Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Black Choreographers Festival Here and Now Week Three in Oakland draft

I was back for week three, missed week 2, Next Wave, one of my favorite weekends. Next Wave is an opportunity to see the up and coming choreographers before they hit big time (smile). Nora's Miriam was still resonating for me, even now. The work was so beautiful. Perhaps I was making up for lost time, but I went both evenings to the Oakland performances (smile).

Saturday night was a gala and awards night for the tenth anniversary. The theatre was sold out and there was standing room only, some folks seated on the stairs.

Freedom on BCHN's Collective Mind?

Dying While Black and Brown, choreographer, Joanna Haigood

Joanna Haigood’s artistic and creative design takes dance into an ether dimension. Her aesthetic is grounded in ideas which unfortunately span Pan African lifetimes—I am speaking of justice or more precisely injustice, how legal justice continues to elude my people post slavery, post colonialism.
Nowhere is this more true than in the criminal system which houses more and more black men each year as law makers in response to public outcry make halfhearted attempts to reduce prison sentences by paroling non-violence prisoners.

There are four men in a small  orange cell shaped like a house and during the work, they occupy, climb and sit on even dance with the structure. Haigood said that the house was once used as part of the set for Arrivals and Departures at the San Francisco International Airport. In the former piece the houses were hanging from the ceilings.

Freedom was certainly one of the collective themes this three weekend at Black Choreographers Festival Here and Now as first Joanna Haigood’s work which centered on four men housed in a small cell, while Gregory Dawson’s work, birds eye view, was about movement and flight as was Kendra Kimbrough Barnes's whose work looked at migration from the south north to freedom and opportunity –something a change of venue often didn’t provide.
It was nice Kendra Kimbrough Barnes and Laura Elaine Ellis had such support. They certainly deserved every accolade. The evening before Kendra previewed what will be an evening length work debuting this fall. Entitled Clearance: Linking our Passage the work migrated across continents and across America--black people once free looking for home. Images were juxtaposed with the human landscape as terrorism and violence kept families uprooted and constantly moving on--the music both live and recorded were definite characters in a work that is so signature Barnes--the lines connected to lineage--each dancer never to far from kinship, the bodies buoyed by presence. We are relationship people, which means we like company (smile).

I don't think Africans are natural capitalist--there is something about the isolation and competition and domination. Capitalism rests on the notion that only one can win. In Clearance: Linking our Passage, the choreographer does not philosophically throw out patterns that served the community well, rather she incorporates those moves into the present-- as Tossie Long sings: "Ain't Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around."

I am looking forward to the completed work.

Marc Bamuthi Joseph’s new work, Bess, Bill and Bobby is similar to his first choreopoem When Words Become Flesh—the story of his son’s conception and birth; the choreographer’s sojourn into fatherhood and this work, is that conversation at Macai’s tenth year.  A narrative poem with Joseph doing his lyrical thing as he has the audience singing together or perhaps we are moaning? In either case, it sounds good (smile). (He and Kendra performed on different days. I saw both because I was there both days).

For Black People

I remember when I first met Bamuthi, he was on screen in the film, Slamnation in Marin. I invited him to recite one of his poems at the Maafa Commemoration—he came and was too moved by the ritual to interrupt his participation with performance. I am still hoping one day to collaborate with The Living Word Festival and Youth Speaks and Maafa San Francisco Bay Area—maybe for our twentieth anniversary in 2015?

Haiti as a symbol of liberation closed the evening with . . . Zanset Ibo/Nasyon DECHENNENI!, Portsha Jefferson, choreographer. (Bamuthi is Haitian American).

In this cowboys and indigenous people story, the indigenous people win. Servitude is short lived as the people pick up swords and fight the foreigners off.  It’s spiritual weapons against man’s weapons and in this and all cases, those armed with spirit win.

The heroine comes fierce and holds her own in the face of the white man’s guns. I think her fearlessness in itself makes the enemy tremble. 

Excellently rendered, the work opens on a peaceful village scene. Women pound grains into flour, while kids play and run between their elders who are preparing meals, gathering in the marketplace, doing laundry.  This scene shifts to one of chaos as the enemy rushes in and snatches a child and a woman. What we see next are shackled people, no longer free. 

However within the despair is hope captured in a solo performed by one of the company members.

The work is divided into sections, really marvelous solos and duets with two and three company members, often four. The live musical ensemble is superb and integrated into the larger work occasionally coming into the scene, as a soloist does between captivity and freedom.
The evening, Friday-Saturday nights at Laney College moved from captivity—the New Jim Crow back through the historic enslavement of African people here in the Western Hemisphere— to a minimum security if not complete freedom which kind of ebbs and flows. 


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