With the expansive event One World, Dr. C. S’thembile offers a two part summary/reflection on what she witnessed and who she encountered prior to and during this Moving Dialog on April 8th.
Here is Part One – Entering the Space: Reflections and Encounters
What a vibrant, rich, cultural callaloo Chicago dancers created on Monday, April 8th at the Chicago Cultural Center. Orchestrated by curator, Baraka de Soleil under the auspices of Audience Architects and facilitated by Urban Bush Women (UBW), founder and artistic director, Jawole Willa Jo Zollar along with UBW dancer/administrator, Maria Bauman. However, before I venture into any commentary about what happened during the almost two hour interchange between performers and an ethnically and generationally diverse audience, I want to share my experiences during two hours that preceded the event.
Preston Bradley Hall, Chicago Cultural Center. I arrived just a little before 4PM. Carolyn Alvarado Castillo and Drew Coleman, along with two other dancers, were engaged in marking and rehearsing. Immediately, I was struck by the ease and rapport among the four dancers, as well as a respectful, yet intense interaction.
As I watched quietly, not disrupting the dancers with introductions or identifying monikers, I witnessed the unfolding of the dance; I also glimpsed an ongoing friendship and respect in the execution of directives. Both Carolyn and Drew coached the dancers and thereby, established a feeling of we’re-in-this-together process that was, in my opinion, authentic and real. After forty-minutes of watching, when rehearsal stopped, Baraka introduced me to the dancers. By then, I felt that I knew them. Their bodies had defined them on many levels: visceral, emotional, kinesthetic, technical, sensual. Moreover, their moving bodies had set the tone for the movements and discussions that I would witness and help to facilitate later in the evening.
By 4:30 several participants in the upcoming evening program, One World, had arrived for varying technical runs. I spoke with Hema, founder and artistic director of Natya Dance Theatre. Recognized internationally as a master teacher and performer of Bharata Natyam, a classical Indian dance form, Hema Rajagopalan shared that she came to the Chicago suburb of Lombard, in 1974, when her daughter was a mere two years old. Inspired by the desire to “keep (Indian) culture alive,” despite relocation to the U.S., Ms. Rajagapalan, known affectionately by her students as “Hema Auntie,” began teaching Bharata Natyam in her home. That was over thirty-eight years ago!
On Monday evening, Hema Auntie’s student, Shantha Kumari, a recent immigrant from the Chennai area of India, eloquently demonstrated the precision and emotion necessary to effectively move audiences through the medium of Bharata Natyam.
Friendly, personal and historical banter with Hema helped me get more comfortable in Preston Bradley Hall as the space began to fill with more performers. The space was abuzz with energy and banter, when I met Jessica Deahr (pronounced: dare). Her solid handshake and penetrating gaze let me know that she was serious and, at the same time, open to sharing. At that point I began to probe and ask questions about the Chicago Dance Crash. Jessica was a willing accomplice in the process!
Established in 2001 by Mark Hackman, Marissa Moritz and Charles Cutler to blend diverse movement styles and to create work that is accessible to varying audiences, Chicago Dance Crash is known for storytelling. Jessica shared that she loves how the company’s dancers are unique. Each brings a different style to the performance stage: capoeira, ballet, hip-hop, crump – “a stylistic version of hip-hop,” according to Jessica. Working as a guest artist, with the company in 2007, Jessica officially joined them in 2009. 2013 marks her first, official season as artistic director.
The last of my pre-performance encounters engaged Vershawn Sanders, founder and artistic director of Red Clay Dance, 2008. A bright smile and a warm embrace preceded our chat in Bradley Hall. Born in Mobile, Alabama, Vershawn graduated from Columbia College Chicago with a Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) in Dance, 2002. She went on to earn a Masters of Fine Arts (MFA) with a concentration in choreography at Tisch School of the Arts, New York University, 2007. After three years in New York City and a ten-week, African dance, summer intensive in Senegal, with the internationally, acclaimed dancer/choreographer, Germaine Acogny, Vershawn returned home to Chicago to establish a company. Influenced by African American history and culture as well as her Alabama roots, Sanders decided to call the company Red Clay Dance, to signify Alabama’s rich red clay. The metaphor engages African American history, rooted in enslavement and agricultural endeavors. In addition, Vershawn notes that it also reflects her personal heritage and identity.
By the end of our interchange, the warm, fuzzy feeling that accompanied my entrance into Chicago Cultural Center, the subtle nuances of Carolyn and Drew, the sparsely peopled space had grown exponentially. Now, the cultural center’s Preston Bradley Hall was abuzz with expectation, whirling with banter, heating-up with energy and definitely humming with vital aliveness!
More to come!
C. S’thembile West, Ph.D