Last week (Monday, April 4), I had the opportunity to attend a lovely Town Hall on Perspectives on Cultural Identity in Dance at Aaron Davis Hall located on the campus of CUNY City College. The event was coordinated by the Harlem Arts Alliance, in partnership with Dance/NYC, Elisa Monte Dance, Women of Color in the Arts, and the City College Center for the Arts.
For those, who are not familiar with the City College Center for the Arts, it is the new nonprofit presenting arm at City College. This is in an effort to bring the performing arts back onto the campus. This is very exciting and great to hear. It is also a step in the right direction to help support the arts. For more information, please visit their website here.
The Town Hall was divided into four distinct parts:
The evening opened with a Dance Resource Fair, with several organizations available to talk about the services they offer to the field of dance. Information was provided by Asian American Arts Alliance, Dance/NYC, Elisa Monte Dance, EmcArts, The Field, Fractured Atlas, Harlem Arts Alliance, Harlem Arts Festival, Inception to Exhibition, Pentacle, and Women of Color in the Arts. I was there representing the Dance/NYC Junior Committee!
The program honored two dance icons who are doing great work in the Harlem community, The distinguished Dianne McIntyre and the wonderful Virginia Johnson. Dianne, a Cleveland native, began her professional career in Harlem. Her choreography encompasses contemporary dance, theatre, film, and television. Her many awards includes the 2015 Doris Duke Impact Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship, three Bessies, and numerous grants from the National Endowment for the Arts. Virginia Johnson is a founding member of the acclaimed Dance Theatre of Harlem and its current Artistic Director. She is recognized as one of the greatest ballerinas and is known for her performances in the ballet Giselle, A Streetcar Named Desire, and Fall River Legend.
There were two performances by Elisa Monte Dance. The first piece, Current, was choreographed by Tiffany Rea-Fisher. Many of you know that Tiffany was recently appointed the new Artistic Director of Elisa Monte Dance. For more information you can read a previous blog post here. I loved this dance, it was very exciting! The dancer perfectly executed lots of intricate movements, long arms, and sharp movements with grace and flexibility. The second piece was an excerpt from Run to the Rock. Elisa choreographed this work in tribute to Alvin Ailey who was a major force in her development. Performed by Tiffany to Nina Simone’s version of Sinnerman- which was used in Ailey’s masterpiece Revelations. Tiffany is such an amazing dancer! Absolutely stunning!
Next and finally was the conversation on Perspectives on Cultural Identity in Dance. Moderated by Kaisha Johnson, Co-Founder and Founding Director of Women of Color in the Arts along with an esteemed panel: Sita Frederick, Theresa Ruth Howard, Francine Sheffield, and Marya Wethers.
A few interesting questions were asked:
What role does race play on identity as an artist? What happens when audiences see you on the stage? How can we educate audiences about cultural dances?
It was discussed that people dance for the love of it. But, because of our society, dance becomes a political statement especially for people of color and ballet. There is this constant struggle of wanting to be accepted as a black or brown body in “white spaces.” Often times, we are put into a box of what is acceptable by the “dominant culture” which is led by presenters, funders, and critics who may not exactly have the knowledge or understanding of what is going on or where people of color are coming from. Now is the time to take advantage of information sharing to get people on board and expand cultural literacy.
I thought this was a great discussion and definitely something to be continued!