moving into 2023 awakens newness, emergence. a true “coming back” soon.


seeking disabled artists of color based in Europe

“markings” – newest work, part of NYC exhibit Refiguring the Future closing this week


this Saturday march 30, marks the closing of Refiguring the Future – a 2019 group exhibit I am a part of – at 205 Hudson Street Gallery.

my newest developing contemporary work “markings” is part of this exhibit; performative impressions that center disabled and Deaf folx through an intersectional lens.  the work on view for the exhibit reflects an unfolding process to develop floor “markings”, as well as an ASL video collaboration with Deaf Spectrum featuring Nur Abdulle signing. a performative action that initiated the floor markings occurred on February 8 – the opening of the exhibition –  and further unfolded over a three days process.  during the three days, disabled folx [and some ableds] were offered the option to leave an impression on a 6 x 8 foot piece of grey painted corrugated cardboard.  I then detailed each impression with colored pencils, further shaping the mark. the second day more crip folx showed up and dialogued about the work, witnessed my initial embodiment of each mark that had been left, and left more impressions. The third day I concluded the process by embodying each marking, imbuing them with a physical action that signified the labor of presence, an acknowledgement of those d/Deaf and disabled bodies for whom the action/labor of being present in spaces like this gallery is not always an option in an ableist world.


the image above from the opening also emphasizes the importance of the placement of the floor piece, ultimately becoming an “intervention” to those who used stairs.

below are some images taken by Geoff Albores and Orlando Hunter during the further activation of this work. The images include stills of the floor markings and the video collaboration.



reflections from 7a*11d presentation of ‘a series of movements’ [Toronto 2018]

October of 2018, for Toronto’s international festival 7a*11d,

I presented an iteration of  ‘a series of movements‘:

time shifts. the body moves. a black disabled body moves. queerly.

Reflecting a continued corporeal exploration of the intertwining legacies of race and disability, i offered solo selections from compositions that navigate the seemingly pedestrian, transitory and performative ways one moves and is moved through the world.

Writers Geneviève Wallen and Francesco Gagliardi  were commissioned to reflect on various presentations of the festival. Both writers’ full reflections can be found on the festival website under “tender considerations” and “RE:FRAMING” respectively.

Here are their reflections on my presentatio:

Geneviève – 

Barak adé Soleil’s a series of movements [Toronto] is a work deeply rooted in love, one

that attends, protects, acknowledges and most importantly amplifies more than one

voice. The acknowledgement introducing the performance highlighted the urgency in

recognizing the multiple ways in which bodies are connected to one another, and the

importance of carving space for plural ways of being. To further emphasize his plea, adé

Soleil requested that the members of the audience enter the theater in an order and

pathway that was predicated on social access and mobility—pressing on socially

constructed hierarchies and one’s attentiveness to able-bodied privileges. Adé Soleil’s

movements examined various forms of actions from crawling, rolling, leaning, to using

mobility devices, and ultimately standing. The artist’s connection with the public was

meant to be multilayered; at times it was gentle and other times more confrontational,

all while investigating the weight of different stages of verticality. Even while

underscoring his bodily rapport with architecture and the public space, he also

highlighted how one’s humanity and desirability can be easily dismissed through

numerous societal intersections, one being disability. Adé Soleil also intentionally

brought to the surface the violence of ongoing archival and cultural erasure.

a series of movements [Toronto] is based on the seminal work of well-known Belgian

choreographer Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker: Fase, Four Movements to the Music of Steve

Reich (1982). The footage in Reich’s notorious piece Come Out (1966), featured in De

Keersmaeker’s choreography, originates from a too familiar story of extreme physical

abuse and systematic anti-Blackness. Indeed the words “come out” were

decontextualized from the infamous sentence by Daniel Hamm from the Harlem Six: “I

had to, like, open up the bruise and let the blood come out to show them”.[20] This gut

wrenching sentence was a testament to the police brutality endured by Hamm and other

Black males while being unjustly incarcerated—he being one of the eldest, nineteen

years young. He had to take this intense measure, opening up a bruise, to reclaim his

humanity and get medically treated for his injuries. Reich had access to this testimony in

a facilitated exchange with the civil rights activist, writer, and

curator Truman Nelson. [21]  By removing the context and applying auditory distortions

to the words “come out”, the history was lost, and capitalized on by individuals who

would further Daniel Hamm’s erasure from the collective consciousness—individuals

such as De Keersmaeker. The appropriation by adé Soleil of movements from Fase, Four

Movements to the Music of Steve Reich and of techniques applied in the work Come Out

was an attempt to take back what has been lost—a voice, a place in the collective

imagination, legitimacy—while bridging the past and the present. More than fifty years

later such narrative is still an intrinsic part of collective fear, loss and anger.

Moreover, adé Soleil contracted an ASL interpreter to translate while he was reciting his

revised version of the looping piece Come Out. He explained that sign language is a

choreography in itself that has the power to amply what is linguistically difficult to

communicate, and in this case it added a visual language to Black male experiences, in

order to tap into embodied memory.[22]

footnotes as indicated via bracketed numbers [20 – 22] referenced —

[20] The story of the Harlem Six is a narrative of Black male teenagers and young adults—Wallace Baker, Daniel Hamm, William Craig, Ronald Felder, Walter Thomas, and Robert Rice—wrongly convicted for the murder of a white couple who were shop owners in Harlem. Daniel Hamm’s statement is from an interview he did with Truman Nelson after his first night in a police station for the little fruit stand riot, in 1964.To learn more about this story see James Baldwin’s article “A Report from Occupied Territory”, published in the Nation magazine in 1966.

[21] Nelson sought out Reich to help him edit several tapes with interviews featuring the Harlem Six, their mothers, and the police, in order to write The Torture of Mothers and support legal procedures. In exchange for his labour, Reich asked that if he found something interesting, he be allowed to use it for his art practice. The resulting sound collage Come Out was used to help raise funds for the Harlem Six’s retrial, but mainly became Reich’s big artistic break. See Brent Hayes Edwards, Epistrophies: Jazz and the Literary Imagination (Harvard University Press: Cambridge MA & London, England, 2017), p. 246.

[22] Barak adé Soleil in discussion with the writer, November 2018.

Barak adé Soleil a series of movements [Toronto] 7a*11d 2018 PHOTO Henry Chan.

“While these pieces [referring to other works within the festival] managed to deploy
certain aspects of the theatrical framing to their own advantage, it is no coincidence that two of the festival’s most successful pieces succeeded, at least in part, precisely because they put this framing at the very centre of the work’s content. In a series of movements [Toronto] Barak adé Soleil engaged with the architecture of the theatre by navigating the hollowed out main space on the second floor using a variety of mobility aids: crutches, a scooter, a manual wheelchair. In the central section of the piece, the artist lent his body to the recorded voice of Daniel Hamm, one of six African American teenagers arrested in Harlem and convicted of murder in 1965. Hamm, who was exculpated three years later, recounted how, in order to convince the police that he had been beaten up whilst in custody, he had to “open the bruise up, and let some of the blood come out to show them”. A section of Hamm’s recorded testimony was used by American composer Steve Reich in Come out, composed in 1966 for a benefit in support of the Harlem Six. Standing on crutches in the middle of the room, the artist fiercely wrestled with Reich’s composition, dubbing along with the looped segment “come out to show them” until the phrase’s pent-up pain and anger hatched its cathartic double: “come out to shoot them”. The piece, which had started in the ground floor lobby with the reading of a “c/krip” acknowledgment inviting the audience to explore the space with an awareness of the “diversity of bodies” in its midst, came to a breathtaking, drawn-out finale when the artist left the room and proceeded laboriously to climb down the emergency exit stairs on his wheelchair, before disappearing into the street crowd. “

2019 newness! nyc coming soon…

2019 newness!

NYC coming your way this week…
presenting new work as part of the group exhibition Refiguring The Future, opening on Friday, February 8, from 6pm – 8pm at 205 Hudson Gallery.

this new work – “markings” emerges as performative impressions that center disabled and Deaf folx through an intersectional lens. Resisting pervasive notions that erase disabled and Deaf bodies from conceptions of the future, i seek to reflect how these communities can and will occupy space as we evolve as a society. in addition to a floor piece that will be created in real time, a video collaboration with Deaf Spectrum will be exhibited in ‘conversation’ with the floor markings. the video features Nur Abdulle signing as a linguistic expression of mark-making.


The gallery is located at 205 Hudson St. and is wheelchair accessible. ASL interpretation will be available at the opening. The exhibit runs through March 31, 2019.


#Intersectionality #NYCseeYouSoon #BlackDisabledQueering #NewWork #markings



Ntozake Shange

FullSizeRender (7)Ms. Shange,

1991.  I had the transformational opportunity to perform in your work

spell#7: geechee jibara quik magic trance manual for technologically stressed third world people

at Penumbra Theatre in St. Paul, MN.

this was my first professional production.

what a rite of passage, to take on your words, the dance of them, the physicality of them,

and to perform them, conjure the work with a distinguished group of black creative folx.

to don the minstrel mask, legacy through picking cotton, lindy-hopping and grooving till we arrived into the 70’s, where the spell unfolds through our impassioned voices.

to transport ourselves into that bar/club, that part of NYC, to embody those ‘actor’ characters as they shared, poeticized, strutted, expressed dimensions of blackness that both awakened and mystified my own blackness.

I sang a song that was not meant for me

played a guitar that was never more than plucking strings

kissed a woman deeply with all of my queer breath held tightly

and stumbled to break open my creative universe

i’m still stumbling… with the spell of your work still nurturing/resting in my soul

thank you.


I say you name

give offering to sweeten your palate

soften your pathway to foreverness

pull back into the words of the spells you have crafted

and bask


I call your name acknowledging you amongst the creative ancestors who profoundly shaped/changed the way we/I expressed and experience theatre/performance

for us

by us.


sssssssssssssssspelllllll number SEVEN!


a series of movements [Toronto]: a “c/krip” acknowledgement

offering this text i developed as a ‘c/krip’ acknowledgement for iteration of “a series of movements”  most recently presented at 7a*11d’s 2018 International Festival of Performance Art in Toronto, Canada…with thanks to curator Golboo Amani and ASL interpreter Tala Jalili for their further questions, reflections and reading of this acknowledgement, and a shout out to black disabled activist, writer Leroy Moore  who uses “krip” instead of “crip” in relation to naming/reclaiming of the term by select disability identified folx.

this acknowledgement also includes text used for a statement on access developed some years ago for 2016 Hemispheric Institute Encuentro in Santiago, Chile.

image of Barak in wheelchair inside of theatre by Henry Chan, courtesy of 7a*11d.

“Aligned with the acknowledgement of indigenous folx, their distinct traditions and ongoing care for the land we reside on, the essential actions we must take to undo the colonial practices that perpetuate the erasure of indigenous folx’ profound contributions to the planet….

This is an affirmation of a diversity of bodies. Disabled bodies, politically crip, chronically ill, sick, spoonie, Mad, Deaf,  DDBDDHHLD [Deaf, DeafBlind, DeafDisabled, Hard of Hearing, Late Deafened], interdimensional, neurodivergent, non visual learners…Folx who culturally may not identify as “disabled” but whose bodies are truly welcomed in spaces that are barrier free, sign language friendly, scent reduced, trigger reduced, low lit or well lit, relaxed, sensory friendly….with wayfinding  and haptic technology, centralized seating for wheels, scoots, crutches, walkers, canes, caregivers, companions, service animals, overflowing emotions…and alternate areas to occupy or roam when desired.  Spaces fluid and responsive.  Spaces where interdependence is never questioned but embraced. 

