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BWW Interview: Caleb Dowden Talks Black Joy, Love & Resiliency, SunDown Towns and More About AS THE SUN SETS


We spoke with Caleb Dowden about how the creation of 'As the Sun Sets' came to be, what she hopes the audience will take away from the work, and much more.

BWW Interview: Caleb Dowden Talks Black Joy, Love & Resiliency, SunDown Towns and More About AS THE SUN SETS

Caleb Dowden, the Founder and Artistic Director of Dow-Dance Company, is showcasing her latest piece 'As the Sun Sets' at the New Ohio Theatre's ICE Factory Festival.

Running July 21 through July 24, 'As the Sun Sets' features Imani Gaudin-County, Andy Guzmán, Jai Perez and Caleb Dowden herself. Set against the hateful and unsafe backdrop of Sundown Towns, the piece explores what Black love, joy, and resiliency looks like in a racist and violent world.

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We spoke with Caleb Dowden about how the creation of 'As the Sun Sets' came to be, what she hopes the audience will take away from the work, and much more.

Can you share with me where the inspiration for this piece came from? When did you first envision the concept for As the Sun Sets?

The inspiration for this piece came from research that I have conducted on SunDown Towns. I first heard the concept of SunDown Towns at a leadership institute back in 2019. This piece started as my senior project for my undergraduate degree at Purchase College. I needed a creative outlet for the research I was learning, because, at the time, I was struggling with the idea that I could step into a space, and because of my skin color, my body could be a target. I have always known that, but to read that there are towns specifically engineered to keep out a certain group of people still kicking in the 21st century, was insane to me.

As I have dug deeper into the Sundown world, I have come to the conclusion that America is one big SunDown Town. Black bodies are always the target. Instead of focusing on changing how others view the Black body, this piece focuses on how we, as Black people, find joy no matter what space we are in.

What can people expect to see with As the Sun Sets?

You can expect to see ENERGY. This piece is set to New Orleans brass band music which is loud and quick, and our movement matches that energy. You can also expect to see an African American love story unfold on stage. This dance/media work follows the story of a Black couple figuring out how to love in this current time, which is not always joyful, but it is real.

What was the process like of working with Imani Gaudin-County, Andy Guzmán, Jai Perez and New Ohio Theatre to bring this piece to life?

I consider everyone in Dow-Dance as my family. We all have known each other through different phases in our lives. This piece is more about them than it is about me. We each have a different relationship with our Blackness. For me, when I think of my Black experience I remember playing cards with my grandma. Jai's Black experience can be the love he received from his father. To hear the relationships that my dancers have with Black joy and love has given me a deeper understanding of who they are. I now consider the New Ohio Theatre as being a part of that family. I am extremely grateful to have been welcomed into their space to create this work. They have been very understanding and patient with me throughout this experience. This world is very new to me, but I feel very blessed to have this be the beginning of Dow-Dance.

What does it mean for you to have created a work that is helping to uplift and give voice to Black stories, especially during this time?

Expressing Black joy in this current time on a stage feels revolutionary given the current narrative surrounding Blackness within mainstream society has been surrounded by topics of racism and police brutality.

The Black experience is so much more than racism. These ideas are something that we experience but it is not our identity. In As the Sun Sets, we are rearranging the concept of Sundown Towns, which are all white towns that are unsafe for people of color. We are taking this concept that is meant to destroy the Black body and transforming it into joy because, to me, that is the true Black experience; resiliency.

What do you hope the audience takes away from As the Sun Sets?

Joy is a universal feeling. It does not belong to one race. Because As the Sun Sets relies heavily on joy, anyone can take something from this piece. My hope is that the audience takes away a deeper understanding of my personal Black history. My experience is deeply rooted in love and joy. My childhood consisted of Second Lines and hurricane parties in New Orleans.

This is only one version of a million Black stories and my greatest hope is that the audience continues to seek out more Black narratives.

Do you have anything else you would like to share?

I would like to extend a huge thank you to everyone involved in this production. The mission of Dow-Dance is to provide a space where marginalized stories can exist. As the Sun Sets is one of these stories that is steeped in rhythm and a deep exploration into how the body can move with an understanding of its history. I am honored to be in this festival and for people to take away what they need from this piece.

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