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Review: Digging in Deep with JOYA POWELL/MOVEMENT of the People Dance Company

The Annual FLICfest, founded and curated by Jeramy Zimmerman and now in its sixth year, gave six choreographers an opportunity to present feature-length independent works at the Irondale Center, located in the heart of Brooklyn's Downtown Arts District. The work featured the world premiere of the piece Song and Dance You with choreography by Joya Powell and the members of the Movement of the People Dance Company -- Jenny Efremova, Brittany Grier, Jhia Jackson, Megan Minturn, Rachel Moore, Leah Moriarty, James Murray, Belinda Saenz, and Candace Tabbs -- along with live music by violinist Zoe Aqua and text by Amina Henry. Through the dissection of the sociocultural and sociopolitical constraints of our nation's racial divide, this piece seeks to answer the question "What does it take for Black Lives to actually matter in the eyes of all Americans?"

The choreography incorporated contemporary dance theater with the fusion of jazz vernacular movements from the ring shout to vaudeville to house dance in addition to some Capoeira drawing from Ms. Powell's dance training and background in Brazil. I appreciated the dancers' use of not only the entire space of the stage, but also the balcony and the audience. I loved the partner and group work in the choreography, especially the parts of unison.

The dancers, dressed in all white suits, came out in "white face" as a spin off the old Minstrel shows of the1800s where white people would wear "black face" makeup while playing the role of black people. Through dance, singing, and spoken word the dancers led the audience on an emotional journey as they sought the answer to the question asked throughout the piece, "What will it take to make you see me?"

The commitment the dancers had for their characters was exceptional! I felt so many emotions including frustration and sadness. I also felt happiness from my laughter and from hearing the wonderful singing by Ms. Saenz, who has a lovely voice.

I especially liked the audience participation throughout the piece. The dancers included the audience in their acting. Toward the end, the dancers had members of the audience wash off their "white face" makeup as they transitioned into the next section. In the end, we were all invited to join the dancers on stage for the Electric Slide. Even I found myself on the stage! But, my favorite part was probably when Ms. Powell, the choreographer, who was sitting in the audience the whole time, got up, did an interlude, and joined the dancers for the finale.

Our country has a long history of using our differences to separate us based on our race, age, gender, sexual orientation, and/or socioeconomic status. I find it frustrating that as a society, many people define us by our differences. I think Joya beautifully displayed her frustrations with tensions of both past and present race relations, forcing us to dig deep within ourselves and really think about the answer to the question: "What will it take for Black Lives to matter to all people?"

Photo Credit: Alyssa Rapp

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