Communal spaces are created and we are thoughtfully invited. We ask the question: is it accessible? and we get “grandfathered” – patriarchy, colonialism and history converging to reinforce ableism and its architectural legacies of structural inequity.  How to move within a space and architecture that is not always built with our bodies in mind, is a continuing conscious navigation of humanity. This is an acknowledgement of the ways our bodies negotiate the spaces with labour, effort, finesse and grace.

WE are disabled among other identifiers that have meaning to OURSELVES and the communities we interact with and love. and when WE ask the question about access, it’s not just about OUR disability but the expanse… the invitation, welcoming anyone who’s desiring to be present for the experience of engaging with art and each other.

In navigating [a series of movements], You as a witness are welcome to also move, to sit, to be on two feet or bring a chair into the space…. to explore your own series of movements through the space within the theatre that Barak will be moving, responding to where you desire to be to view the body’s moments,  or to take a moment to be in the gallery space.  When you are viewing, we ask you to consider that you are in a space with bodies of various heights and with various potential desires to be seated, to be lower or higher in viewing. A space where some folx will be communicated to through sign, through gestures, where they may tune in with quietude or vocally respond…You are in a space with a diversity of bodies. “+++

+++ please do not use this acknowledgement without permission.

image of Barak facing set of stairs outside of theatre by Henry Chan, courtesy of 7a*11d.



what’s coming up next, coming soon


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September 14, 2018 – CHICAGO

For the opening of the new exhibit “Chicago Disability Activism, Arts and Design: 1970’s to Today” at Gallery400, Friday September 14 from 6:30pm -7:30pm, i will perform “from here to there.   Archive from my evolving lived experience navigating physical disability will also be on display. proud to be in this exhibition with other disability identified artists, activists and designers.

#ChicagoComeThrough #CripFolkUnite #ArchivingTheDisabledBody #WheelChairCrutchesCanes #Intersectionality #MomentToMomentBreathToBreath #newPerformativeExploration #BlackIsBold #UIC #ChicagoAdapt #Neurodiversity

image of black disabled man with arms folded so that the front of hands meet, supported by blue metallic forearm crutches. he is looking downward suggesting a softly contemplative mood. there is text below him and to one side noting the event details of the exhibit Chicago Disablity Activism, Arts and Design: 1970’s to Today


October 7, 2018 – TORONTO

looking forward to sharing creative work – “a series of movements” –  in Toronto, on Sunday, October 7 at 4:30pm, as part of  2018 7a*11d international festival of performance art ! grateful for the thoughtful curation of Golboo Amani in association with the great collective members of 7a*11d!

#aSeriesOfMovements #TheBlackDisabledBodyMovesQueerly #OhCanada #TravelingWhileBeingAnArtist #CreativeFlow

image of black disabled man kneeling in the grand staircase of the Art Institute of Chicago. He is on a landing in between two sets of stairs and looking at a deconstructed wheelchair. in front of him is a dark metal sculpture of a thin body like figure. to the left and below the image of the man, are details of 2018 international performance festival 7a11d’s line up


October 13, 2018 – HALIFAX

i’m performing a new explorative performance – “wha(i)le” –  as part of  Nocturne 2018 in Halifax on October 13 from 6pm – midnight (with intervals of rest) at the Maritime Museum ,  thoughtfully curated by Raven Davis.

#NomadicReciprocity #WhaileEmerges #DisabilityAesthetics #BlacknessinNovaScotia #BuildingACommunalSpace #HalifaxinOctober #OhCanada #2018CreativeTour

various smaller images of different performing artists from various cultural backgrounds in striking poses and gestures, as well as one image of a watercolor portrait of the water and sea. next to each of the images are performance details of the events for Maritime Museum

been awhile. some reflections from past year and so.

it’s been awhile since last posting.

to offer some catching up on what I’ve been up to,  some brief reflections  of past creative endeavors from 2017:

beginning of year presentation culminating my 2016 residency at Rebuild Foundation


image of black body in prone plank position on ground of Stony Island Arts Bank in front of artist Glenn Ligon’s installation – large neon word “blues”. image courtesy of artist.


early 2017 Robert Rauschenberg Residency


shrouded by dead dry  branches in a white space, large black male body lies on the ground with his back to the camera. image from step n2 this room presentation during the RR residency


which led to solo performance presentation at Seattle University

a solo presentation for Black Intersections Conference / The Claremont Colleges


image of black disabled male on set of stairs holding onto rail with one hand while grasping wheelchair with the other, seeming suspended above the steps, from “a series of movements” presentation at The Claremont Colleges in California. image courtesy of Marcus Polk


and a duet presentation at Brooklyn College in spring

travels to Canada in summer which included a brief creative interlude at Art Gallery of Ontario

speaking at Chicago’s 3Arts Foundation Awards ceremony in the fall



becoming a recipient of Art Matters Foundation award

and moving into 2018, offering a performance moment at Art Institute of Chicago




dis body.

my father’s body
has found its way into my own
the forehead expands, the hair recedes
extends into my stomach…keeps extending
seeping into leg bones degeneratively.
mom’s here too
fully in thighs widened
a rounded high end
drifting up
towards heart’s inner sanctum inner strength
to mind’s brewing bipolarity
permeable mental precarity
present whether i try to hide it or not.
like family
i’m sometimes ashamed
don’t always pay attention
struggle with yet embrace
evolving pains, woes, fissures, the growths…
all needs tending
tenacious softening
a responsive love
this cultured body

one reflection from witnessing “what the body knows”

taking a moment to take in/look at various thoughts shared via facebook and email of those who witnessed the world premiere of what the body knows : a dance suite of two solos and a duet here’s one in particular, reflecting on various moments within the solo “ele’fant” and duet “carry”:

“To make a new world, we need to create new aesthetics. Barak Adé Soleil is making a new aesthetic, and it is the most destabilizing thing I have ever seen. This is more than a remix of existing body politics; beyond addressing the oppression and hegemony of current race, disability, gender, and sexuality behavior/discourse, his work is opening a door to a new way of being human in our crazy world. He eats the poisoned apple from our hands and regurgitates the pieces for us to see. He crawls the floor with the force of a freight train and ploughs through our psyches. He slams his body against the walls, and the walls shake. After “what the body knows,” someone asked me where do we go from here? ANYWHERE WE WANT.”

Mary Wu

more reflections to come from what the body knows and other presentations this year…


the artists. what the body knows

from the 2016 world premiere of what the body knows, a suite of three dances exploring the complex intersection and legacies of race and disability, here are bios of select artists:



Barak adé Soleil [choreography, direction, design and performance] makes dance, theatre, and performance art. An award-winning creative practitioner, he  has engaged diverse communities within the USA, Canada, South America, Europe, and West Africa throughout his career. He is the founder of D UNDERBELLY, an interdisciplinary network of artists of color, and recipient of the prestigious Katherine Dunham Choreography Award presented by AUDELCO for excellence in NYC Black Theatre. His hybrid aesthetic speaks to the expanse of contemporary art; drawing upon traditions from the African diaspora, disability and queer culture, and postmodern forms. Barak is a 2015 Chicago Dancemakers Forum Lab Artist, 2015-16 recipient of a 3Arts/University of Illinois at Chicago Residency Fellowship, 2016 Choreographer-in- Residence at Rebuild Foundation, 2016 3Arts awardee and 2017 recipient of 3Arts Residency Fellowship at the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation.  2016 marks Barak’s 25th anniversary of being involved in live arts.“Barak adé Soleil has been a powerful force for good in performance scenes across the U.S”  -NEWCITY stage




Jerron Herman [performance] shares stories through body-centered performance and writings. Presently in New York City, Herman is a company member of Heidi Latsky Dance. Originally from the Bay Area, Herman holds a B.A from The King’s College and through his writing practice, has written and produced a full length musical and a one man show. Speaking eloquently on his identity as a disabled dance artist of color, he was the subject of a docu-interview with John Bathke. For his performance in the world premiere of the company’s recent work TRIPTYCH, The New York Times noted him as, “the inexhaustible Mr. Herman”.




Sadie Woods’ [collaborator in sound design; live performance of sound score] creative practice includes sound art and design, deejay performance, exhibitions, and collaborations within communities of difference. Chicago born with a childhood steeped in the arts, she received a B.A. in Music from Columbia College, a Visual Arts Certificate from the University of Chicago Graham School and MFA in Sound from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Projects include sound design for Free Street Theater and collaborations with artist Ricardo Gamboa. Sadie is a current resident artist at ACRE, SAIC’s Nichols Tower Homan Square, and participated in the Independent Curators International Curatorial Intensive in Dakar, Senegal.



Penelope McCourty [creative associate and lead advisor] has worked artistically and administratively with several locally and nationally known dance companies and community arts organizations. As a performer and teacher she was a member of Marlies Yearby’s Movin’ Spirits Dance Theater, Liz Lerman Dance Exchange and Reggie Wilson/Fist and Heel Performance Group. Her choreographic work has been presented at St. Mark’s Church, Joyce Soho, Chicago’s Links Hall, BAX/Brooklyn Arts Exchange and San Francisco State University. She is the recipient of the 2014 NYU/Steinhardt School Exemplary Teaching Artist Award and the Elders Share the Arts Visionary Artist Award. Penelope is on faculty at The Berkeley Carroll School and facilitates artistic process residencies and professional development workshops through New Victory Theater and Park Avenue Armory’s Artist Corps.

Marcus Doshi [lighting consultant] designs lighting for theatre, dance, opera, and non-performance. His work has been seen at the Park Avenue Armory, Juilliard Opera, Theatre for a New Audience and extensively off-broadway; in Chicago at Steppenwolf, The Goodman, Court, Chicago Shakespeare, and Lyric Opera of Chicago. He has designed for most major regional theatres and opera companies in the US and internationally at Canadian Opera, Holland Festival, La Monnaie, Festival Lyric d’Aix-en-Provence, La Commedie Française, Venice Biennale, and the Sydney Festival among others. Education: Wabash College and the Yale School of Drama; Assistant Professor of Stage Design in the MFA program at Northwestern University.  www.marcusdoshi.com

Maya Lori [American Sign Language Interpreter; dramaturg for ASL choreography] is an interdisciplinary artist, often creating her work within written, video, drawn, and painted realms. Born and raised in the South Shore neighborhood of Chicago, Lori identifies as having grown within liminal yet emotionally and energetically charged spaces, which is reflected in her work. From her family of a nomadic Jamaican father, a tender and eclectic mother, an expressive Deaf elder sister, and a bond with a younger sibling that blurs the small age gap between them, Lori found safety and love in intimate circles that paved the way for the artist she is today.

Nikki B. [documenter], a native of Chicago, fell in love with photography and established “GreyMatter Photography” with a mission to use her unique eye and photojournalist style to capture OMG (“Oh my God”) moments. She uses a documentary style to capture photos with a purpose. She travels throughout Chicago as a self-proclaimed “Artivist”, capturing the attention of youth through her mobile Exhibition entitled “Words Scar.”  This has resulted in Nikki teaching youth 6-21 years old how to use photography to document their voice.  As part of her photographer’s mission, Nikki believes Art is a catalyst of positive youth development.

