At the same time, viewers see the artist break down in tears as she arrives backstage after her final performance, completely overwhelmed by the experience of putting on such an emotionally exhausting work, one that attempts to bring the audience to a better understanding of the brown body. Okpokwasili explained some of the concerns that drive her to explore that corporeal form in an interview with Bomb Magazine last year:
Is there a place in performance to deal with a brown girl’s body as the site of innocence and desire? How can we all go inside the body, inside the psyche? How can I get people in the room to go there, even if I’m not asking them to move?
Rossi seems to have drawn from a similar place for his film, seamlessly transporting viewers into her world of motion and allowing them, often, to forget his camera.
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Bronx Gothic was a major success for Okpokwasili, winning her a 2014 New York Dance and Performance “Bessie” Award for Outstanding Production and allowing her to tour nationally and internationally. Now, the film—which Rossi, a documentarian who has been friends with Okpokwasili since college, took the initiative to create when he found out the 2016 tour of Bronx Gothic would be its last—allows her work to reach even further, as it finds new audiences, from Santa Fe to Oklahoma City.
But none of those accomplishments would’ve been possible had it not been for Okpokwasili’s motivation in seeking out people who could help her and being receptive to chances for fellowships and residencies. The piece “started with me … showing small pieces where I could, continuing to work on it, and being alert to opportunities,” she says. And by the time it was ready to be shared with the public, Bronx Gothic had benefited from the help of several different people and institutions, including a New York Foundation for the Arts fellowship and the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council’s Extended Life program, which awards artists residency space and financial support.
Despite Okpokwasili’s more widespread recognition from Bronx Gothic and the documentary, she still relies on a wide community of collaborators and supporters, including for her most recent piece, Poor People’s TV Room, which premiered in New York City earlier this year. While perhaps no longer needing to work odd-jobs for what she calls a “measly salary” to provide stipends for performers in her pieces or feeling as if she’s simply tumbled “into some lucky spots,” as she mentions she previously did, Okpokwasili nonetheless receives much of her monetary support via grants and commissions.
Specifically calling out the philanthropic arts organization Creative Capital for providing financial and advisory help to artists, Okpokwasili says it has given her “the tools to think differently or to try to move out a survival mode and move into a thriving mode. That’s kind of cliched, but how to really invest in yourself and your vision as an artist in a bigger and long-term way and not just project to project.” Without such varied sources of assistance, it would be almost impossible to get a performance off the ground. Because just as choreographing and writing are continual works in progress, so is the process of finding ways to bring them to the stage.