Catherine Foster and Fana Fraser.

For some, growing up can feel like an out-of-body experience. For others, it can feel like coming into one’s own. For Camille A. Brown & Dancers’ Black Girl: Linguistic Play, growing up is a rich playground for exploring the difficult transition between girlhood to adulthood with heartwarming grace and a beautiful soul.

From the start, Brown herself turns into a percussive machine, riffing on Scott Patterson’s lilting blend of jazz piano and bass with an effusive joy and virtuosic sense of rhythm. With dance partner Catherine Foster, Brown stamps out beats with her feet that invoke hopscotch, Double Dutch and tap dance, bringing to mind the delightful playfulness of younger years. Like the echo of a pounding drum, Brown’s performance resonates long after she plays her final note — an emphatic stomp and spirited fist bump with her friend. 

Child’s play turns a little more serious in Linguistic Play‘s second phase, when Beatrice Capote and Fana Foster portray a pair of playmates, perhaps siblings, who drift apart. They begin their play date thicker than thieves, bounding around the stage. Then something shifts.   

Foster starts to cock her head, thrust her hips and bat her eyelashes. She knows that others have taken notice of her changing body and she doesn’t mind the attention. But Capote does. Playing a younger sibling to the budding Foster, Capote struggles with seeing her sister blossom. Capote shakes and shivers with force, as if she can’t contain the sadness of being ignored by her best friend and playmate.  

As one flowers, the other shrivels, piercing the heart with the sudden shock of losing a childhood friend to a few years’ age difference.

Yusha Sorzano. photo by teve Gunther @CalArtsThough Brown doesn’t sugarcoat girlhood growing pains, the transitions between movements — from childhood to womanhood and back — are simultaneously seamless and striking.

In Linguistic Play’s third phase, Yusha-Marie Sorzano soars fluidly across the stage, jumping, leaping and twisting in the air with abandon. Gravity can hardly keep her down, for she is a woman coming into her own, relishing the contours and freedoms of her body.

But in an instant, she turns from a footloose flyer into a small child, sitting cross-legged on a chalk-smudged platform, waving her hands above the dust as if to summon up invisible sand castles.  

Mora-Amina Parker supports the transformation. She exudes a motherly calm, soothing the hyperactive Sorzano by softly stroking her hair and taking her busied hands away from her frantic castles-in-the-air construction. The interaction is tender, calling to mind the intimate act of a mother combing her daughter’s hair with all the care and patience in the world, even if there are curls and tangles and knots to contend with.

When Parker takes Sorzano’s hands in hers and swoops them serenely overhead it seems almost like a prayer. Sorzano bows her head to the floor before her kneeling mother, Parker reciprocates by touching Sorzano gently on the forehead and the relationship turns truly sacred. The message is clear. No matter how far Sorzano’s prodigal daughter flies away, she can always return home to mom.

The embrace of mother, daughter, sister — womanhood — is warm and welcome. It’s good to feel like a woman again.

Photography provided by Steve Gunther for CalArts