Awilda Rodríguez Lora [creative associate in production phase] is a performance choreographer and cultural entrepreneur. Born in Mexico, raised in Puerto Rico, and working in-between North and South America and the Caribbean, Rodríguez Lora’s performances traverse multiple geographic histories and realities. In this way, her work promotes progressive dialogues regarding hemispheric colonial legacies, and the unstable categories of race, gender, class, and sexuality. Rodríguez Lora is currently a host/coordinator at La Rosario in Santurce(Puerto Rico) where she is creating, researching, and producing her life project, La Mujer Maravilla, while developing new strategies for the sustainability of live arts in Puerto Rico. laperformera.org



this dance is black.

a black man.
a disabled black man.
two recent killings
that we know of
with more to come…

& i
in the midst of this –
bridge bodies shoulders with another brotha
arms cross arms
bending necks
this dance emerges
dropping to knees
falling towards the ground
face down
shaken into
holds that rock us
onto our backs
thighs cradle head
side to side
side by side
to momentary stillness.

pressed against each other
we roll up
our breaths are deep
with hands extended
ready to carry ourselves.

black men
disabled black men
we be.
we keep movin.

#thisdanceisBlack  #theseFolkwecarry #whathebodyknows

what’s happened. what’s happening.

Barak in washed tones with crutches full body by Erika Dufour
image of Barak with crutches and hands gestured by Erika Dufour



WHAT’S happened:

June —
what the body knows
successfully campaigned in support of the world premiere fall production!

particular thanks  to: Carrie Sandahl, Anna Khimasia, Lisa Lee, LaKia Colquitt, Daniel Alexander Jones, Katherine Zien, Barbara Koenen, Sharon Bridgforth, Alice Kim, Keith Brown, Edisa Weeks, Caroline Palmer, Ananya Chatterjea, Kris Lenzo Suzanne Snider, Willa Taylor, Allie Stephens, Ben Foch, Anthony Romero and Felipe Gomes for their distinct contributions, and to 3Arts for providing the fundraising platform and administration!

July —
Barak traveled to Santiago, Chile to present an international premiere of the diptych turttle//ele’fant as part of the Hemispheric Institute’s 2016 Encuentro.

August —
Barak traveled to Pittsburgh to present diptych turttle//tablewerk at August Wilson Center for African American Culture as part of 2016 LEAD Conference.



Barak travels to Portland, Oregon to offer keynote for the Alliance of Artists Communities 2016 Conference.

World premiere of  what the body knows
Limited engagement and seating!
Friday, October 28th & Saturday, October 29th
performance begins 7:30pm
doors open at 6:30pm
at Stony Island Arts Bank in Chicago!

what the body knows unfolds as a suite of intimate dances provocatively exploring the intersection of race AND disability.

With choreography and performance by Barak, additional performances by Jerron Herman and live sound score orchestrated by Sadie Woods.

admission is FREE with RSVP+

the event will be fully accessible. asking all to support a scent free environment. Wheelchair seating, CART services, ASL interpretation, Audio description and Individual assistance available.

+for inquiries:
email whatthebodyknowsinfo@gmail.com
phone 872.444.6817

these moments. in the act of art.

the art making doesn’t stop. in the midst of campaigning for what the body knows, an opportunity to collaborate is embraced.  basking from the beauty of the act of art, in the art of experimentation with brilliant artists Nikki Patin and Mikel Patrick Avery in politics  of space , curated by Demecina Beehn as the culmination to 2016 Chicago Home Theater Festival at Dorchester Art + Housing Collaborative’s studio in the neighborhood of  Greater Grand Crossing.

truly thankful for these moments:

this moment in the act of art. we three be. within community. making the unknown known.



this moment in the act of art. we find each other. tenderly. “who’s the table”. revealing truths.



the moment post performing. still savoring the act of art. candidly, we three creative folk be.


from left to right: Nikki Patin, Mikel Patrick Avery and me.



sometimes we are offered support. many times we need it. no shame.

Barak supported by Jerron

thankful for the support of my dance partner  Jerron Herman – in this above moment photographed by Nikki Bruce – and the folk who have supported  what the body knows campaign thus far!

this choreographic project will premiere at Stony Island Arts Bank with FREE performances on October 28th and 29th.

the final phase needs more support. please join in the conversation surrounding the intersection of race and disability…embodied through what the body knows.

we keep movin.

May 3rd Performance-52

Black. and Disabled. and Dancing. We keep moving. together. through Art. in Community.

Nearly 1 in 5 folks in America have a disability. Intersect that recent statistic with  the racializing that impacts us all, and we are in for a profound convergence.  A powerful moment to recognize the strength within these communities through thoughtful discussions socially and creatively. 

Join us in the deepening of this conversation.  Please support this new work intersecting race and disability.  A suite of solos and a duet illuminating how we move and are moved by others.

what the body knows campaign is LIVE.   


*image of Jerron Herman and Barak by EyeAmNikkiB







the stories we’ll share…

the stories we’ll share…through the dances we’ll create.

FullSizeRender (14)

in this process of developing what the body knows, through the reflection of documenter Nikki Bruce’s photography, we found that each image offered compelling insight into this emerging  work; into how these two bodies (Jerron Herman and myself)  are discovering how to be in conversation with the two intersecting “bodies” the work seeks to explore -the body racialized and the body disabled.  through our coexistence and commitment to make visible these intersections, we are making movement that speaks to the beauty of these bodies coming together.

and through the support of this campaign…the story will deepen…

what the body campaign continues through June 9th.

*above image of  Barak  (on knees) and Jerron by EyeAmNikkiB


what the body knows…what unfolds

it’s been a couple of months since i’ve posted on here. most presently, i’ve been creating new dance…

FullSizeRender (13)

it’s been incredibly rewarding. and humbling..

recently  Jerron Herman, Francine Sheffield came from New York and Phanuel Antwi traveled from Canada, to join me in a 10 day intensive development process for the emerging choreographic project what the body knows a suite of solos and a duet focused on the complex intersection and intertwining legacies of disability and race.

within this creative period i was also joined by local artists Sadie Woods, Nikki Bruce to respectively document the process and collaborate on the sound design. the focus was on a duet to build with Jerron as my co-performer and Francine holding space for us to delve into the conversation between our bodies. both  black. both men. both disabled. self-identifying with those aspects of ourselves. shared experiences yet distinct ways of navigating the ways those identities impact our lives. we’ve never dance together before. this was our introduction to understanding how we might do that. and, from this exploration and rigorous process, carry emerges. and the process continued…

consultants in audio description and American Sign Language joined us, as a means to explore how these noted ways of offering access could be integrated within my evolving creative aesthetic. we grew to better understand how and why we would carry each other. the many forms of carry, carrying legacies we don’t want to hold onto. carrying memories we will keep close to us through the cycle of our lives. the passing of information between two men existing in the intergenerational continuum. the symbolism and metaphors of being carriers of the systemic perceptions and oppression of black men. and the power harnessed from the union of our disabled bodies in solidarity and thoughtful exchange. inside this deeply embodied exchange, being in conversation with Jerron opened up discoveries that could only be shared through the beauty of dancing together.

and then we shared this process with others. intimately drawing folks into the folds of what we discovered while in residence at Rebuild Foundation’s Dorchester Art + Housing Collaborative studio…and they watched us in duet, carry each other and be carried. and they shared with us what that meant to them. and we listened….

i’m still taking in all that was shared, exchanged, discussed. and i’m learning more and more what it means to collaborate. to be open. to be vulnerable. to hold space for others. to allowing myself to be held…

this is what the body knows. this is an ongoing process of discovering what the body does know.

i learned  immediately that this project’s vision is larger than one person. it takes a community.

so thankful for what each one of these artists brought to the space, to the many folk who contributed to ensuring there was an opportunity to engage profoundly in the development phase of what the body knows…and to the folk who witnessed the intimate showing this past May 3rd at DAHC.

and it will take the larger community’s support in order to most deeply engage in the producing of this project’s culminating phase… which is why i’ve launched a campaign!

with this support –

soon will come the premiere of what the body knows  at Stony Island Arts Bank.  October 2016, with my collaborators and new additions to the project (costuming, lighting), the project will be shared with Chicagoans and those visiting the city; bearing  witness and engaging with us in this continuing and evolving conversation on race & disability, through dance.


what the body knows campaign is LIVE. $3000 to be raised by 11:59pm June 9th.


*above image of Jerron (left) and Barak by EyeAmNikkiB

an Open Dances honoring legendary Women: Nina Simone

Honoring  Women’s History Month, we will be creating dance as part of the Open Dances series; drawing upon the iconic imagery within legendary artist Nina Simone’s  acclaimed song Four Women.


My skin is black
My arms are long
My hair is woolly
My back is strong
Strong enough to take the pain
inflicted again and again
What do they call me
My name is AUNT SARAH
My name is Aunt Sarah

My skin is yellow
My hair is long
Between two worlds
I do belong
My father was rich and white
He forced my mother late one night
What do they call me
My name is SAFFRONIA
My name is Saffronia

My skin is tan
My hair is fine
My hips invite you
my mouth like wine
Whose little girl am I?
Anyone who has money to buy
What do they call me
My name is SWEET THING
My name is Sweet Thing

My skin is brown
my manner is tough
I’ll kill the first mother I see
my life has been too rough
I’m awfully bitter these days
because my parents were slaves
What do they call me
My name is PEACHES


Open Dances will occur on the south side at Rebuild Foundation’s Dorchester Art + Housing Collaborative studio

Saturday, March 26th from 1pm – 3pm.

Open Dances is free and open to the public.  This event will be videotaped.

Dorchester Art + Housing Collaborative is wheelchair accessible. With respect to other participants, please refrain from wearing scented products. Real time Captioning (CART) will be provided.

This particular Open Dances is supported in part through Bodies of Work, 3Arts  and University of Illinois Chicago’s Department of Disability and Human Development Institute on Disability and Human Development.




reflections on the “good” and the black | body

Last month, February, I presented the  “good” body (Chicago edition) in the Great Space of UIC Arts Building.  Soon after, Dana Michel performed Yellow Towel as part of the black | body at DCASE Storefront Theatre.

Here are reflections from those who witnessed:

the “good” body, Barak’s performative lecture


reflections from various folk via text messages on what is a “good” body

– “My bleeding, leaking body is a good body to me.”

– “My body is good when I own myself”

– “A good body transcends human constructs. It is a vessel through which i experience the world.”

– “The good body survives.”

from  writer Kate Sierzputowski’s preview

– “…addresses the distinct and intersecting legacies of race and disability..” 


the black | body, Dana’s performance of Yellow Towel


reflections from various folk

– “Rarely have I experienced such active, complex inner negotiations about how/whether/when to relate: to the live in the moment, to the issues being addressed, to the thoughts and feelings they evoked.”

– “I think a part of me just died…”

– “That was STRANGE”

from  writer Lauren Warnecke’s  review

– “Once you commit, you’re locked in and have to do it, like it or not. It’s not fun at times, you want to look away, your gut rises and falls in your stomach…. but at the end, you walk out with a rush of adrenaline and can’t wait to do it again.”


Engaging community, Dana joined folks on the south side for Open Dances; to talk about how and why she does what she does.

the black | body : Dana Michel

this week:

the black | body featuring Montreal choreographer and performer Dana Michel in Yellow Towel


promo pic 3 by Maxyme G. Delisle
Image of Dana Michel by Maxyme G. Delisle


the black | body, a 2015-16 series of progressive art by black artists from across the diaspora, is the culmination of a trilogy of curatorial projects, beginning with Black and Beyond [2001], which featured the work of three contemporary black dance artists pushing the boundaries and limitations of the ‘black bodies’ as legacy and form. Next was  Studies N Black [2007-8], a progressive series of mini-festivals and events in Minneapolis, Brooklyn NY and Chicago that offered a multidisciplinary offering of black artists who delved into the problematic, stereotypical, emotional or cosmological dimensions of black culture. 

the black | body series was initiated in Evanston with my exhibition of archived performance art works, TRIPTYCH: CYCLE this past fall. It now continues in downtown Chicago with innovative artist Dana Michel’s performances of  Yellow Towel at Storefront Theatre this Friday & Saturday February 26 – 27th; part of DCASE/On Edge programming.

