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BWW Interview: Bessie Award-Winning Choreographer Joya Powell

Joya Powell is the 2016 Bessie Award winner for Outstanding Emerging Choreographer and Artistic Director of the acclaimed Movement of the People Dance Company. She along with a number of other artists across artistic mediums such as theatre, dance, spoken word, music, photography, literary arts, discussions, and more will showcase their work at the International Human Rights Arts Festival. This unique event, in conjunction with the Institute of Prophetic Activist Art, builds on the idea of using art to raise awareness of different social, cultural, and political issues through a thoughtful lens of beauty and critical thinking. Produced and curated by arts activists Tom Block, Jessica Chen, and Karla Puno Garcia, brings the program to the Big Apple, being the first arts-advocacy festival of its kind in New York City, to Dixon Place on March 3-5, 2017.

Q: As one who has a reputation of creating work about different socio-cultural issues, how has social justice influenced your choreography?

A: There is so much that has happened over the course of such a short time, it is too exhausting to list them all. However, it is our responsibility as global citizens to get the information out about the horrors of this world. We also need to use art to create change. It is vital for us to be agents of change, especially now.

Q: What is the current role of arts and activism today?

A: Arts and activism is definitely needed right now. We are in a terrifying place in our country and the world. It is extremely important for us as activists to use art as a way to cope with everything that is going on.

The arts are very important right now and the work we are doing is needed now more than ever. But we can't do the work alone. It is important for us to come together within our communities. We need to find ways to partner with other organizations and find those parellels where we can work together.

Q: What piece will you be presenting at the International Human Rights Arts Festival?

A: We will be performing a piece entitled Aconteceu which means It Happened in Portuguese. It is a piece I choreographed in 2012 based on true events of the Candelária Massacre of 1993, where 8 street children were gunned down by the police. The dance combines pedestrian movements with contemporary and Afro-Brazilian dances such as Samba, Capoeira, and the religious Dances of the Orixás. There is also a parallel play between Greek Fates and the Afro-Brazilian Goddess of Yemanja as the story is told in the format of traditional Greek tragedy.

Q: How does it feel to showcase this work today, in light of everything that has been and currently is going on?

A: It is great to be collaborating with Tom Block again. We had first performed in this festival back in 2010 when it took place in Maryland. And we are also excited to have the opportunity to perform here in New York surrounded by those fighting for human rights and social justice through the arts.

Be sure to catch Joya and her company, Movement of the People Dance Company, perform their piece Aconteceu at the International Human Rights Arts Festival on Saturday, March 4, 2017 at 1:30PM at Dixon Place located at 161A Chyrstie Street (between Rivington and Delancey Streets). Tickets start just at $10! For tickets and more information, please visit the Dixon Place website at

Photo Credit: Aconteceu/It Happened Photo By Aehee Asano

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