’s limbs and propelling one another into the air. While their movements had a light quality to them, the sweat on their T-shirts was proof of the strength it took to perform these stunts. Collectively known as Body Waves, Davis, Chen See and Jahannes were in the final rehearsals for their latest show “Closer,” a presentation of new and reworked performances they will present at The Living Room Project in West Oakland on March 20 and 21.

With backgrounds in disciplines as diverse as visual art, theater, circus arts and cheerleading, Body Waves are able to transcend genre through interdisciplinary performances that incorporate costumes, scenery, music, dance and acrobatics. Their work juxtaposes athleticism with sensuality to create visual spectacles with a raw, emotional impact. Chen See has tattoos on her forearms of the words “vulnerable” and “fierce,” and these adjectives readily come to mind when watching Body Waves perform.

At a rehearsal at The Living Room Project, India Davis and Ana María Agüero Jahannes practice an acrobatics move they will use in their show, "Closer."

At a rehearsal at The Living Room Project, India Davis and Ana María Agüero Jahannes practice an acrobatics move they will use in their show, “Closer.”

While their performances can be interpreted in a variety of ways, many of Body Waves’ pieces have narratives at the backbone of their choreography. They favor themes that stem from folklore, ritual and spirituality — specifically that of the African diaspora — as well as personal experiences and memories. “The acrobatics work because we can become more than just people. We can become ideas, and we can become things that are a bit intangible,” said Davis.

With their shared backgrounds as queer, black, female artists, Body Waves’ work is closely tied to the idea of cultural identity. The word “community” came up often in our conversation, and it’s something the three women seek in one another amid a largely white circus arts scene in the Bay Area. While they don’t consider themselves circus performers outright, the connection is there: They honed their acrobatics skills in circus training programs and much of their practices happen in circus gyms.

India Davis practices a move with Antoinette Chen See in which the two dancers' bodies combine to create new shapes in time with the music.

India Davis practices a move with Antoinette Chen See in which the two dancers’ bodies combine to create new shapes in time with the music.

Far from the stereotypical goofiness of the circus, however, Body Waves view their work as validating and cathartic for queer people of color, whom they consider their target audience. “We are intentional about making sure that those people in our community get to see our work… [so they can] see themselves shapeshifting because of the way that we are opening up what they already believed to be true about what they can be,” said Jahannes. “Who and how we are and how we perform that is affirming to a lot of people,” Chen See added.

While they have spent much of the past year on tour, Body Waves is using “Closer” to show their fans at home some of the acts that they’ve performed in venues outside of Oakland. The show will be a teaser for their upcoming project, “Shapeshift,” an entirely new performance that will take place inside of an art installation. While the details for “Shapeshift” haven’t been announced, “Closer” is an invitation to celebrate the strength and power of sisterhood as they prepare for their next collaborative endeavor.


About The Author

Nastia Voynovskaya is an Oakland-based freelance writer and editor covering arts and culture. She is the online editor at Hi-Fructose Magazine and has written for Oakland Local, East Bay Express, SF Weekly, The Bold Italic, and more. Follow her at @nananastia.

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