The performance niv Acosta was rehearsing when we met sets a science-fiction narrative to disco beats and uses theoretical astrophysics as a lens through which to examine issues of race and gender. DISCOTROPIC, which premieres this month in New York as part of the New Museum’s Triennial, features a cast of four, including Acosta, who will deliver a fragmentary script the performers composed collectively via text message, while performing choreography that borrows equally from the high-modernist dance tradition and underground Bronx nightclubs of the 1970s.
Acosta, a transgender man of Dominican descent, described this new work as “futuristic,” though his show’s aesthetic hardly evokes space-opera clichés. The set of DISCOTROPIC will include decidedly homespun props: crocheted beanbag chairs that resemble giant limp phalluses. The future Acosta imagines is informed by the speculative literature of Octavia Butler and Samuel R. Delany, black writers who used a minor literary genre to articulate progressive ideas about racial and sexual identity.
DISCOTROPIC is in some ways a departure for the 26-year-old Bronx native, who developed precise choreography for it rather than relying on the types of improvisation that structured his previous works. Most notably, however, the piece is “absolutely not about Denzel,” as Acosta insisted in a recent studio visit. Denzel Washington has been central to the artist’s work since 2009, when Acosta began a cycle of six pieces that grapple with his relationship to the movie star, an icon of black masculinity. With titles like denzel, denzel prelude and denzel again, the works typically involve a spoken monologue set to music, followed by Acosta’s improvised movements, including ecstatic voguing.
The most recent installment, i shot denzel, presented at New York’s Judson Church in 2013, began with a monologue about life, death, destruction and regeneration that was addressed to Washington and set to Igor Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. When the monologue ended and the room went silent, Acosta repeatedly sprinted across the stage, pounded his fists against one of the church’s massive columns and collapsed on the ground.
Though Acosta ultimately finds little affinity with Washington, he views the actor as a relatable figure, a popular foil—”one of the few consistently positive representations of black men in the media”—whose name makes even the most difficult performance appear accessible to a wide range of audiences. Like disco music and science fiction, “Denzel” has broad cultural appeal, an asset Acosta leverages to speak about his own multifaceted identity.
COMING SOON Works by niv Acosta in “Surround Audience: The 2015 Triennial,” at the New Museum, New York, Feb. 25-Apr. 24.