Black Choreographers Festival Runs Now thru 3/1

The Black Choreographers Festival: Here & Now returns next month with presentations by more than a dozen Bay Area dance makers including Byb Chanel Bibene, Christal Brown, Gregory Dawson, Antoine Hunter, Maurya Kerr, Robert Moses, Brontez Purnell, Carmen Roman, Reginald Ray Savage, Raissa Simpson, Phylicia Stroud, Nafi Watson and Jamie Wright. The Festival takes place over two weekends from today, February 21 to Sunday, March 1 at Dance Mission Theater in San Francisco.

What is the legacy of Black dance in the Bay Area? Who form the "Next Wave" of choreographers making an impact on local, national and international stages? The Black Choreographers Festival seeks to answer these questions and to support the diverse community of African American artists as it celebrates Black History Month each year.

Among the legacies presented in this year's Festival are those of Bay Area choreographers Alonzo King, Robert Moses, Reginald Ray Savage and Deborah Vaughan. Two former dancers of King's LINES Ballet are Gregory Dawson and Maurya Kerr who will present work in the second weekend, February 28 to March 1. Kerr, whose tinypistol company turns five this year, will present an excerpt of beast which premiered last fall at ODC Theater in San Francisco. Dawson will premiere a site-specific work throughout the performance space of Dance Mission Theater.

One of Moses' former company dancers to find the most success as a choreographer is Raissa Simpson, whose Push Dance Company this year celebrates its 10-year anniversary. She will present Point Shipyard Project, a work inspired by the redevelopment of the Hunters Point Naval Shipyard and its impact on the mainly African American residents who live nearby. Simpson's work will be performed together with a new solo by Moses created for his company dancer Crystaldawn Bell the weekend of February 28.

Reginald Ray Savage, founder of Savage Jazz Dance Company, has performed and taught in the Bay Area for more than 25 years. He will present a solo, Spiegel Im, set to music by Arvo Pärt, and performed by sjDANCEco artist, Alison Hurley. This work is part of the program for the weekend of February 28. In the first weekend of the Festival one of Savage's most acclaimed students, Antoine Hunter, will present two short works: a solo performed by Hunter as well as a duet with Zahna Moss. The second piece, Kiss Louder, was conceived and created with artist Ellen Sebastian Chang.

Phylicia Stroud, a member of Dimensions Dance Theater, continues the legacy of the company's artistic director, Deborah Vaughan. On the Festival's opening weekend Stroud's all-girls hip hop dance troupe, On Demand, will perform Who Are We Not to Be?, a high-voltage work showcasing duets, trios and full-ensemble choreography. The Festival's opening weekend will also witness the work of another artist in Vaughan's lineage, Nafi Watson. Watson, together with her mother Afia Thompson, founded Bahiya Movement in 2011, a company whose signature style blends hip hop, jazz, modern and African dance forms.

Byb Chanel Bibene and Carmen Roman, both presenting on the Festival's opening weekend, can trace their lineages back to their respective home countries. An award-winning contemporary dance artist from the Republic of the Congo, Bibene moved to San Francisco in 2009 and has worked with Paco Gomes, Amara Tabor-Smith, Sherwood Chen, and Joanna Haigood, among others. For the Festival this year he will perform the premiere of Bakoko Na Biso, which tells the story of a man in search of the history of his ancestors.

Roman is a choreographer deeply rooted in the traditions of her native Peru. Both she and Bibene seek to innovate upon their received traditions by drawing on the wealth of contemporary dance in the Bay Area. Roman will present Intertwined Dreams, an interpretation of the Afro-Peruvian landó dance. The work premiered last year at the Cuba Caribe Festival in San Francisco.

Both weekends of the Festival will witness works within the lineage of Urban Bush Women founder Jawole Willa Jo Zollar. Brontez Purnell, who moved to San Francisco from Alabama in 2002, has studied and worked with many Bay Area artists, including former Urban Bush Women dancer Amara Tabor-Smith. Purnell, a polymath working equally within the fields of music, dance and the visual arts, will premiere a work titled If I, John Henry..., blending autobiography with the story of African American folk hero, John Henry.

Christal Brown, currently on faculty at Middlebury College in Vermont, was for several years a principal dancer in Urban Bush Women. Other influential mentors for Brown include Liz Lerman, Bill T. Jones and Chuck Davis. In a Bay Area premiere, she will perform two excerpts from her Life Cycle Series, a solo project that began in 2003 and includes a succession of pieces designed as testaments to the stages of life: childhood, an artist's coming of age and motherhood. Finally, one member of this year's cohort refuses to conform to any received lineage. Jamie Wright, a self-taught choreographer, has found an artistic home in the world of ballet. For this year's Festival he will present a new work inspired by the shooting death of 18-year-old African American Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.

This year's Festival will also include several special events. On Sunday, February 15, about a week before the opening weekend of the Festival, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts will present 50 Cent Tabernacle, a series of open, mixed-level dance classes taught by masters of the craft. For just $0.50 participants receive an all-day pass, good for up to five different 50-minute movement classes. Instructors include former Festival artist Kyle Abraham and members of his company Abraham.In.Motion. Additional teachers will be drawn from this year's group of BCF artists. For more information visit ybca.org.

On Saturday, February 21, together with community partner Dimensions Dance Theater, the Festival will co-host a master class with Abraham and members of his company. This event will take place at the Malonga Casquelourd Center for the Arts in downtown Oakland. Tickets are $10 for adults and youth 14 years old and above. For more information visit bcfhereandnow.com.

Bookending the Festival will be a reception on Saturday, February 21 at 6:30pm, and upon the Festival's conclusion on March 1, a conversation with the artists moderated by Festival co-presenter Laura Elaine Ellis.

Festival tickets range between $10 and $20 with discounts for students, seniors and children 14 years old and younger. Discounts are also available for groups of 10 or more. For reservations and additional information visit brownpapertickets.com or call Dance Mission Theater at 415-273-4633.

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