Black Choreographers Festival Returns in February

By: Jan. 14, 2016
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The Black Choreographers Festival (BCF) is pleased to announce the program for the Next Wave Choreographers Showcase: New Voices/New Works. Featured artists include Gregory Dawson in collaboration with William Fowler and Frankie Lee Peterson; Chris Evans in collaboration with Byb Chanel Bibene and musician David Boyce; Cherie Hill; Wanjiru Kamuyu; Justin Sharlman in a solo by Erik Lee; Joslynn Mathis Reed; Dazaun Soleyn; Phylicia Stroud; and Jamie Wright. The Next Wave Choreographers Showcase takes place at 7:30 pm, Saturday and Sunday, February 20 - 21 at Dance Mission Theater in San Francisco. Tickets range from $10 to $30 and may be purchased online at

"Next month's event continues the vision of galvanizing the arts community around the artistic contributions of African and African American choreographers," says BCF Co-Director Laura Elaine Ellis. "To that end, each year BCF pairs emerging artists with mentors, and we're excited to showcase the results of this program: new works by Erik Lee, Joslynn Mathis Reed and Dazaun Soleyn, whose dancing is amazing -- true gorgeousness!" Mentors this year include Gregory Dawson paired with Lee; Joanna Haigood paired with Solyen; Raissa Simpson paired with Reed; and Robert Moses and Deborah Vaughan serving as adjunct mentors.

Apart from his mentorship of Lee, Dawson is collaborating with two of his company dancers -- Fowler and Peterson -- on a sextet which will premiere next month. Several mid-career artists are also on next month's bill, representing a diverse array of styles -- from performance art with live music to contemporary social dance to the melding of jazz, West African and Haitian idioms.

Next month's event is one weekend only. A second weekend of festival programming will take place in Oakland in August. "Festival Co-Director Kendra Barnes and I like to say BCF is bustin' out of February with the intention to provide visibility to black choreographers beyond Black History Month," explains Ellis. Details for the summer event will be announced in the spring.

The decision to move the Oakland showcase to August is part of Ellis and Barnes' plan to create new performance opportunities for black artists throughout the year, and partnerships with Dance Brigade, which produces the D.I.R.T. Festival later this month, and the West Wave Dance Festival last fall also further that mission.

The San Francisco showcase opens on Saturday, February 20 with a premiere by dawsondancesf. Under the direction of former Alonzo King LINES Ballet dancer Gregory Dawson, dawsondancesf will perform a new work for the full company of six dancers: Isaiah Bindel, Jordan Drew, William Fowler, Ilaria Guerra, Frankie Lee Peterson and Alexander Vargas. The work, currently untitled, will culminate a choreographic mentorship with dancers Fowler and Peterson. "This new piece is an experiment," says Dawson. "I usually control the invention entirely, but not this time." Dawsondancesf will perform the work a second time on Sunday evening.

Chris Evans, an interdisciplinary artist trained both as a dancer and musician, directs a collaboration with Byb Chanel Bibene, an award-winning contemporary dance artist from the Republic of Congo, and musician and composer David Boyce. Together they will premiere a work titled Reconstruction Study #1, based on the true story of Jim Coble, an African American man who killed ten white people in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma in the early 20th century. "The story, passed down through oral tradition in the family of David Boyce, provides a frame for exploring the cyclical deconstruction and reconstruction of African American identity in the U.S.," writes Evans in a program note. Reconstruction Study #1 interweaves spoken word, structured movement improvisation and live music. The piece is set to an original score by Boyce, who performs saxophone, alongside Evans on cello and Bibene on percussion. Reconstruction Study #1 will be performed on Saturday only.

