‘No matter how far a person can go, the horizon is still way beyond you’ – Zora Neale Hurston

The end of my first year of graduate school has come to an end and I’m reflecting on the experiences these last ten months have brought me. I began this journey unsure of myself, my abilities, and my place in graduate school. Transitioning from an undergraduate program to a graduate program was a hard shift, but doubts surrounding my age and professional experiences took a tool on me mentally. Luckily, I was blessed with a cohort that was supportive, and we helped each other through this transition into graduate school. Over this first year I’ve accomplished so much and gained confidence in my artistic practice, and gained lifelong friends.

One major hurdle I’ve overcome this year is my fear of public speaking. Unlike undergraduate classes, most classes are discussion based and require verbal interactions. For me, this format was equivalent to me hanging from a cliff by my finger tips. I felt so exposed and vulnerable every class. I was also nervous when it came to discussing theorist such as Foucault, Butler, and Lepecki (still don’t entirely understand it really). But as the semesters progressed and I became more IMG_0181comfortable with the class structure, it was easier to engage in conversation. Along with learning to extract the information that is important and relevant to my interests rather than trying to understand Phenomenology in one week. Along with participating in class discussion, we were required to present creative projects which I enjoyed, but also I had to lead the lecture which I absolutely didn’t enjoy before I experienced it. When preparing to lead the lecture I realized I had knowledge and a unique perspective that I could bring to the material. This assurance in myself allowed me to lead both lectures with confidence (and even get a job well done from my professor!). Having these moments to lead and put my ideas in the forefront assisted me when I was a panelist at the International Association of Blacks in dance conference. When myself and fellow colleagues spoke about our insight into graduate school as black women, I wasn’t nervous at all. Reflecting back, I’m appreciative of the times I’ve been pushed out of my comfort zone over the course of this first year. Without that guidance, I wouldn’t have been able to develop my voice in or beyond the classroom.

Over the course of this year I’ve had the opportunity to perform, make, and collaborate with some awesome humans. I began the year in a work made by Crystal Michelle Perkins, Lush Departures, which challenged me physically and mentally the entire process. Working with her reinforced my interest in community building within the making process, as well as my love for rigorous big dancing. My participation in this work led me to be rehearsal director for the excerpt of the work performed at the International Association of Blacks in dance as well as working closely with Crystal (SHE IS GOALS). I was also able to perform a collaborative study from a composition class in the Winter Concert. As well as collaborating with two 2nd year MFA students beginning the process of their thesis projects. My year has been jammed packed, but I’ve enjoyed every opportunity to work creatively with professors and fellow graduate students(also helps me think about what my project may be, yikes!)

With the knowledge I’ve gained in the many facets of this graduate school journey I’ve begun to think more deeply about my research interests. I began my first year heavily focused on the Harlem Renaissance, but now I’m thinking more about the black women/artist place in society and dance. I recently wrote a paper, Reclaiming, Restoring, Reimagining: Cardi B, which was centered around the hyper sexualization of black female bodies in popular culture. I argued that Cardi B uses her body in performance, specifically her music video Money, as a site of personal agency, reclamation of sexuality, and the evolution of black female bodies in popular culture. While writing this paper I realized my passion for the black women, her story, and the ways in which she portrays herself creatively.

As I continue these next two years of graduate school I’m excited to continue to transform as a human and artists. This first year alone has shown me that there are no limits to my success, and I dictate my future. With the next year of grad school new challenges will appear such as project proposals, funding, and just general stress of life. However, being able to see the progress I’v already made, and having the support of faculty, my cohort family, friends, and my partner, the possibilities are limitless.

The Black Experience: Black Performance Theory

Black Performance Theory

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.

 

 

 

 

References

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.

Analyzing Movement Excerpt

In my History, Theory, and Literature of Analyzing Movement Class we were tasked with creating our own definition of choreographic analysis. Here is an excerpt from the paper I wrote.

 

When I began thinking about the definition of choreographic analysis, I had to first reminisce on my own artistic life and experiences. I was immediately transported back to my childhood, creating liturgical dances with my mother in our living room. There was such expression, narrative, and meaning behind the movement that I didn’t notice before.  Once that initial sense of warmth and comfort left me, I began to think more deeply about the word’s choreographic analysis and its relationship to the world and the articles I had read. My provisional definition of choreographic analysis is the process of examining the lineage and meaning behind specific movement choices, to determine points of origin that corelate to a maker’s choreographic voice.

In my opinion, the most crucial portion of a choreographer’s lineage is the technique they work within. According to Marcel Mauss, a French sociologist, technique is “an action which is effective and traditional” (2006, 82). The aspect of tradition is apparent in all codified techniques, pulling inspiration from religion, geography, and culture. This allows for the practice to stay authentic. Now technique is a vital part of a choreographer’s history that is depicted as their language. It speaks to specific choreographic choices that deal with weight shifts, use of space, or even overall themes of the work being created. “Technique, like language, reaches out to meet us, to envelop us, to structure our lives and relationships, and indeed to make life possible, from the moment we are born” (Spatz 2015, 49). Choreography is a physical statement that holds the passions and the voice of the creator within it. The technique allows the movement to speak to the viewers with a vocabulary that is able to be understood, or not.

With the experiences of the choreographer on display, the formation of the habitus is able to be discovered. “A habitus, understood as a system of lasting, transposable dispositions which, integrating past experiences, functions at every moment as a matrix of perceptions, appreciations, and actions and makes possible the achievement of infinitely diversified tasks,” (Bourdieu 1977, 83). A maker pulls inspiration from every aspect of their life and incorporates that into the work they create. This means that depending upon certain training, interactions with other artists, or teaching techniques, there will be a variance in the experiences of those in the same class. Class is dependent upon the shared environment of a group of individuals. This doesn’t necessarily mean these events occurred for each person in the same chronological order; however, they are shared experiences. These qualities bring a diversity of movement, points of view, and aesthetics that make for a unique viewing experience. Having this background information allows for a holistic approach to the choreographer and the corresponding choices they make when creating choreography and analyzing it.