As a child, Dana Michel would drape a yellow towel on her head in an attempt to emulate the blonde girls at school. As an adult, she now revisits the imaginary world of her alter-ego in a performative ritual free of cover-ups or censorship. Blending austerity and absurdity, she digs into black culture stereotypes, turning them inside out to see whether or not she can relate. Strongly influenced by the aesthetics of fashion, music videos, queer culture and comedy,  Dana quickly stood out as an emerging dance artist. With Yellow Towel, she explores new creation territories and most decidedly asserts herself as an artist to watch.

Dana will also engage with the public in dialog as part of  Open Dances at Dorchester Art + Housing Collaborative studio [1456 e 70th St] on Saturday, February 27th from 1 – 3pm. She will lead a workshop, An Activator Class in Choreography, as part of Illinois Humanities Art School series on Sunday, February 28th.

Dana Michel is a choreographer and performer based in Montreal, Canada.  Before entering the BFA in Contemporary Dance program at Concordia University in her late twenties, she was a marketing executive, competitive runner and football player. In 2011, She had the honour of being a danceWEB scholar, allowing her to deepen her research process at ImPulsTanz in Vienna, Austria.

Her practice is rooted in exploring the multiplicity of identity using intuitive improvisation.  She works with notions of performative alchemy & post-cultural bricolage; using live moments, object appropriation, personal history, future desires and current preoccupations to create an empathetic centrifuge of experience between herself and witnesses.  Today, her work can perhaps best be described by its influences: lucid cinematography, living sculpture, physical comedy, psychological excavation, deconstructed social commentary, the bulimic logic of Hip Hop and child-like naïveté.  Her work has been presented in North America (Montreal, Quebec, Toronto, Ottawa, Boston, Salt Lake City and New York City) and in Europe (Austria, Belgium, Serbia & Switzerland).  Inhabiting both traditional & non-traditional spaces is a key component in the creation of her work. 

Over the past nine years, her work has been awarded the Montreal Fringe Festival “Best Dance Production” in 2005, the Globe and Mail’s “Best Emerging Choreographer” in 2006, and a “Top Ten Choreographers” listing by the Montreal Mirror newspaper in 2007, 2008 and 2009.  The film version of her solo the greater the weight won the jury prize for the “Best Female Performance” at the 2009 In Shadow International Festival of Video, Performance and Technologies in Lisbon. 




the “good” and the black | body.

distinctive legacies. progressive forms.

It’s February, a month that seeks to acknowledge distinctive contributions and legacies of folk of the African diaspora in America.  Upcoming, I’m excited to offer events that speak to these legacies and provoke the progress of contemporary understandings.


this week: the “good” body

photo by Laura Blauer


Feb 19th, the “good” body (Chicago Edition)

Friday, February 19th (2 – 4 PM) Gallery 400, Lecture Room
the “good” body (Chicago edition) is a performative lecture centered within the intersection of disability and race. Through this multidimensional lens, I’m seeking to instigate a deeper dialog surrounding the current social and political tensions present in our contemporary society.  It was originally presented as the keynote lecture for Middlebury College’s Clifford Symposium this past fall. Chicago will experience a new and revised version!

There will be ASL interpretation, real-time captioning, audio description, personal assistants available and encourage attendees to refrain from wearing scents. Gallery 400 is  wheelchair accessible.

RSVP for the “good” body (Chicago edition)


COMING SOON: the black | body

newness. and firsts


new year greetings…

allowing for newness. embracing firsts. and a return to the blog!

2016 marks my 25th anniversary!

25 years dedicated to making, being involved in live arts. To celebrate this milestone, I will be exploring new ways to engage the beautiful folks within community that have been and continue to be part of my creative world.


new name
This past year I legally changed my name to barak adé soleil.  for those who have come to know me as “Baraka de Soleil”, please note this transition for future reference.  with the new shift in name, comes a new look for the blog; encouraging access for varied folks. join me in welcoming this newness!

new residency
I’m the choreographer-in-residence for Rebuild Foundation!  This opportunity allows me to build a studio practice on south side of Chicago and cultivate community. I will be maintaining regular hours on Wednesdays at Rebuild’s Dorchester Art+Housing Collaborative space. Look for programs related to this residency in the coming month!

new fellowship residency
Aligned with Rebuild’s residency and 2015 Chicago Dancemakers Forum Lab Artist Award, I will be  further developing  what the body knows as a new fellowship residency recipient through 3Arts and University of Illinois Chicago! This residency is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts to 3Arts. The 3Arts Fellowships at UIC are the result of a partnership between 3Arts, Bodies of Work, and UIC’s Department of Disability and Human Development.

what’s coming up:

February 19th, the “good” body (Chicago Edition)
Friday, February 19th (2 – 4 PM)
Gallery 400, Lecture Room

the “good” body (Chicago edition) is a performative lecture centered within the intersection of disability and race.  Through this multifaceted lens,  I offer personal insights and poetics excavated from a deep engagement with the profound traditions of the African diaspora, disability culture and their interwoven aesthetic; instigating further dialog surrounding the current social and political tensions present today.  As a queer disabled artist of color, i’m committed to exposing the nuances of the intersectional body as an inherent reflection of humanity; while questioning the historical contexts in which live art is created and interpreted.

Please RSVP for the “good” body (Chicago edition) at http://www.eventbrite.com/e/performative-lecture-the-good-body-chicago-edition-by-barak-ade-soleil-tickets-20917369415?utm-medium=discovery&utm-campaign=social&utm-content=attendeeshare&utm-source=cp&utm-term=listing

February 26 – 28th, the black | body with Montreal’s Dana Michel
Continuing my current  curatorial project the black | body, international artist Dana Michel will be coming to Chicago!  She will be presenting her solo, Yellow Towel, on Friday & Saturday, February 26-27, 7pm at Storefront Theatre in downtown; as part of Department of Cultural Affairs’ On Edge Series. In conjunction with the performances, Dana will also be engaging in a public dialog session (Open Dances) on Saturday at 1pm and, as part of Illinois Humanities Council’s community programming, offering a workshop on Sunday.


*above image by Onyx from solo “turttle”.

meeting of creative minds.

seated l to r: Arna Bontemps, Paul Robeson, Canada Lee & Langston Hughes, 1946
seated left to right: Arna Bontemps, Paul Robeson, Canada Lee & Langston Hughes, circa 1946

Notes on the image: “Langston Hughes meets with Paul Robeson, Canada Lee, and Arna Bontemps about the Maxine Wood play, “On Whitman Avenue” in 1946. The play was about a Black World War II veteran who encountered racist opposition when he and his family moved into a White neighborhood. Mr. Lee produced and starred in the play which ran for 148 performances. This photo is from the Billy Rose Theatre Collection at the New York Public Library. Their record does not identify the gentleman on the left as Arna Bontemps (it simply says “Unidentified man”) but I am confident that it is indeed Mr. Hughes’s fellow poet and friend, Mr. Bontemps.” – #VintageBlackGlamour

#BlackIsBold #Collaboration #BlackHistoryMonth

Mr. Hughes, your roots flow infinite

your roots flow infinite

angels still sing your name

and here on earth

we carry your words in our hearts:

I’ve known rivers:
I’ve known rivers ancient as the world and older than the
     flow of human blood in human veins.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young.
I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep.
I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it.
I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln 
     went down to New Orleans, and I’ve seen its muddy 
     bosom turn all golden in the sunset.

I’ve known rivers:
Ancient, dusky rivers.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

Langston Hughes
Happy B-day James Mercer Langston Hughes


#BlackIsBold #Roots #TheNegroSpeaksOfRivers #ForMrLangstonHughes

rose water ocean [revisited]

Rose Water Ocean

Wearing rose(s)
Smelling of rose(s)
Carrying rose(s)

All for you
All for you

Papa Legba ouvri bariye
sou mache manman dlo

Petals mixed with tears
Yemaja welcomes them 
Her curves guide their shifts against the ebullient waves

Like honey Erzulie carries the sweetness into the deeper parts of the water

And lured by their scent Oya’s whirlwinds lifts them further into infinity

manman ap mache sou dlo
mache mache li ap mache

Rose Water Ocean

you we be.

(for Ma linda)

Water/Ocean parallel

Happenstance and parallel

Across the divide

Water, country, ocean, age

United by race

They share:

Late great aunt Christine –

We came from the water. And to the water We shall return.”

Canadian scholar & writer, Rinaldo Walcott –

I am indigenous to the oceans. My relationship is oceanic.

Living and passed

Both move the soul.

#BlackIsBold #Roots #WaterMovesTheSoul

if this day | MLK

if this day
you find me
absent-mindedly humming a freedom song or spiritual
lotion-ing my ash in broad daylight
arriving late to see Selma again
wanting to shout every time i see a woman like my motha get struck down
re-tweeting MLK images, quotes and march events non-stop
wondering out-loud if i am brave enough
randomly calling on people to discuss what’s next
creatively and
in the movement


let. me. be.

‪#‎ReclaimMLKDay‬ ‪#‎BlackIsBold‬ #MLKDay2015

“the poetics of Empire”: a series of tweets

“the poetics of Empire” +

f#‎Tarajihenson‬ expressing her love of faggots in ‪#‎Empire‬

#Tarajihenson claiming James Brown lineage in #Empire

#‎Terrencehoward‬ cappin instead of rappin in #Empire

Dark shades and shady matters in #Empire

Something’s going down in #Empire

Monsters and geniuses, princes of America and gays in #Empire

Even a building is a B$tch in #Empire

#Tarajihenson calling people sissies in #Empire

#Tarajihenson advising against selling donuts and cookies in #Empire

Sons trying to be good enough in #Empire

No one’s safe from being called a B$tch in #Empire

Everybody is a rap song, r&b singer or medley in #Empire

#Tarajihenson knows thangs in #Empire

#Tarajihenson offering words of wisdom on white girls/women in #Empire

#Tarajihenson tipping and gun slinging in #Empire

Pill popping and butt slapping in #Empire

Oh ‪#‎Sidibe‬ faking preop in #Empire.

‪#‎notsopc‬ in #Empire

#Terrencehoward telling his queer son to take that “bass” out of his voice in #Empire

#Terrencehoward telling his queer son that it’s a choice in #Empire

Chains chains and bigger gold chains in #Empire

#Tarajihenson called a B by her “son” and oh, psychotic in #Empire

#Gaboureysidibe platinum blond and sassy in #Empire

#Tarajihenson feet hurting asking for #chicken in #Empire

#Tarajihenson sweated out her hair for this role. #Empire

#queerlove and #Kente in #Empire.

#Terrencehoward who did your hair? #Empire

Just peeped #KehindeWiley painting in the house of #Empire

#LeeDaniels I hope you “find your soul” in #Empire

Empire "family" from left to right: Trai Byers, Taraji P. Henson, Terrence Howard, Jussie Smollett, Bryshere Gray
Empire “family”
Trai Byers, Taraji P. Henson, Terrence Howard, Jussie Smollett, Bryshere Gray


+{these are select tweets. in my original tweets, “kente” refers to mud cloth. i incorrectly spell the names of the actors Taraji P Henson , Gabourey Sidibe & Terrence Howard. they are corrected for the purposes of this blog}

Expressive Roots. Expressing Roots.

