35th Bienal de São Paulo
6 Set to 10 Dec 2023
Free Admission
35th Bienal de
São Paulo
6 Set to 10 Dec
View of the performance A Phrase That Fits, by Will Rawls, at the 35th Bienal de São Paulo – choreographies of the impossible © Levi Fanan / Fundação Bienal de São Paulo

Will Rawls

The artistic practice of choreographer, dancer, writer, and teacher Will Rawls investigates Black poetics, addresses the limits and encounters between dance and language, explores ambiguities, and questions notions of power and form. 

Moving our bodies, dancing with letters, (de)constructing and playing with words and phrases, saying the chosen letter out loud, arranging, rearranging, arranging differently in an open choreography under construction. A Phrase That Fits is the version for the Bienal de São Paulo’s audience of Uncle Rebus, a performance previously held in other spaces.

The dynamic of the performance itself invites spectators to read the words formed, which transform into others throughout the activation.

In Uncle Rebus, the text on which the action is based is the Brer Rabbit set of fables, narrated by Uncle Remus and written by folklorist Joel Chandler Harris, a white man from the American South. Uncle Remus is a kind of composite identity created from the stories of plantation oral culture to which Harris had access. Full of linguistic bias, the stories are written in what the author interprets to be the dialect of Southern Blacks at the time.

By manipulating the available letters, the performers are at the same time spelling aloud parts of the text, destabilizing the author’s fictionalized dialects, exploring the limits of linguistic normativity and written discourse. In the version of the performance for the 35th Bienal de São Paulo, a different text will serve as the basis for the activation of the work. We can expect the formation of both familiar and unusual words. The invitation is to open up and recognize different accents and stresses, for the collective and interactive formation of words that generate thought.


juliana de arruda sampaio
translated from Portuguese by philip somervell

Will Rawls (Boston, MA, USA, 1978. Lives in New York, USA) is an artist known for his work as a choreographer, dancer, and writer. He explores the intersection of dance and language, reimagining Black performance and addressing the complexities of visibility and erasure. Rawls has received fellowships and residencies from institutions like the Guggenheim and has taught at UCLA. His contributions extend beyond the stage, as he co-curated the performance series Lost and Found, which brought attention to the intergenerational effects of HIV/AIDS on dancers, women, and people of color.