Baye & Asa: a definition-defying duo
This weekend the Schwarzman Center hosted the dance duo Baye & Asa in The Dome.
Courtesy of Lotta Studio
Amadi “Baye” Washington and Sam “Asa” Pratt — known as the duo Baye & Asa — presented two performances at the Schwarzman Dome with a follow-up question and answer session.
New York City-born and raised, the professional dancer and choreographer duo have known each other since they were six years old. Their journey with dance began when they were around 10 years old when their school provided students with the unique opportunity to take dance classes as an alternative to traditional physical education. These classes, along with the guidance of their teacher, Jamal Jackson, inspired a love of dance that has lasted the tests of time. Their passion has now reached Yale audiences, including their two performances and one workshop this past weekend.
“It’s very inspiring to see how two boys from such a young age just dancing for fun ended up having a full career at such a high level,” said audience member Anouk Corstens.
Neither member of the duo thought they were going to have a professional career as dancers or choreographers, they told the News.
Washington was initially going to the College of Wooster to study psychology, and Pratt attended Bard College with a degree in dance and philosophy but didn’t think he could make his passion a profession, he said.
“I always knew I was interested in choreography, but didn’t know I was going to have a robust, professional dance career as a performer,” Pratt said. “It turned out that way, and I’m thrilled it did.”
Their distance while they were at school didn’t keep them from reuniting over their love for dance at every school break. After college, they both attended ballet classes together for a year and eventually attended the American Dance Festival — a well-known dance summer intensive program.
Now, the duo performs in schools, museums and arts festivals across the nation, including at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Baryshnikov Arts Center and the LA Dance Film Festival.
While the background of the two dancers is in hip-hop and African dance, the duo’s genre of dance is something entirely its own. There are elements of their style that one might classify as concert dance or contemporary dance, but both the performers said they feel like those are umbrella terms that don’t fully do their style justice.
Rather than box themselves into a specific genre, the dancers said that they let the audience define the experience for themselves. This absence of dance style also allows the performers to grow and experiment without the rigidity of genre.
The duo’s process of creation begins with an argument over a commentary on society, Pratt said. Ideas begin as a dialogue between the two dancers before they become movement.
The dance itself is “responsive to source material,” Pratt said. “We find that that’s helpful in creating pieces that feel unique and feel uniquely related to the concept that we’re talking about.”
In their piece “Suck it Up” this material includes sound bites, infomercial clips and electronic beats as well as traditional music.
“Suck it Up” is a performance that explores the nature of male insecurity and entitlement, they said. While it doesn’t follow a traditional narrative, there is an aspect of storytelling that is essential to the dance.
“We always look into storytelling because we talk about political ideas and art,” Washington said. “It’s in an experimental or abstract place. It feels like you know what’s happening: there’s the place to be scared, there’s the place to laugh, there’s the place to do a little bit of both and then there’s like a little bit of suspense that takes you into the ending.”
As performers and choreographers, the dancers work diligently to find the balance between themselves and the “characters” they are playing.
In “Suck it Up” the duo feeds into stereotypical male archetypes from the roid-rager to the suburban dad, embodying them in a kind of runway scene toward the end of the performance.
During the “fashion show” the dancers “step into more detailed versions of what that masculinity could be,” Washington said. “Not that we are those archetypes necessarily, but all of those have made their way into our conscious and psyche in some sort of way to the point where we’re able to imitate them.”
The dance is an intensely visual experience, drawing in the audience’s attention not only with the movement of the dancers but also with unique lighting, costumes and projections.
The duo designs all of their own lighting, which Washington said is a unique way to interact with his work. This performance featured distinct lighting designs such as spotlights, colored lighting and the occasional burst of darkness.
While the primary aspect of the show is visual, the dancers said they hope that their performances will elicit an emotional reaction as well as a sensory one.
The performers emphasize that there is no “correct” interpretation of their shows. With movement, sound and visual media that is highly experimental and genre-defying, there comes an aspect of ambiguity.
“We want to create experiences for audiences where instead of needing to understand the didactic specifics of a political idea or commentary that we’re making, they’re instead understanding greater themes, like relationship to power, struggle, greed and vulnerability,” Pratt said.
Their show at the Schwarzman Center also featured a sneak-peak at an in-progress performance that the duo is currently working on. The piece is choreographed to be performed with five dancers in March. At Yale, however, the dance featured only three including Kyle H. Martin, Megan Siepka and Frances Lorraine Samson.
“Their new performance will be showcased at Baryshnikov Arts Center from March 28 to 30 and at the American Dance Festival in June.”
Correction, Feb. 12: The article was updated to correct the name of the performance center at which the dancers will be showcasing their new work.