Expressive Roots

Expressing Roots.

Zora Neale Hurston, writer, artist.


alvin ailey
Zora Neale Hurston, writer, artist.


For Zora. For Alvin. for those who took hold of their roots, dug deep

#BlackIsBold #Roots #ZoraNealeHurston #AlvinAiley

Seeing / the hands that touch

Re-Remembering Black Women in my life. those who reminded me of the beauty of my “roots”.

barak adé soleil

circa 1990’s

Great aunt Mare
ready to walk with the ancestors
shrouded beneath the bed sheets she is still able to reach out to me
holds onto my arm
whispers to me how easy it is to float on out of this life
her gaze far yet specific

i ask her anxiously
what she sees
Brown Bear Brown Bear / the name passed onto me since my father’s passing
Brown Brown Bear
what i got to see for
all around me hands that touch
guide my spirit along
i just listen for the bells
hear my native tongue
i’ll be speaking it soon

now close that mouth,
no worrying about me think through
this life you live even now all that you do
no need to see,
just let the hands of the creator touch deeply
guide your spirit along,
and sweetly listen for your family’s native tongue.


View original post 3 more words

Three of Three For the New Year: #Roots

‪#‎Roots‬ deeper depths, expansive growth.

Tree Roots image by Paul Cannon
Tree Roots image by Paul Cannon

Excavating my roots: this is the core of why i began creating work through D UNDERBELLY.  i sought to understand culturally who i was. my blackness, my queerness. my ability. i recognize that these “roots” are rich and fertile. they are also massive and weighted. with tenderness, i will cultivate them. allow each one of them to grow deeper into the earth.  through time, effort and sustenance  –  like the tree roots vividly captured by photographer Paul Cannon – they will intertwine, reach out, and form a  strong foundation. in union with others, they will ascend and thrive.

#BlackIsBold  #ThreeWordChallenge

Two of Three For the New Year: #Bold

#Bold – more than just a hashtag, an action.

i started using the hashtag #BlackIsBold in 2014. it was just that, a hashtag. this year it’s a call to act. for me. for others. reminded of Urban Bush Women’s concept of the “warrior in your back pocket”, i found this image:

Ahosi or Mino (Dahomey Amazons)Ahosi or Mino Dahomey Amazons

“The Dahomey Amazons or Mino were an all-female military regiment of the Fon people of the Kingdom of Dahomey in the present-day Republic of Benin. They existed from the 17th century to the end of the 19th century. While European narratives refer to the women soldiers as “Amazons,” because of their similarity to the semi-mythical Amazons of ancient Anatolia, they called themselves Ahosi (king’s wives) or Mino (our mothers) in the Fon language. 

European encroachment into West Africa gained pace during the latter half of the 19th century. In 1890, King Behanzin used his Mino fighters alongside the male soldiers to battle the French forces during the First Franco-Dahomean War. The French army lost several battles to them because of the female warriors’ skill in battle.” [From Atlanta Black Star]

bold is not necessarily brash. it can be regal. it is feminine. and it is “armed and ready”. these warrior queens are just that. poised. beautiful. and not afraid. alongside others, they show their formidable skills. they inspire me to be bold.

#BlackIsBold #ThreeWordChallenge

One of Three For the New Year: #Collaboration

Striving to deepen each word into my conscience:

#Collaboration – honing the space for more truthful mutual exchange.

ShepparddeS: Baraka de Soleil and Alice Sheppard

this year, noted disabled dance artist, Alice Sheppard and i have committed to be in thoughtful collaboration.  A collaboration upholding truthful exchange. One that calls us to have respect and dignity for the body in the work and the process. Allowing each other to be fully present and empowered. We don’t call each other out; we call each other closer to the mission. A collaboration that builds community beyond ourselves and the work.

#BlackIsBold   #ThreeWordChallenge

Three of 2015: Bold, Roots, Collaboration

On this 3rd day of the new year, i’m inspired by the “three word challenge“:

“The idea is that the words you choose will go past being a simple goal and will become part of the way you identify yourself, and thus, a guiding light for your efforts.”Chris Brogan

Here’s mine for 2015: 

#‎Collaboration‬ – honing the space for more truthful mutual exchange.
‪#‎Roots‬ – deeper depths, expansive growth.
‪#‎Bold‬ – last year, just a hashtag. this year, intentional action.

More than a resolution for the new year, these three represent a movement for change.  #BlackIsBold

Seeing / the hands that touch

circa 1990’s

Great aunt Mare
ready to walk with the ancestors
shrouded beneath the bed sheets she is still able to reach out to me
holds onto my arm
whispers to me how easy it is to float on out of this life
her gaze far yet specific

i ask her anxiously
what she sees
Brown Bear Brown Bear / the name passed onto me since my father’s passing
Brown Brown Bear
what i got to see for
all around me hands that touch
guide my spirit along
i just listen for the bells
hear my native tongue
i’ll be speaking it soon

now close that mouth,
no worrying about me think through
this life you live even now all that you do
no need to see,
just let the hands of the creator touch deeply
guide your spirit along,
and sweetly listen for your family’s native tongue.


Share your colors. #BlackIsBold

subtle acts of kinship

These subtle acts of kinship
A nod of the head with a slight tilt
A smooth Whatsup with a dap
A glide to the side to let you pass by

The kindness exemplified
through fuller acknowledgements
disavowing any notion of Invisibility
A calling of name with respect
Even if you have only met once
Even if you have only met inside a brief pedestrian moment

The neighborly relate–
I see you
See you passing by
You just keep on going
I see you with all that you carry
With your situation
I see you smiling
It makes me think about how I move through this world
My own situation
And how I can do the same.

These subtle acts of kinship
Are acts of rejuvenation.




share your colors. #BlackIsBold

called out.

being “called out”
it’s still in fashion.
especially within the media circus.
ask actors
Erika Alexander 
or most recently Samuel Jackson 
displaying their flair
in ways that may incite
or re-ignite our racial senses

laugh it off
shake it down
but don’t be mislead

for it is so nice to read
but perhaps for some
they are better off
“being read”

Share your colors #BlackIsBold


A lineage sprouting wings. Michael Sam, this is for you.

Michael Sam.

Knowingly or unknowingly
For black men
young & old
perhaps unable, undesiring or willing to reveal themselves
you put yourself on the line,
bravely sharing that which may never have been proclaimed
so visibly in such an arena.

though not inclined to watching football beyond my loyalty to the local team, your gesture moves me.

hopefully others too.

i must acknowledge
you during this time in our history
for you have shed light
new history.

call it gay, queer, call it romanticizing, this newness defies category.

A lineage sprouting wings.




soul-filled sunday. these sistas from mothaland

soul-filled sunday
these sistas from mothaland
nourish me with their distinctive vibrations
tuned into frequencies
one only hopes to experience in their lifetime

Oumou Sangare

Rokia Traore

Sona Jobarteh
the first female player from a griot family
who only recently graced my home
with her wondrous kora playing.

strong strong women of music & lore carrying more than their legacy,

Share your colors. #BlackIsBold

Trayvon is our history lest we forget. For yesterday and today’s black history…


Trayvon Martin
Trayvon Martin

Trayvon Martin‘s birthday was yesterday.
he would have been 19.
as someone who didn’t know him personally,
there would have been no reason to acknowledge this if he was alive.
no large size posters of his image.
no hoodies in solidarity.
probably would not have been a public birthday celebration, just he and his loved ones hanging out, blowing out candles.

eating skittles.

i forgot. did you remember?
will we?


namely poetic (for Amiri Baraka & kindred peeps)

my name

no not the name i was branded
to remind me of who i wasn’t
(a Welshmen
what i didn’t have
(the pride my mothas mothas mothas mothas mothas… might have carried)
what i will never be
(no one’s slave)
how i refuse to be defined
(my body is not an accessory)
how i got here
(towing the underbelly)
why i don’t belong.


not that one
this ONE
this name
that kisses me when i share it with someone
and basks in sunshine,
it spoke to me
in the way that a devoted parent looks into a child’s eyes
and says “i love you”,
that’s what it said
i love you.
it called me like my ancestors’ do when i am afraid to stand strong,
holds me at night when all seems alone.
and while it may never be mine “original”
it is original.
original as the roots that seep into the souls of all those who are still searching to be found again.

so for those of you who ask me to repeat it
redirect it’s accent to something more familiar
question its realness
find cause to demand its truth,
find stillness instead
and hear me say it to you
the way it wants to be said –
with the undercurrents
of a love supreme

share your colors. #BlackIsBold #28DaysOfBlackHistory

where black women flow rivers run deep: The Combahee River Collective

the cost of seeking truth may seem steep
but never where black women flow rivers deep

The Combahee River Collective of Black feminists progressed history when even history may not have been ready.

a littany of “all stars” including…Barbara SmithAudre Lorde….

Barbara Smith
Barbara Smith


“We are a collective of Black feminists who have been meeting together since 1974. [1] During that time we have been involved in the process of defining and clarifying our politics, while at the same time doing political work within our own group and in coalition with other progressive organizations and movements. The most general statement of our politics at the present time would be that we are actively committed to struggling against racial, sexual, heterosexual, and class oppression, and see as our particular task the development of integrated analysis and practice based upon the fact that the major systems of oppression are interlocking. The synthesis of these oppressions creates the conditions of our lives. As Black women we see Black feminism as the logical political movement to combat the manifold and simultaneous oppressions that all women of color face.

We will discuss four major topics in the paper that follows: (1) the genesis of contemporary Black feminism; (2) what we believe, i.e., the specific province of our politics; (3) the problems in organizing Black feminists, including a brief herstory of our collective; and (4) Black feminist issues and practice.

1. The genesis of Contemporary Black Feminism

Before looking at the recent development of Black feminism we would like to affirm that we find our origins in the historical reality of Afro-American women’s continuous life-and-death struggle for survival and liberation. Black women’s extremely negative relationship to the American political system (a system of white male rule) has always been determined by our membership in two oppressed racial and sexual castes. As Angela Davis points out in “Reflections on the Black Woman’s Role in the Community of Slaves,” Black women have always embodied, if only in their physical manifestation, an adversary stance to white male rule and have actively resisted its inroads upon them and their communities in both dramatic and subtle ways. There have always been Black women activists—some known, like Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, Frances E. W. Harper, Ida B. Wells Barnett, and Mary Church Terrell, and thousands upon thousands unknown—who have had a shared awareness of how their sexual identity combined with their racial identity to make their whole life situation and the focus of their political struggles unique. Contemporary Black feminism is the outgrowth of countless generations of personal sacrifice, militancy, and work by our mothers and sisters.

A Black feminist presence has evolved most obviously in connection with the second wave of the American women’s movement beginning in the late 1960s. Black, other Third World, and working women have been involved in the feminist movement from its start, but both outside reactionary forces and racism and elitism within the movement itself have served to obscure our participation. In 1973, Black feminists, primarily located in New York, felt the necessity of forming a separate Black feminist group. This became the National Black Feminist Organization (NBFO).

Black feminist politics also have an obvious connection to movements for Black liberation, particularly those of the 1960s and I970s. Many of us were active in those movements (Civil Rights, Black nationalism, the Black Panthers), and all of our lives Were greatly affected and changed by their ideologies, their goals, and the tactics used to achieve their goals. It was our experience and disillusionment within these liberation movements, as well as experience on the periphery of the white male left, that led to the need to develop a politics that was anti-racist, unlike those of white women, and anti-sexist, unlike those of Black and white men.

