All Together Now, a multi-disciplinary event curated by local musician Anna Rae, has been bringing Boston and New York communities together for over a year, combining different aspects of performance in each installment. From spoken word and comedy, to acrobatics and drag, All Together Now has hosted it all. For the final show, Rae collected a stunning assortment of artists such as poet Dev Blair, rapper Oompa, postcolonial pop artist Saraswathi Jones, acrobat and singer Amanda Graff and Muhammad Seven, and jewelry designer Jacqueline Ortega. After a location hiccup, the eighth show landed in Central Square at The Thalia, where guests could browse Ortega Jewelry Designs near the bar or snake down the halls to the main room.
Poet and movement artist Dev Blair hits the mic first, demonstrating a unique combination of high-energy dance and powerful spoken word. They immediately dive into suburbia power struggles, dads who aren’t your dads, bullying, and more, encouraging the audience to verbalize their feedback. As Blair pauses for emphasis, speckles of the audience mmm and ahhhh, rejoicing in Blair’s words. After the first poem, they take off their shoes and heavy metal music begins to scream. There’s a brief but vigorous dance minute before they return to the mic. Their second poem is titled “Ally” and opens with: 17 trans people have been killed this year / I’ve been killed 17 times. Blair’s fierceness shines through during the poem, boiling with energy that spills out when they dance. The last line of “Ally” lay heavy over the audience before dance break number two commences. Their vocal cadence and articulation is often mesmerizing, which explains the line: When I spit, it’s 24 karat gold / only fools wouldn’t pick that shit up.
Dev Blair exits amidst excited applause as Anna Rae brings out Jacqueline Ortega, jewelry designer and stylist for the night’s participants. Ortega has designed for eight years and teaches cannabis-friendly yoga on the side. She caught Rae’s eye with her display at Out of the Blue Too art gallery, located barely five minutes away from The Thalia. Ortega’s next piece of work comes out in the form of an eagle’s shimmering wing resting over postcolonial pop singer Saraswathi Jones’ shoulder. Jones’ silver, winged eyeliner enhances her eagle-like composure.
Jones’ stage setup reflects an arrangement of interesting instruments, each one she visits at least once during her performance. Her vocal projection reverberates off the corners of the Thalia, only enhanced by the drum-beating. She explains that postcolonial pop is just a tongue-in-cheek way of saying she pens songs about the British empire and stories passed through generations, such as her lullaby about Queen Elizabeth. Some audience participation is required for a chant, as Jones pumps a harmonium on stage, and she even brings out a ukulele for a couple of tunes. Jones has a very proud presence, delighted by every reaction her music elicits from the audience. After Jones ends her set, the room is prepped for the following contemporary circus act called “Don’t Try This At Home.”
A large, wooden balance beam takes center stage. Amanda Graff and Muhummad Seven start their performance by facing each other, pinching different pieces of the other’s skin, asking if it hurts. Their show “Don’t Try This at Home” revolves around their marriage, its ups and downs, and the proverbial balance beam of life. Their story-telling style feels melancholic, like reminiscing on gloomy times. They talk about their first meeting, the breakups, the memories. The couple trade off under the spotlight: Graff glides across the beam, performing headstands and splits while Seven plays soft songs on his guitar. It’s a combined effort for their last number. While Graff sings, “You are my home…” Seven starts to play, and Graff floats away into an interpretive dance. Seven even tries his hand at the balance beam with the help of his wife.
Once the beam leaves the room, rapper, educator, slam poet, and final act of the night, Oompa addresses the audience. “I’m just hella black, hella queer, and gonna do a bunch of sad shit,” she starts. After the rough-around-the-edges kickoff, Oompa hits the chorus of her first song and transitions into beautiful, melodic singing, evoking whoops and cheers from the crowd. Oompa’s latest release, November 3rd, which dropped November 3, 2016, was dedicated to her mother who passed in 2009. The rapper wanted to create an album that represented a pivotal part of her life, where she had to decide to live for herself. She looks upward every time she addresses her mother in the chorus, a little wink to the heavens. Her performance feels half raw, intense energy and half melodic lullabies, creating a yin-yang vibe in the room.
And with that, the All Together Now series comes to a close. The series started out at the Lilypad in Cambridge last Spring, and has traveled to nearly every Boston borough, connecting neighborhoods and communities through poetry, performance, and music. Anna Rae has brought artists and performers closer together, introducing new connections between New York City and Boston. The inclusivity of All Together Now will hopefully inspire future local series to strive for the same artistic integrity and civic engagement.
Thank you Anna Rae for all you’ve done in the past year!