The last week of January I was fortunate to the attend the International Association of Blacks in Dance conference in Dayton, Ohio. The conference consisted of masterclasses, panel discussions, and performances ranging from middle school students to professional companies. Myself and three of my colleagues presented a panel called ‘Schoolin’ Life,’ a discussion about navigating Graduate School at predominately white institutions (PWI). We each spoke about our individual research goals and past and present projects. Individuals in the audience asked us questions allowing us to share our personal encounters to give context to the life of Black Graduate students at a PWI. I was grateful to be able to share and give advice to people of color who want to join the community of Black scholars.
Also while attending the conference myself and several BFA students performed in the collegiate concert. It was exciting to be dancing for a theatre full of people supporting and cheering you on the entire piece. This performance opportunity was also a chance for me to be the rehearsal director for the work, while also creating a deeper sense of community between myself and the undergraduate students.
Overall, attending IABD filled me mentally, spiritually, and physically. Interacting, networking, and performing with my Black family in dance encouraged and strengthened my love for this beautiful art form. I’m excited to visit this conference for many years to come.
Today my best friend and I visited the Columbus Museum of Art to view the special exhibition on the Harlem Renaissance. I myself was super excited because of my extreme interest in this specific time period and the hope and development it created for Black people after the Civil War. The name of the exhibit ” I, Too, Sing America” is from the opening line of a Langston Hughes poem I, Too. In this poem he announces the place of himself and Black Americans as citizens and creative people in this country. The exhibit itself navigates the creative activities that began in Harlem and spread across the United States in the coming years. The exhibit also focuses on Columbus specifically during the Harlem Renaissance and how that artistic movement in the north influenced the mid-western creative scene.
During my visit I came across some valuable books, artists, and activists that will assist in the development of my MFA project. I’ve been filled with so many ideas and I’m looking forward to my continued research into this beautiful time for the Black American. Here are some highlights of my trip! Enjoy!
P.S. THE MUSEUM HAS FREE ADMISSION EVERY SUNDAY!
Last night I had the pleasure of attending a lecture/performance demonstration at the Lincoln Theatre. Assistant Professors Crystal Michelle Perkins and Dr. Nyama McCarthy-Brown gave us an inside look into their research areas and the influences of identity, life experiences, spirituality, community involvement, and race interact with their creative and scholarship practices. The night began with both women performing a small duet together. Seeing them both perform in their movement styles allowed me to see a new layer of them that isn’t always seen in the classroom/studio setting. Both women moved with grace and drew me into the intimate duet.
After the duet finished Dr. McCarthy-Brown showed a small video about the creative work she does with her son that speaks to the themes of being a single Black mother raising a Black son. Her work focuses closely on her relationship with her son and the exploration his life growing up as a Black man in America. The scholarship side of Dr. McCarthy-Brown’s research is about inclusive pedagogy for a diverse world. She read an excerpt from her book speaking to the personal experiences she faced in the dance studio and how they shaped her outlook to learning dance. I thoroughly enjoyed how open and vulnerable she made herself in order to speak on these topics. In my opinion, someone showing that they have dealt with certain problems makes it easier for others to connect with them. Dr. McCarthy-Brown allowed us into her life experiences and creative process so we could understand the intentions and meanings behind her research.
Next Professor Perkins presented two excerpts of choreographic work she created for Dayton Contemporary Dance Company. Along with video presentations of the work, she had two company members demonstrate some of the movement to give us background information on specific gestures, hand positions, and musical choices. I’ve been working with Professor Perkins this semester for the 50th Anniversary Dance Concert at The Ohio State University, so we’ve conversed about some of the African diaspora influences in her work. However, being able to see the physical representations of it through the company members and the films shown I was able to clearly see those references and how they all work together.
Overall, I enjoyed attending this lecture/performance demonstration. This showcase allowed me to visually see the creative and academic work that my professors are making. This experience has built upon my idea of research and all the possibilities within it. Research isn’t just limited to academic writing, it involves choreographic works, film-making, community outreach, and so much more. The many choices and paths that can be taken in the world of dance makes me love it even the more.
Over fall break I caught up on my television shows and came across, The Shop. Collaborating with HBO Sports, LeBron James and Maverick Carter curate conversation with some of the biggest names in sports and entertainment about cultural issues. While watching the show I was filled with pride and hope for the future of Black people. I enjoyed seeing the gathering of individuals who influence and impact America coming together discussing the issues. The guests on the show are athletes, rappers, and comedians, so their conversations deal with the trials they face in their respective fields. The underlying themes of identity and community were prevalent throughout each episode. The barbershop in the Black community is a place of comfort and sanctuary to speak whatever the heart desires. This show created a safe space and I connected with that idea. As an artist I want to facilitate spaces of vulnerability that are welcoming to a plethora of ideas and issues that can be discussed. This show was a pleasure to watch and I can’t wait for the upcoming episodes.
Thomas F. DeFrantz and Anita Gonzalez collaborate on a collection of writings that capture the essence of black performance. Spanning the fields of music, dance, and theatrical performances, this book focuses on the understanding of performance using historical references and the connection of one’s identity to their lineage and environment.
Black performance theory is a culmination of writings that articulate the necessity of black performance decoding. Speaking to the individuality of blackness in an evolving world, the essays navigate the complexities of the black identity while unraveling the web of politics, history, and power that comprise black performance. They analyze the work of Zora Neale Hurston and her theories of black performance methodology linking the individuality of contemporary choreographers to their spiritual Africanist practices. Whether depicting the black movement as spaceships, the use of activism art, or the invigorating music of Little Richard, this gathering of artists and scholars creates a place to meld analytical and personal experiences of black performance.
Chapter five of Black Performance Theory, uncovers the world of theatrical lynching’s and the retaliation of African-American authors and playwrights to maintain an upstanding image of their race. Despite the horrendous tragedies that were showcased, “creative work produced during adversity is not solely a response to outside sources; it is an attempt to safeguard community perspectives” (DeFrantz 2014, 88). Using life experiences as art, writers performed, rejecting negative portrayals viewed during theatrical lynching’s, and uncovered the proof of black humaneness and success. Using the stage as a platform for enlightenment, not just entertainment, allowed for strategic intervention of black artist’s and the examination of cultural realism.
Theorizing black performance is a complicated task, yet is necessary to understand the black experience thoroughly. Black Performance Theory summons fascinating thoughts about the conception of the identity and its desire for belonging or finding oneself. It also shows how black performance is directly linked to personal sensations and the sense of community involvement that dictates creative choices.
DeFrantz, Thomas, and Anita Gonzalez. 2014 “Black-Authored Lynching Drama’s Challenge to Theater History.” Black Performance Theory, edited by Koritha Mitchell, 87-98. Durham: Duke University Press.
The performance of Untamed Space by Renegade Performance Group was a melting pot of technology, music, movement, and wonder. The melodies and rhythms flowed from the music and was transported into the projections displayed on the scrim and into the bodies of the dancers. Along with responding physically to the music, the dancers created their own sounds becoming instruments themselves. Fusing the technological effects with specific songs related to spirituality and the Black culture, brought the audience into the world of Afrofuturism. The choreography of the show was based upon a series of movements that were used throughout. Pairing specific phrases with music that was complimentary enhanced the reception of the movement, while phrases that were linked to contradictory music allowed for mental contemplation and an acceptance over time. With the bulk of the movement being floor-work and using the technique of physical propulsion, the dancers filled the space and music with electric energy that resonated well after the show is over.