johnbrown (2014)

We’re interested in the environment of the 1850's before the civil war: its political polarity and the parallels to now. We’re excavating landscapes, weather, forced migrations, and the struggle to survive the promise and severity of the new west.  We’re beginning a process that offers up our imagined radical selves to the magma of contemporary culture, hoping to sense in the flash of flame a trace of John Brown. 

Moss draws from an intimate and varied history with activism to create a dark meditation on the legacy of the white 19th century abolitionist titled, johnbrown. The evening length work integrates performance, visual design and community participation, using the presentation and pre-performance production, to question not only the controversial legacy of an historical figure but also the racial, gender, and generational processes at play in the inquiry.  johnbrown will have its New York premiere at The Kitchen, NYC, October 16-25, 2014: the 155th anniversary of John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry.

Voluntaries - a segment of johnbrown, and a collaboration with Laylah Ali - was commissioned by The Museum of Modern Art in New York as part of their performance series Some sweet day, curated by Ralph Lemon with Jenny Schlenzka and presented in the museum’s Atrium space in October 2012. 

The complete full length video of the premiere of johnbrown is located here.


johnbrown was made possible in part by a 2014 John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship, Doris Duke Impact Award, and MAPFund Production Grant, and a 2013-14 NFEA National Dance Project Production Grant and Touring Award funded by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation with additional support from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. johnbrown has received residency support from 651 Arts, the Martha Duffy Residency at the Baryshnikov Art Center, the Gina Gibney Dance Center DiP Residency Program, the BRIC Arts Media Artist in Residence Program, the Kelly Strayhorn Theater, and The Kitchen.

A segment of johnbrown, under the title Voluntaries, was commissioned as part of Some Sweet Day at The New York Museum of Modern Art, and was presented as part of MoMA's ongoing Performance Program, organized by Sabine Breitwieser, Chief Curator, Department of Media and Performance Art. The work was additionally made possible, in part, by the Danspace Project 2011-12 Commissioning Initiative with support from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation; The Creative Explorations Fund of the Multi-Arts Production Fund supported by Doris Duke Charitable Foundation. johnbrown was rehearsed at the Mark Morris Dance Center. It is the recipient of a Production Grant from The Rolex Institute. 

Cast and Credits

Direction, Choreography, Audio/Video and Visual Design: Dean Moss
Performers: Kacie Chang, Julia Cumming, Cassie Mey, Sari Nordman,

Asher Woodworth, and Dean Moss

Lighting Design: Vincent Vigilante

Sound Score: Stephen Vitiello

Battle re-enactment recordings: John Dombroski and Stephen Vitiello

Recording assistant, Olivia LeClair

Original Song: Julia Cumming

Recorded Music:

    Carolina Chocolate Drops: Snowden’s Jig (Genuine Negro Jig)

    Vincenzo Bellini: La Sonnambula: “Ah, non credea mirati” 

    Stephen Sondheim: Somewhere

“treaties of peace” dialogue adapted from Scene 2 of the George L. Aiken’s 1858 play adaptation

of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s book, Uncle Tom’s Cabin

Interview: Harold G. Moss by Dean Moss

Costume Design: Roxana Ramseur with assistance from Stefani Genda

Costume for Julia Cumming by Lisa Loan

Screenplay by Thomas Bradshaw

Performers on video: Tymberly Canale, Aaron Hodges, Okwui Okpokwasili,

and Pete Simpson

Wigs and Make-up Design by Amanda Miller

Video production by Gametophyte Inc.

Video Production Assistance: Alison Broda of Broda Works, LLC

Video shot at BRIC Arts Media Brooklyn

Conceptual Collaborator for “voluntaries”, and Directorial Consultant: Laylah Ali

Historical and Dramaturgical Research: Joshua Lubin-Levy

Production and Stage Management: Meredith Belis

Production Assistants: Raquel Acobes, Ebony Kennedy, Samantha P. Paul,

Maria Perez and Yangzia Vargas

MoMA Production Assistance: MoMA Teens - Llefri Aviles, Skylar Belt, Xiomara Camacho, Christian Canales, Julia Cumming, Qi Lin, Charisse Sanchez, Cliff Tang 

BRIC Production Assistants: Robert Barnes, Rachel Chevat, and Ebony Kennedy

KST Production Assistants: Stefano DiDonato, Alex Glueck Korzcniwsky, Anthony Pettway, Imran Smith

The Kitchen Summer Residency Production Assistants: Rachel Chevat, Odessa Jacobson, Ebony Kennedy, Anthony Paris, Maria Perez and Yangzia Vargas

Research Highlights:

Performers interviewed by Sarah Holcman

Research for johnbrown: Marya Warshaw asks “Why Teens”

Joshua Lubin-Levy’s correspondence with Dean Moss

Brooklyn Arts Exchange begins a pilot teen program in support of johnbrown

Laylah Ali’s web work for the Dia Foundation: John Brown Song!

MoMA Teens talk about the experience of working with Dean on Voluntaries

It is a testament to Moss’s handle on the worlds he creates — complex, multilayered, fantastical, and intimate — that he is able to have the memory of renegade abolitionist John Brown loom over the entire piece. However, we are all aware it is Moss’s John Brown we are seeing. His is a lowercase, no spaces, one-word “John Brown”; johnbrown is a euphemism, a reference, and an ever-evolving metaphor. Brown is so much more than historical matter or biographical trope in Moss’s world; he is an ideological framework, able to produce a compelling, albeit densely layered, performance work.             

-Tara Sheena for Hyperallergic

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Friends of Gametophyte (FOG) gratefully recognizes our great individual donors: Elise M. Bernhardt, Barbara J. de Mardt, Lisa Evreinoff, Jane Farver, Young Jean Lee, Charlotte Mendelaar, Ryutaro Mishima, Mark Robison, David Thomson, Christopher Warnick, Kathy Westwater, Lily White and Lynne Yamamoto.  Gametophyte Inc. acknowledges the tireless support of its Board of Directors: Charlotte Mendelaar, Christopher Warnick, and Marya Warshaw.

photos:  Ryutaro Mishima

photo:  Paula Court

photo: Paula Court