There is also undeniably a personal genesis for Black Feminism, that is, the political realization that comes from the seemingly personal experiences of individual Black women’s lives. Black feminists and many more Black women who do not define themselves as feminists have all experienced sexual oppression as a constant factor in our day-to-day existence. As children we realized that we were different from boys and that we were treated differently. For example, we were told in the same breath to be quiet both for the sake of being “ladylike” and to make us less objectionable in the eyes of white people. As we grew older we became aware of the threat of physical and sexual abuse by men. However, we had no way of conceptualizing what was so apparent to us, what we knew was really happening.

Black feminists often talk about their feelings of craziness before becoming conscious of the concepts of sexual politics, patriarchal rule, and most importantly, feminism, the political analysis and practice that we women use to struggle against our oppression. The fact that racial politics and indeed racism are pervasive factors in our lives did not allow us, and still does not allow most Black women, to look more deeply into our own experiences and, from that sharing and growing consciousness, to build a politics that will change our lives and inevitably end our oppression. Our development must also be tied to the contemporary economic and political position of Black people. The post World War II generation of Black youth was the first to be able to minimally partake of certain educational and employment options, previously closed completely to Black people. Although our economic position is still at the very bottom of the American capitalistic economy, a handful of us have been able to gain certain tools as a result of tokenism in education and employment which potentially enable us to more effectively fight our oppression.

A combined anti-racist and anti-sexist position drew us together initially, and as we developed politically we addressed ourselves to heterosexism and economic oppression under capItalism.

2. What We Believe

Above all else, Our politics initially sprang from the shared belief that Black women are inherently valuable, that our liberation is a necessity not as an adjunct to somebody else’s may because of our need as human persons for autonomy. This may seem so obvious as to sound simplistic, but it is apparent that no other ostensibly progressive movement has ever consIdered our specific oppression as a priority or worked seriously for the ending of that oppression. Merely naming the pejorative stereotypes attributed to Black women (e.g. mammy, matriarch, Sapphire, whore, bulldagger), let alone cataloguing the cruel, often murderous, treatment we receive, Indicates how little value has been placed upon our lives during four centuries of bondage in the Western hemisphere. We realize that the only people who care enough about us to work consistently for our liberation are us. Our politics evolve from a healthy love for ourselves, our sisters and our community which allows us to continue our struggle and work.

This focusing upon our own oppression is embodied in the concept of identity politics. We believe that the most profound and potentially most radical politics come directly out of our own identity, as opposed to working to end somebody else’s oppression. In the case of Black women this is a particularly repugnant, dangerous, threatening, and therefore revolutionary concept because it is obvious from looking at all the political movements that have preceded us that anyone is more worthy of liberation than ourselves. We reject pedestals, queenhood, and walking ten paces behind. To be recognized as human, levelly human, is enough.

We believe that sexual politics under patriarchy is as pervasive in Black women’s lives as are the politics of class and race. We also often find it difficult to separate race from class from sex oppression because in our lives they are most often experienced simultaneously. We know that there is such a thing as racial-sexual oppression which is neither solely racial nor solely sexual, e.g., the history of rape of Black women by white men as a weapon of political repression.

Although we are feminists and Lesbians, we feel solidarity with progressive Black men and do not advocate the fractionalization that white women who are separatists demand. Our situation as Black people necessitates that we have solidarity around the fact of race, which white women of course do not need to have with white men, unless it is their negative solidarity as racial oppressors. We struggle together with Black men against racism, while we also struggle with Black men about sexism.

We realize that the liberation of all oppressed peoples necessitates the destruction of the political-economic systems of capitalism and imperialism as well as patriarchy. We are socialists because we believe that work must be organized for the collective benefit of those who do the work and create the products, and not for the profit of the bosses. Material resources must be equally distributed among those who create these resources. We are not convinced, however, that a socialist revolution that is not also a feminist and anti-racist revolution will guarantee our liberation. We have arrived at the necessity for developing an understanding of class relationships that takes into account the specific class position of Black women who are generally marginal in the labor force, while at this particular time some of us are temporarily viewed as doubly desirable tokens at white-collar and professional levels. We need to articulate the real class situation of persons who are not merely raceless, sexless workers, but for whom racial and sexual oppression are significant determinants in their working/economic lives. Although we are in essential agreement with Marx’s theory as it applied to the very specific economic relationships he analyzed, we know that his analysis must be extended further in order for us to understand our specific economic situation as Black women.

A political contribution which we feel we have already made is the expansion of the feminist principle that the personal is political. In our consciousness-raising sessions, for example, we have in many ways gone beyond white women’s revelations because we are dealing with the implications of race and class as well as sex. Even our Black women’s style of talking/testifying in Black language about what we have experienced has a resonance that is both cultural and political. We have spent a great deal of energy delving into the cultural and experiential nature of our oppression out of necessity because none of these matters has ever been looked at before. No one before has ever examined the multilayered texture of Black women’s lives. An example of this kind of revelation/conceptualization occurred at a meeting as we discussed the ways in which our early intellectual interests had been attacked by our peers, particularly Black males. We discovered that all of us, because we were “smart” had also been considered “ugly,” i.e., “smart-ugly.” “Smart-ugly” crystallized the way in which most of us had been forced to develop our intellects at great cost to our “social” lives. The sanctions In the Black and white communities against Black women thinkers is comparatively much higher than for white women, particularly ones from the educated middle and upper classes.

As we have already stated, we reject the stance of Lesbian separatism because it is not a viable political analysis or strategy for us. It leaves out far too much and far too many people, particularly Black men, women, and children. We have a great deal of criticism and loathing for what men have been socialized to be in this society: what they support, how they act, and how they oppress. But we do not have the misguided notion that it is their maleness, per se—i.e., their biological maleness—that makes them what they are. As BIack women we find any type of biological determinism a particularly dangerous and reactionary basis upon which to build a politic. We must also question whether Lesbian separatism is an adequate and progressive political analysis and strategy, even for those who practice it, since it so completely denies any but the sexual sources of women’s oppression, negating the facts of class and race.

3. Problems in Organizing Black Feminists

During our years together as a Black feminist collective we have experienced success and defeat, joy and pain, victory and failure. We have found that it is very difficult to organize around Black feminist issues, difficult even to announce in certain contexts that we are Black feminists. We have tried to think about the reasons for our difficulties, particularly since the white women’s movement continues to be strong and to grow in many directions. In this section we will discuss some of the general reasons for the organizing problems we face and also talk specifically about the stages in organizing our own collective.

The major source of difficulty in our political work is that we are not just trying to fight oppression on one front or even two, but instead to address a whole range of oppressions. We do not have racial, sexual, heterosexual, or class privilege to rely upon, nor do we have even the minimal access to resources and power that groups who possess anyone of these types of privilege have.

The psychological toll of being a Black woman and the difficulties this presents in reaching political consciousness and doing political work can never be underestimated. There is a very low value placed upon Black women’s psyches in this society, which is both racist and sexist. As an early group member once said, “We are all damaged people merely by virtue of being Black women.” We are dispossessed psychologically and on every other level, and yet we feel the necessity to struggle to change the condition of all Black women. In “A Black Feminist’s Search for Sisterhood,” Michele Wallace arrives at this conclusion:

We exists as women who are Black who are feminists, each stranded for the moment, working independently because there is not yet an environment in this society remotely congenial to our struggle—because, being on the bottom, we would have to do what no one else has done: we would have to fight the world. [2]

Wallace is pessimistic but realistic in her assessment of Black feminists’ position, particularly in her allusion to the nearly classic isolation most of us face. We might use our position at the bottom, however, to make a clear leap into revolutionary action. If Black women were free, it would mean that everyone else would have to be free since our freedom would necessitate the destruction of all the systems of oppression.

Feminism is, nevertheless, very threatening to the majority of Black people because it calls into question some of the most basic assumptions about our existence, i.e., that sex should be a determinant of power relationships. Here is the way male and female roles were defined in a Black nationalist pamphlet from the early 1970s:

We understand that it is and has been traditional that the man is the head of the house. He is the leader of the house/nation because his knowledge of the world is broader, his awareness is greater, his understanding is fuller and his application of this information is wiser… After all, it is only reasonable that the man be the head of the house because he is able to defend and protect the development of his home… Women cannot do the same things as men—they are made by nature to function differently. Equality of men and women is something that cannot happen even in the abstract world. Men are not equal to other men, i.e. ability, experience or even understanding. The value of men and women can be seen as in the value of gold and silver—they are not equal but both have great value. We must realize that men and women are a complement to each other because there is no house/family without a man and his wife. Both are essential to the development of any life. [3]

The material conditions of most Black women would hardly lead them to upset both economic and sexual arrangements that seem to represent some stability in their lives. Many Black women have a good understanding of both sexism and racism, but because of the everyday constrictions of their lives, cannot risk struggling against them both.

The reaction of Black men to feminism has been notoriously negative. They are, of course, even more threatened than Black women by the possibility that Black feminists might organize around our own needs. They realize that they might not only lose valuable and hardworking allies in their struggles but that they might also be forced to change their habitually sexist ways of interacting with and oppressing Black women. Accusations that Black feminism divides the Black struggle are powerful deterrents to the growth of an autonomous Black women’s movement.

Still, hundreds of women have been active at different times during the three-year existence of our group. And every Black woman who came, came out of a strongly-felt need for some level of possibility that did not previously exist in her life.

When we first started meeting early in 1974 after the NBFO first eastern regional conference, we did not have a strategy for organizing, or even a focus. We just wanted to see what we had. After a period of months of not meeting, we began to meet again late in the year and started doing an intense variety of consciousness-raising. The overwhelming feeling that we had is that after years and years we had finally found each other. Although we were not doing political work as a group, individuals continued their involvement in Lesbian politics, sterilization abuse and abortion rights work, Third World Women’s International Women’s Day activities, and support activity for the trials of Dr. Kenneth Edelin, Joan Little, and Inéz García. During our first summer when membership had dropped off considerably, those of us remaining devoted serious discussion to the possibility of opening a refuge for battered women in a Black community. (There was no refuge in Boston at that time.) We also decided around that time to become an independent collective since we had serious disagreements with NBFO’s bourgeois-feminist stance and their lack of a clear politIcal focus.

We also were contacted at that time by socialist feminists, with whom we had worked on abortion rights activities, who wanted to encourage us to attend the National Socialist Feminist Conference in Yellow Springs. One of our members did attend and despite the narrowness of the ideology that was promoted at that particular conference, we became more aware of the need for us to understand our own economic situation and to make our own economic analysis.

In the fall, when some members returned, we experienced several months of comparative inactivity and internal disagreements which were first conceptualized as a Lesbian-straight split but which were also the result of class and political differences. During the summer those of us who were still meeting had determined the need to do political work and to move beyond consciousness-raising and serving exclusively as an emotional support group. At the beginning of 1976, when some of the women who had not wanted to do political work and who also had voiced disagreements stopped attending of their own accord, we again looked for a focus. We decided at that time, with the addition of new members, to become a study group. We had always shared our reading with each other, and some of us had written papers on Black feminism for group discussion a few months before this decision was made. We began functioning as a study group and also began discussing the possibility of starting a Black feminist publication. We had a retreat in the late spring which provided a time for both political discussion and working out interpersonal issues. Currently we are planning to gather together a collectIon of Black feminist writing. We feel that it is absolutely essential to demonstrate the reality of our politics to other Black women and believe that we can do this through writing and distributing our work. The fact that individual Black feminists are living in isolation all over the country, that our own numbers are small, and that we have some skills in writing, printing, and publishing makes us want to carry out these kinds of projects as a means of organizing Black feminists as we continue to do political work in coalition with other groups.

