There are moments in her plays where you can only hear Elaine Mitchener breathing. Sniff, groan, breathe, moan. You can hear the sounds that lungs, throat and mouth make as they move on stage, you can hear the breathing and exhalation, yes, you can hear the singer and performer here, the person Elaine Mitchener in a very elementary way.
On the one hand, it is a virtuoso manifesto, a declaration of love for the singing that she studied in London. On the other hand, this breath is highly political. Because it is the breath of a black woman in a genre dominated by white as well as male: classical music. The phrase "I can't breathe " - "I can't breathe" - has been a painful trauma in the Black Lives Matter movement not only since George Floyd's death. " I can't breathe " were also the last words of Eric Garner, who was strangled by a police officer in 2014. The last words were Javier Amblers II, Byron Williams ', Manuel Ellis', Christopher Lowes and Derrick Scotts, all of whom were killed by police violence.
Elaine Mitchener knows all of these stories. The daughter of Jamaican parents, who grew up in the East End of London in the 1970s, saw herself early influenced by her father's political activism and her mother's Christian thinking: on Sundays, reggae and dub music were played at a volume "that the walls shook" them in a zoom interview at the end of June. Lively, powerful songs about God, africanism, freedom struggles and the future. She and her siblings read books and played with toys that the parents had chosen carefully. "The representation of black people in London was anything but positive between the 1970s and 1990s," says Mitchener. "I'm glad my parents were aware of that." She describes her growing up as the story of an early politicization.
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For several years now, Elaine Mitchener has been working on her social concerns in collaborative performances: in weird combinations of vocal work, facial expressions, gestures and choreography, images, light and texts (mostly African and Afro-Caribbean authors). This results in half-hour to full-length, meticulously curated works of art. With Sweet Tooth, for example, in 2017 she erected a sounding monument in memory of the survivors of the slave trade - a scenic concert going through the market, in which she sings between a violinist, a baritone saxophonist and a drummer, moving through the room, twitching, screaming, whispering, over a kind of red carpet of light. Duets alternate with glaring solitude in which she reflects, remembers, asks questions.
In her philosophical solo opera Of Leonardo da Vinci (2015) or in her latest, surrealist-collage-like work the then + the now = now time from 2019, the singing arises from her physicality as an actress - and, conversely, obey her movements of the voice . The choreography cannot be separated from the voice and the breath from the text. Just as Mitchener's womanhood and blackness cannot be solved from the context in which she shows her art.