BWW Review: Exploring a Mash-Ups of Cultures in Dance at E-MOVES
As the month of May began turning up the heat with unseasonable, record-breaking temperatures, Harlem Stage also turned up the audience with its E-Moves19 dance festival, May 2-5, 2018 at the Harlem Stage Gatehouse. For nearly two decades, this signature dance series has had a rich, long history of highlighting the world's cultures and contemporary dance by artists who represent various traditional dance forms and those who are creating new ones. This year's festival had a focus on contemporary African choreographers while posing the question of "how an African choreographer includes their culture within a modern or Western aesthetic?" The program explores this mash-up of cultures in an intriguing way.
On the evening of May 2, 2018, the program featured the premieres and works-in-progress of four choreographers who are expanding the boundaries of modern dance.
The show opened with Sen Koro. which in Bamana translates to "under our feet", by Lacina Coulibaly. This refers to idea that traditions and heritage should not be the fuel of innovation. Why look so far beyond when cultural wealth is right under our feet? I was immediately drawn to the dancer's lovely long legs along with such attention to the feet and toes. This was later followed by sharp and rigid contrasting arm movements. This was a lovely solo piece. However, later in the program, it came to my attention that this dance is actually a duet. I was shocked to discover the second dancer was unable to attend the performance due to being denied an artist visa several times! I was both disappointed and disgusted to hear such news. This is a perfect example of how the arts are constantly under attack, whether with funding (or lack thereof) or limiting/cutting access to resources needed to present quality artistic works.
Next was the piece Dark Swan by nora chipaumire. This is a twist on the story of Swan Lake that is re-imagined with a black African woman in mind. chipamumire dedicates this work to her late mother for her strength, courage, and refusal to surrender. Performed as a solo for a male, the dance begins with the dancer moving only within the constraints of a box on the floor. He never really left that spot. I appreciated his long arms that flowed in the air and the quick footwork on his heels and toes.
The program continued with a pop-up performance of S T A N C E by Nubian Néné. This was an exploration of activism, love, justice, but most importantly power. Inspired by the recent discriminatory acts against Blacks and women in the United States, this dance reminds us that being Black and a woman is a force, not a weakness. She introduces this topic through hip hop dance. I loved seeing a woman perform breaking- a style that had been and continues to be a male-dominated dance. She absolutely showed her strength and ability not only through dance, but also a slideshow presentation that visually showed the power and beauty of Black feminism.
The final dance, Sila Djiguba (The Path to Hope), by Omari Mizrahi pays homage to the dance circles that have often brought people together in times of celebration. Inspired by the circles from villages in West Africa to the ciphers of New York City, there is a nonverbal exchange that happens among dancers. This was a fun and lively piece that fused different genres such as West African, House, Vogue, and Afrobeat.
For the past 30 plus years, Harlem Stage has been focused on identifying, supporting, and presenting artists of color in a way that bridges Harlem's cultural legacy to contemporary artists of color. Housed in the historic landmark, the Gatehouse located on West 135th Street, Harlem Stage serves as a space where ideas and cultures are shared and flowed throughout the city-similar to the building's original purpose as a facility that was instrumental in the distribution of clean water throughout New York City. With a wide array of programs in music, dance, film, and theater, Harlem Stage is a true cultural gem that showcases the rich contributions, exciting collaborations, and the untold stories that need to be told by both emerging and established artists of color.
To learn more about Harlem Stage, its history, and upcoming programs, please visit their website at www.harlemstage.org.
Photo Credit: Marc Millman