4. Black Feminist Issues and Projects

During our time together we have identified and worked on many issues of particular relevance to Black women. The inclusiveness of our politics makes us concerned with any situation that impinges upon the lives of women, Third World and working people. We are of course particularly committed to working on those struggles in which race, sex, and class are simultaneous factors in oppression. We might, for example, become involved in workplace organizing at a factory that employs Third World women or picket a hospital that is cutting back on already inadequate heath care to a Third World community, or set up a rape crisis center in a Black neighborhood. Organizing around welfare and daycare concerns might also be a focus. The work to be done and the countless issues that this work represents merely reflect the pervasiveness of our oppression.

Issues and projects that collective members have actually worked on are sterilization abuse, abortion rights, battered women, rape and health care. We have also done many workshops and educationals on Black feminism on college campuses, at women’s conferences, and most recently for high school women.

One issue that is of major concern to us and that we have begun to publicly address is racism in the white women’s movement. As Black feminists we are made constantly and painfully aware of how little effort white women have made to understand and combat their racism, which requires among other things that they have a more than superficial comprehension of race, color, and Black history and culture. Eliminating racism in the white women’s movement is by definition work for white women to do, but we will continue to speak to and demand accountability on this issue.

In the practice of our politics we do not believe that the end always justifies the means. Many reactionary and destructive acts have been done in the name of achieving “correct” political goals. As feminists we do not want to mess over people in the name of politics. We believe in collective process and a nonhierarchical distribution of power within our own group and in our vision of a revolutionary society. We are committed to a continual examination of our politics as they develop through criticism and self-criticism as an essential aspect of our practice. In her introduction to Sisterhood is Powerful Robin Morgan writes:

I haven’t the faintest notion what possible revolutionary role white heterosexual men could fulfill, since they are the very embodiment of reactionary-vested-interest-power.

As Black feminists and Lesbians we know that we have a very definite revolutionary task to perform and we are ready for the lifetime of work and struggle before us.”

Audre Lorde
Audre Lorde

[1] This statement is dated April 1977.
[2] Wallace, Michele. “A Black Feminist’s Search for Sisterhood,” The Village Voice, 28 July 1975, pp. 6-7.
[3] Mumininas of Committee for Unified Newark, Mwanamke Mwananchi (The Nationalist Woman), Newark, N.J., ©1971, pp. 4-5.
THE COMBAHEE RIVER COLLECTIVE: “The Combahee River Collective Statement,” copyright © 1978 by Zillah Eisenstein.

share your colors. black is bold.

28 days of personal black history…to come

are we black? it’s not just the skin i’m in, you see
it’s earth and legends and fantasy.
for 2014, each day of 28 i’ll choose to share
and lay bare
some poetic or tale,
a veil
lifted to reveal some part of self shrouded beneath clouds of mystery,
that often begets ignorance and unfound truths.
you too, please share your roots with me,
together we’ll carve out a niche for our own personal his/her/theirstory,
and let it breathe
within the expanse of a rich and volatile legacy.

Into The Known Unknown: Initial Reflections on upcoming Moving Dialog “Crossover”

this is a “re-post” of a reflection i wrote, as curator of Audience Architects‘ 2013 Moving Dialogs series…

This Monday, September 16th, the first fall Moving Dialog kicks off at Hyde Park Art Center[HPAC] at 6pm –Crossover.  It is a unique union with HPAC’s ArtBar event. Within this evening experience, there will be a discussion with participating artists:  Tony Orrico,  Susan Marshall and Anthony Romero. The intent of this dialog is to cultivate consciousness surrounding what may be deemed unknown to us, “different” ; inviting opportunities for new discoveries, ways we can talk about art forms that may be unfamiliar or seemingly simple.   We’ll seek to create meaningful connections among disparate, unequal and unexpected partners.  we’ll do that by exploring practices that are hybrid, non-linear, intercultural and interdisciplinary. ++

What is hybrid? Intercultural? Interdisciplinary?  Why explore these terms, these practices? We’ll further excavate what those terms mean to US inside this dialog. Yes “US”.  i have an idea and you have a thought…and what we come up with together will be exciting.  New.  Maybe this means we’ll be crafting a ‘hybrid‘; composed of intercultural discussions which reflect witnessing interdisciplinary practices? We’ll see. And that’s the fun part, the unknown as well… it all plays into our contemporary reality. The contemporary world is moving away from a largely static and passive experience to a more dynamic participatory interrelationship with art, media and technology. ++Our views are shifting from what we have become accustomed to and this can ignite some anxiety.  How can we craft ‘bridges” that will aid in this shift?

When artists experiment, they open up a space or potential bridge for exploring this shift.  This space challenges how we relate and identify with the created work, each other and our individual selves. While we may try to categorize the work, naming it can be difficult and elusive; especially within an intercultural phenomena or new setting.  The beauty of this practice is that unknown space; it allows room for us to discover language to describe it.  This language is evolving…as the art evolves. 

With these three artists, it has been about the body, and its movement in relation to other disciplines, elements and materials. The relationship continues to shift and evolve dependent on the artist & their aesthetic. In speaking in terms of “dance”, each artist has found his/her correlation in intriguing ways.

– For some, their relationship to dance has inspired the other disciplines they have crossed over into: how physical impulses manifest into visible forms.

– Or perhaps a relationship to other disciplines has further inspired the dancethinking about what got them into dance in the first place.

– And then there is the simultaneous relationship with dance & other disciplines or forms that serve the overall creative work: allowing them to settle into a practice that embraces collaboration, activity or movement. 

Which artist has which correlation? i have my thoughts, what are yours?  Anthony, Susan and Tony will be present on Monday to share what they feel are their relationships to dance, to other disciplines or forms. Their “practices” will be on display throughout various spaces within Hyde Park Art Center; alongside other visual works and participatory activities.   please join us for Crossover to explore and discuss.


++these phrases were drawn from article/abstract “Hybrid Aesthetics: Art As Dynamic Signification” {2002} by Carlos Rosas & Simone Osthoff, both professors at the School of Visual Arts at Penn State University. 

The Necessity of Reflection: A Conversation with National Artist Camille A. Brown Performing at 2013 Chicago Dancing Festival

Camille A. Brown.  photo by Grant Halverson
Camille A. Brown. photo by Grant Halverson

“Is art enough?”

Camille A. Brown, one of the national artists performing a solo for Chicago Dancing Festival‘s Solitaire event at Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago [MCA], raises this question inside our conversation.  it’s a rhetorical question Camille deeply considers when developing work such as Mr. TOL E. RAncE or “TOL”;  from which she shared an excerpt* on Wednesday and Friday, August 21st and 23rd to varied Chicago audiences. TOL is a large scale dance theatre piece that explores unsettling & provocative legacies of ‘African-Americana’.  with this work, she intentionally engages her audiences in dialogue  that goes beyond just the dance of it…for her it’s about what moves us to action.  “Can it be enough to just create art around Trayvon? we’ve got to take it further.” the cultural implications  of  Trayvon Martin’s tragedy resonate a contemporary reflection of the continued devaluation of brown and black bodies. Inside TOL, Camille fluidly reflects haunting past images of blackness; reminding us of how far we have gone, and where we may need to go, in order to craft authentic intercultural discussions on race, equity and social stereotyping.

with striking pose

a black body flows

she wears the gloves

and dons the gestures

the face that bares

receives the stares

the music plays

a shifting gaze

in this spotlit

she is a reflexive lens

for those who may also wear the mask

referring back to her mention of Trayvon, Camille cautions “we can get caught up in the sensationalism”,  but there is a necessity to go deeper.  she is willing to go deeper.  that “necessity” is a guiding force in her current creative practice. TOL allows her to examine “these masks we wear”  and, in revealing them, invite those who witness into an opportunity for meaningful dialogue.

distinguished Poet Paul Laurence Dunbar eloquently articulates the metaphor of the mask:

“WE wear the mask that grins and lies, 
    It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,— 
    This debt we pay to human guile; 
    With torn and bleeding hearts we smile, 
    And mouth with myriad subtleties.

    Why should the world be over-wise, 
    In counting all our tears and sighs? 
    Nay, let them only see us, while 
            We wear the mask.

    We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries 
    To thee from tortured souls arise. 
    We sing, but oh the clay is vile 
    Beneath our feet, and long the mile; 
    But let the world dream otherwise, 
            We wear the mask!” 

Wednesday’s performance at MCA was a gala; drawing in a predominately white audience. an attendee comes up to her: “i don’t mean to be offensive but what was it about”.  it’s not the first time a black artist has been asked that by a white audience member.  this person genuinely –  in Camille’s recanting – searches for more than a simple answer; and this becomes one of those “opportunities”.  throughout the evolution of TOL, its development and performances nationally, she has become accustomed to “not always preaching to the choir” . new audiences open up new possibilities for fostering educational and enlightening exchanges between artists and those who bear witness. “There’s a vulnerability that comes with that newness for both audience & artist.  We bring up race, black history and we can shut down. But everyone wears a mask. Mask is universal”  Finding that mask cannot occur from the outside, we must go within.  it’s challenging when we do so…and when artists make choices to do so in front of others.  for Camille and her company of artists, that kind of challenge is not only present when there are majority white attendees; it can been even more challenging when they perform for black audiences.  “they see themselves reflected. it’s not necessarily something they want to see…” she recalls a performance where the audience was so close the dancers could see their faces change when certain images were recognized. the “putting on of the white gloves” recalls past historical moments of minstrel and servitude that Americans still grapple with today.  interestingly in sync, The Butler – Lee Daniel’s film loosely based on true-life story of Eugene Allen‘s tenure serving eight USA presidents – is currently out in theatres nationwide.


“A woman like me”

i ask “what does diversity mean to you?” what SHE shares reminds me of comments a female associate made regarding the opening Chicago Dancing Festival concert on Tuesday, August 20th.  inside a male-centered choreographic world, Camille brings a woman’s history…a storyteller not to be pidgeon-holed. this kind of representation inspires me to suggest how exciting it maybe for a young girl to come to this festival and see Camille.  it’s potentially empowering for her – the young girl – to create, to feel affirmed.  Camille shares a story; one of being a young woman, 16 & the first time seeing “a woman like me…with bodies that celebrated full curves, hips…oh and natural hair.” it was a profound personal epiphany. well, while here in Chicago, she went to a class led by members of Deeply Rooted Dance Theater, then witnessed their rehearsal  AND THERE SHE SAW HER++  – the SAME woman dancer Camille had seen perform when she was 16!

as a self-identified black female choreographer, this necessity of reflection radiates. as well it permeates: the dance world when “seeing Judith Jamison on stage” ; within the academic institutions system looking at “how we teach people about the history of dance with educators like Brenda Dixon[Gotschild]“; and within the context of black representation – ” president Barack Obama“.

“Glimpses are not enough”, Camille states. she’s right.  we need to embed the legacy of diversity within the academy. “we do that and it will ripple throughout the larger society”

in speaking on the ‘company of Solitaire soloists‘, Camille relishes the convergence of all these diverse bodies & forms: “We are in our own worlds so the performers are having this experience as well, experiencing the diversity of who’s in the room…the pleasure of getting outside our separate dance worlds…seeing the men of Hubbard Street, connecting to the east Indian dancer’s footwork & rhythm… the ‘arch’ of how this all fits in…how we compliment each other inside the Solitaire performances…connecting to the sameness, celebrating the difference”  i sense her joy and enjoy her vibrant enthusiasm. it is a perfect testament to her enterprising character. “i can sit here all day and talk about diversity”  indeed. the more ways we can explore diversity…the many many more expansive conversations unfolding…


*the excerpt Camille presented at the festival, was a solo that is performed at the very end of the full length TOL.

