When I was younger, my mother used to tell me, “One day you will be ready for David Roussève.” As much as I hate to admit it, she was right, and what she meant was that Roussève’s is not a choreography of simplicity; it is a choreography that requires of its viewer a little life experience. Roussève’s work does not privilege one genre over another: dance, poetry, theater, and film are given equal weight. Most of all, Roussève is an excavator of memory, and we can see from Bittersweet that his work invites hauntings and grandmothers, lovers and mirrors. By lingering on the personal in such a way that allows us all to think of our mothers and their mothers, Roussève arrives at collective memory via the individual story.
Moreover, throughout the Bittersweet Trilogy, he weaves multiple narratives, and it is this weaving that lends the work a grand sense of history. By meandering through multiple temporalities, seemingly personal traumas come to stand for shared experience. Nevertheless, the emphasis of his work lies in two intertwined areas: femininity and race. Roussève explores blackness and diaspora by giving voice to women’s emotions, especially those emotions that have been silenced by history. These voices emerge both as text and corporeal expression. The film we just watched gestures toward the idea that women in otherwise painful relationships can find comfort—even pleasure—in each other. However, such experiences can only ever be felt as bittersweet, as joy amidst pain. Most of all, the voices in Bittersweet avoid resolution, mirroring—without dictating—the difficulty of America’s history.
In Lose Your Mother: A Journey Along the Atlantic Slave Route, Saidiya Hartman writes, “To lose your mother was to be denied your kin, country, and identity. To lose your mother was to forget your past….Like the myth of the mother, the promise of return is all that remains in the wake of slavery” (85, 100).
Finally, Deleuze tells us, “Memory is not in us; it is we who move in a Being-memory, a world-memory” (Cinema 2: The Time-Image 99).
—Ariel Osterweis Scott