Cherie Hill directs IrieDance, a company which draws on black feminist theory, African aesthetics and contemporary Western dance. For the Showcase next month, Hill will present an excerpt from her latest evening-length work which premiered in Oakland last June. An all-female sextet, Terrestrial Footprints is set to an original reggae dub score by Brizion, rearranged by Peter Lionheart. Hill describes the music and the movement as "long and luscious." Terrestrial Footprints will be performed on Saturday and Sunday.
Wanjiru Kamuyu, born in Kenya, began her professional career in New York more than a decade ago, dancing with Jawole Willa Jo Zollars' Urban Bush Women. Kamuyu later distinguished herself as an original cast member of The Lion King and FELA!, serving additionally as resident choreographer and dance captain for the latter. She currently directs WKcollective in Paris, France. For next month's Showcase, Mills Repertory Dance Company will reprise a commissioned work by Kamuyu, titled At the moment of encounter. Taking as its point of departure a solo by the same name, the work commissioned by MRDC is a quartet, which premiered last fall at Mills College in Oakland. Set to an original score by French composer Jean-Philippe Barrios, At the moment of encounter takes inspiration from Butoh dance, writes Kamuyu, with a "meditative embodiment of nature and animal-like qualities." At the moment of encounter will be performed on Saturday only.

Erik Lee, a member of Dimensions Dance Theater praised for his "rollicking," "clean" performance (Rachel Howard, San Francisco Chronicle), makes his choreographic debut next month. Justin Sharlman, also a member of Dimensions Dance Theater, will perform Lee's original solo, Precious Lord, a piece "dedicated to every black life that has been taken in violence." The work is set to a soundscape created by Lee. "I'm very proud of the journey Erik has taken as an artist," says Ellis. "It's been a pleasure to watch his individual voice reveal itself over the last number of months." Precious Lord will be performed on Saturday and Sunday.

Originally from Detroit, Michigan, Joslynn Mathis Reed founded Mathis Reed Dance Company in 2014. "Her style is a high-energy fusion of hip hop, club, modern and ballet," says Ellis. A recent graduate of Mills College's MFA program in Dance Performance and Choreography, Reed will premiere Autonomic, a work exploring the idea of freedom. Responding to a work-in-progress showing last fall, Joanna Harris wrote, "We were treated to super-moves by the quartet who blended the modern, jazz, hip hop and jitting footwork. The audience cheered." Mathis Reed Dance Company will perform on Saturday and Sunday.

Dazaun Soleyn, a recent Bay Area transplant, hails from Florida by way of New York City. In his short but estimable career he has collaborated with choreographers John Parks, Jennifer Archibald, Kara Davis, Maurya Kerr and Sidra Bell. Soleyn also performed in Dexandro Montalvo's Isadora Duncan Award-winning Dining Hall, presented as part of the "Art Behind Bars" project at Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary. Next month Soleyn will premiere a trio titled the journey: part 2. One of three dancers in the piece, Soleyn will perform alongside Giordan Cruz and one other. "He is a powerful presence on stage," wrote Joanna Harris in a review of the work-in-progress showing last fall. Soleyn will perform on Saturday and Sunday.

Phylicia Stroud's all-girls hip hop dance troupe, On Demand, lit up the stage at last year's San Francisco Showcase. The company returns next month in the premiere of Sing, Sing, Swing!, an homage to the 1920s and the period of the Harlem Renaissance. "The piece journeys from the Charleston to the whip to the nae nae," writes Stroud in a program note. "In Sing, Sing, Swing! I am proud to share the title of choreographer with several of my young company dancers including Ebonie Barnett, Marianna Hester, Amirah Nasir, Mynyon Minor and Tzyion Sims," adds Stroud. Stroud is a ten-year company member with Dimensions Dance Theater. On Demand will perform on Sunday only.

Finally, Jamie Wright, director of The DanceWright Project, will premiere Roadhouse, inspired by the impromptu blues clubs prevalent throughout black, rural America in the 1970s. Set to music of Muddy Waters -- "the soundtrack of my childhood," says Wright -- Roadhouse will be performed by Jordan Hayes, Alyson Abriel Salomon, Emily Shoop, Joshua Teal and Rossi Lamont Walter. The DanceWright Project will perform on Sunday only.


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