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More Than Just Girls' Games: Lily Kind's "Wolfthicket"
Photo: Koof Ibi

More Than Just Girls' Games: Lily Kind's "Wolfthicket"

by Joseph Ahmed

Riffling through the program’s 46 footnotes[1], I start to think that I am settling in for an academic lecture.

The opposite is true.

Performers start by popping in and out of every door in a Buster Keaton-style bit labeled “The Door Joke.” Wolfthicket, directed by Lily Kind and choreographed in collaboration with its seven plus performers[2], is a schoolyard game on a sugar high, a vaudeville show, a deconstruction of childhood “girls games”, a meditation on Afro Diasporic influence on pop culture, and a sheer blast. The ensemble cast of Amalia Colón-Nava, Maddie Hopfield*, Chelsea Murphy, Lillian Ransijn, Dylan Smythe, Eva Steinmetz, Elizabeth Weinstein, and Kind deliver raw and exuberant performances.

The cast, dressed in patchwork tops and vibrant Biencaton pants, move through game after game like an ecstatic amoeba. They stretch into a line to deliver an ever-accelerating repetition of the almost-naughty “Miss Suzie had a steamboat” rhyme[3], eventually breaking down into chaos. They surround a series of waacking soloists. They involve the audience in charades to “Guess what’s in the refrig-er-a-tor”[4]. They rampage, swim, and fall across the room in a tight example of ensemble attunement.

Finally, the cast don black garments and slow the tempo. The change follows Smythe’s haunting rendition of Dolly Parton’s “Little Sparrow”, sung while draped across Kind’s and Ransijn’s[5] backs. The party becomes an elegy, the contraction and expansion of bodies recontextualized by the darker outfits and reddening lighting[6]. I think of recent events in Texas, about how often women’s bodies are subject to regulation and violence.

The program for Wolfthicket is a major part of the show. It includes rigorous notes from Lily’s own writing as well as academic sources, including her own graduate advisor Dr. Gale Jackson[7]. It’s not totally dry though -- footnote 17 is just “TIERRA WHACK”[8], with footnotes 18-19 succinctly elaborating, “IS AMAZING”. Much of the text explores how the African Diaspora has influenced almost every aspect of the performance, from waacking and other dance forms[9] to hand-clapping and ring games.

I do feel some discomfort that a show with so much writing about minstrelsy and black dance styles, includes no black performers[10]. However, unlike many other works by white creators connecting with black art forms, Kind knows her history and has the receipts to prove it. If it isn’t clear already[11], I'm starting to wish every performance came with footnotes.

*Maddie Hopfield is a writer for thINKingDANCE

Wolfthicket, directed by Lily Kind in collaboration with the performers, Mertz Hall at The Lutheran Church of the Holy Communion, Aug. 21 – Sept. 5.



[1] Yes, 46. They’re integral to the piece and have clearly inspired this writer.

[2] Past and current collaborators and performers can be found on Kind's    website.

[3] “Miss Suzie had a steamboat / The steamboat had a bell / Miss Suzie went to heaven and the steamboat went to--/--hello operator / Please give me number 9...”

[4] It’s pancakes and fried rice.

[5] Lillian has an early solo that can perhaps be described as a gremlin seducing a lightbulb. It brought the house down.

[6] Adam Stone’s lighting makes great use of the DIY venue. A central bulb that lowers and rises, pulled by a performer, is an ingenious touch (see footnote 5)

[7] In footnote 39, Dr. Jackson writes about children playing hand-clapping games as being “poetry in motion”, a description that feels apt for Kind’s work.

[8] Tierra’s song “Only Child” features as one of many which Kind has carefully curated and explicated in the program.

[9] Kind helped develop Urban Movement Arts with Vince Johnson, and served as co-captain of adult programming until 2020.

[10] That I know of. As a multi-racial person I’m aware that visual identification of race is a fool’s errand.

[11] Case in point.

By Joseph Ahmed
September 6, 2021

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