Friday, November 06, 2020

"Purple Skin"

Kelsey McFalls and Joseph A. Hernandez in
Purple Skin
Photo: Dean Berdusis

Amy Seiwert's Imagery
SKETCH Films: Red Thread
October 1st-December 31st

In 2020, the word ‘pandemic’ has become part of daily vocabulary – on the news, at the grocery store, in everyday interactions. Stephanie Martinez’s Purple Skin reminds viewers that forty years ago, there was another destructive, deadly pandemic, one that was met with widespread ignorance, hatred, blame and stigma - the early days of the HIV/AIDS plague, which decimated the gay community and stole a generation of young men. But in the face of all the fear and intolerance, there were also those who tirelessly helped and comforted the sick and the dying, and this five-minute short, directed by Dean Berdusis and choreographed by Martinez, honors one of those amazing souls, Chicago-based activist Lori Cannon. 

As narration by Cannon haunts the air, Purple Skin, which presumably references Kaposi’s Sarcoma, begins as a solo for Joseph A. Hernandez on a beach. Tactile meets despair as veins are systematically traced and skin is investigated for any sign of abnormality. As the scene shifts from outdoors to indoors, one is struck by the sense of isolation and loneness. Hernandez mournfully stares out a window and his palms push the space away in hopes of an open door. Then, he trudges through sand, desperately trying to put one foot in front of the other, until eventually dropping to one knee, unable to persist. Scoring Martinez’s potent choreography was a pulsing, somber composition by Kishi Bashi and Emily Hope Price. The music’s constant propulsion, never reaching a cadence point, felt particularly affecting, and added an extra layer and texture to the narrative frame. 

Kelsey McFalls enters the space and Purple Skin grows into an emotional duet between her and Hernandez. The pair lay hands lovingly on each other, offering a genuine, authentic embrace, when so many were afraid of touch. Partnering sequences are infused with a mutual give and take, each of the dancers needing the other in order to create shapes, keep balance and extend limbs. And the unfailing support was so alive in the choreography. As the film neared its conclusion, Hernandez had more moments of contracting and crumbling to the earth. But he never completely reached the ground; McFalls was there to catch him.

The final film in the SKETCH Films: Red Thread series will debut in early 2021. 

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