++the “HER” who inspired Camille at 16 is the lovely Elana Anderson.


Camille A. Brown performed a solo from MR. TOL E. RAncE for 2013 Chicago Dancing Festival’s Solitaire performances on Wednesday and Friday, August 21st and 23rd at Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago .

more to come on the actual Solitaire performance…

Between Chaos & Calm: Diversifying Form Within Tradition – Reflections From a Conversation With Natya Dance Theatre’s Krithika Rajagopalan Performing At 2013 Chicago Dancing Festival

“There is something that happens in the ‘in between’

A moment, nanosecond, that exists between chaos & calm

Between yesterday & tomorrow

When you decide to be at peace…until you decide not to

When your mind is absolutely clear.

There’s almost nothing that CAN’T happen…

[Sthithihi] literally came to life when deliberating [on the in between]

Krithika Rajagopalan
Krithika Rajagopalan

Krithika Rajagopalan, associate artistic director and principal dancer with Chicago-based Natya Dance Theatre – one of the leading Indian dance companies in the USA – speaks eloquently about her newest solo exploration, Sthithihi – in the stillness; a shortened version presented at the Solitaire performances on the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago‘s stage, as part of Chicago Dancing Festival’s 2013 season.

“It’s a great honor to be part of this festival.”

Krithika, having a background in both traditional and contemporary movement, navigates the chaos of creation; crafting out of it, a conceptual dance that diversifies it’s classical form through not only its movement vocabulary but by incorporating “brand new music that is as cerebral as creativenot 4×4 but a 9 beat patterning.”

Bharatanatyam or Bharata Natyam, as she speaks on it, is a highly codified art form;  telling the story with not just the rhythm that is present but using eyes, articulating body to convey the intended expression.  there is structure; but within this framework she’s interested in the conceptual flow…this flow is where Sthithihi’s premise lives…


“what’s traditional? it’s not just about preservation…what’s classical?” i offer my thought that classical form stands the test of time, is always noted for it’s authentic self.  this authenticity may come under scrutiny when one explores the form as Krithika does, is doing  with Sthithihi… when,she allows her self  to discover, to evolve, to be truly present in the moment. and even if that moment is structured, one can find freedom. Krithika seeks this freedom inside the structure of Bharat Natyam. and basks in being able to make distinctive choices; such as including a particular piece of 8th century piece of text, set to music, that references Parvati: the goddess of mountains serving to create, protect & destroy.  as i look up this goddess, i note that while she has been known to be benevolent, Parvati can be wrathful…

“let the emotions lead”

in discussing Parvati, i sense an emotional shfit that carries her to a poetic place… she begins to revel in the mountain image and its relation to the waters on top, descending..

“Look at the mountains…like the Himalayas

The waters that move from top to bottom

Gushing down at moments

Trickles at others

These same waters that could potentially kill you when rapid,

Are nourishing your being when still.”

“She (Parvati) is stillness. the stillness between creation & destruction. it’s all within us. the ability to destroy or nurture. where is that place where we can clear both the chaos & the calm?”

Krithika Rajagopalan
Krithika Rajagopalan

Nature’s roots, our roots, a clearing of mind

beyond the image of mountains, Krithika offers other elements of nature as metaphors for connecting to each other, to our humanity, to embracing diversity:

in order to see where our roots are, we need to open up the earth and show them.  the roots reach out as much as the branches… 

however it’s all about clearing the mind. for Krithika, in looking for this clarity, one should deepen their connection to our roots,  to nature. this being a process, one which requires practice. the practice of observation.  through observation comes inspiration… the impetus for this piece and others to come, can be found in her garden… sitting there, contemplating and being present…

i look at nature and it tells me what’s the goodness in the world…how to reach for it…like the trees that lean towards the sun.

when being present, one finds stillness, the potential to explore anything…the possibilities that can come up. as she co-exists with nature, Krithika strives to find that, in this beginning solo exploration… a gesture inside that possibility

Krithika Rajagopalan
Krithika Rajagopalan

Expanding perceptions, looking at the details…

“This is the first time Indian classical dance has been presented at this festival.”

given this opportunity at Chicago Dancing Festival to share this tradition with audiences who may not have viewed Indian dance before, rather than cater to contextualization, Krithika suggests viewers just soak it in.

to look at it for its dimensions, the nuances… the eyes, the tilt in the head, shift of torso, the beauty by which she diversifies the from; dancing the in between place of chaos & calm…within Sthithihi…


Krithika Rajagopalan performed Sthithihi as part of the Solitaire performances for Chicago Dancing Festival 2013 at  Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago on August 21st & 23rd. more to come on that performance, as well as reflections on a conversation with enterprising choreographer Camille A. Brown… who also performs a solo for Solitaire.


Luminosity of Variation: Questions of Diversity & Representation at Chicago Dancing Festival’s 2013 Performance at The Harris Theater

there’s something truly luminous about witnessing variant styles of live art on a shared stage.  it’s not about which form, which variation of dance should be upheld and viewed… all forms present are affirmed and held with regard to what Lar Lubovitch referred to as a standard of excellence”. within the concept of variation i’m thinking of it as a ‘tool’ of choreography (a basic movement theme is stated and then altered in various ways) and in terms of the diverse traditions that flowed across The Harris Theater on Tuesday, August 20th; as part of Chicago Dancing Festival‘s[CDF] 2013 season.  when witnessing ‘diversity’ unfold in a coexisting space, much comes up for me.  here are some of my reflections on that evening; illuminating the beauty of that coexistence….

serenely projected blue cloud-like textures rest on the stage as we wait…slowly but surely seats fill with bodies and ambient socializing. joining me is a dear associate whom i have had the pleasure of seeing prior dance performances with…in fact we came together to The Harris for the opening of the 2012’s CDF season as well. it is a joy to have her by my side to witness and offer some thoughts that may challenge or align with my own… hers is a distinctive knowledge base from mine; having invested as a student and dancer in more ballet, more traditional modern forms such as Horton & Graham than myself.  when i ask  “what comes up for her when thinking of ‘diversity'”, she echoes sentiments akin to Lar’s [noted in my earlier blog reflection] –  “When I look around the audience, i’m looking at ‘who’s here’…where’s the cross-pollination?” where are ‘We’[people of color]?”  she goes on to share her belief that the “intention of the fest [CDF] is for Chicago to have access to some of the finest dance, but WHO of Chicago actually has access?”  it’s a great question. interestingly, just then, a trio of young women of color happen to sit right next to us.  i think about what diversity means to us in this moment, as we are about to witness this concert?  will it be about color? style? variations on the style? Lar pointed out that the bottom line of his and Jay Franke‘s curatorial selection is “excellence. Excellence comes first.”  to me that excellence comes through the rich diversity and forms, the panorama of workmanship and artists expressing themselves…from the rhythmical to the classical.

tonight, on the stage, i felt a diverse presence of form, content and culture that was satisfying to me on many levels.  beginning with the presence & introduction of the full company of artists who would perform on stage.  when the lights came up it was indeed a beautiful way to let us know that, as a composite, here was a true multiplicity of bodies, shades & stylistic forms (evident in the kinds of costuming displayed):

Chicago Human Rhythm Project [CHRP]

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago [HSDC]

-Guest Artists Brooklyn Mack of The Washington Ballet & Tamako Miyazaki of Columbia Classical Ballet / Dortmund Ballet 

Lar Lubovitch Dance Company w/ Le Train Bleu (music ensemble) 

Brian Brooks of Brian Brooks Moving Company

The Joffrey Ballet [TJB]

In the beginning… a welcome addition to the CDF line-up this year, CHRP opens the concert with this work –  a collective choreography of  Lane Alexander and  Bril Barrett, with improvisation from the most racially diverse ensemble of the line-up – feels like a ‘primer’ on tap; a way to navigate how simple it can begin and how complex it can be. it’s possibilities seemingly endless…though the tap flooring & boxes placement along with constricted lighting felt limiting to their expansive artistry.

 Little mortal jumpHSDC is no stranger to the festival or The Harris.  it’s no wonder that their connection & ways of performing in it are effortless… and, through the choreographic conventions of Alejandro Cerrudo , magical.  their strikingly unison moments underscore how deeply this company is an ensemble. the pairings & solo allow for opportunities to examine the strength of their individual technique…the particular silky way they lingered with a leg or gesture…many compelling aspects to this company’s presentation… most subtle were the visible threads of ‘diversity’…

Diana and Acteon pas de deux — my associate gives me much needed insight into the Vagonava legacy, as we both savor the spellbinding effects of the performance. guest artists Brooklyn Mack and Tamako Miyazaki bring impeccable technique and exquisite expression to the oldest work of the evening. Masterfully crafted by Vaganova/Alonso, the duet feels calibrated perfectly for these two artists. in light of the concept of racial diversity, i have to acknowledge my perception of them as a Black/of African descent male and  Asian/of Japanese descent female. important because when this work was first created in 1935, what chance would either of them have had to perform it? to study ballet? what audience would have invested in or gone to see a duet with these two performing at that time?  so as classical as the work is, it feels contemporary in its ‘casting’. and transcendent! there’s no question they have transcended the form, and any thought around their color, with their superlative performance.

Tamako Miyazaki and Brooklyn Mack
Tamako Miyazaki and Brooklyn Mack

at intermission i engaged in conversations with others who bring further fuel to the dialectic of having these two artists perform.  one which will not be resolved by the end of this performance, the performers or presenters…. a dialectic to be considered when audiences, artists & administrators present or see dance.

What also came up was what does it mean to ‘track’ diversity across ballet & other dance forms? what will that awaken for those with this knowledge? how will it support the efforts to expand the concept of diversity while upholding excellence?

The Crisis of Variations —  fragmented parts of body in a series of shifting tableux vivants, evolving to unabashed throws of whole bodies through space, on top of each other, colliding & orbiting; abstractly aligning with the live sounds of the refined Le Train Bleu, to create a dissonance that is palpable and intriguingly post-modern. it’s a challenging work for his dancers and for us as audience to experience.  i admire Lar‘s choice to include this piece. to expose keen ways modern, contemporary dance are distinctive.  i appreciated the variant body types inside his company. the body ‘diversity’.  subtle yet visible.

I’m Going to Explode —  the lone solo of the evening, Brian Brooks conveys the ‘everyday business man’ in private moments… their idiosyncrasies…a queering of the ‘straight-laced’ white normative…the way they may ‘groove’ when no one’s watching. the music narrative. his singular body. the chair he leaves the suit jacket he releases. the explosion that is the dance that he can longer repress.

Son of Chamber Symphonic the rigor. placement of leg, foot, arm, neck. the clarity of the form that is the body expressed so clearly in Joffrey dancers’ technique and within this piece.  precise & poised with the complement of lovely costuming; a texturing that further pronounced their form…

TJB finishes off the evening with this articulate workmanship. yes workMANship… as the choreographer is Australian Stanton Welch… it had eluded me until my associate brought it up –  the absence of female choreographers? i was perplexed.  looking at my notes, it seems to be one aspect of diversity i never brought up… ok, revisiting the program, there’s the discovery of one recognized female choreographic contribution – Vaganova. it lists Alonso as well…don’t know who that is or their gender but will be diligent in finding out… ***found out that the Alonso noted is Madame Alicia Alonso, Cuban prima ballerina assoluta whom, i deduce, worked with the dancers on their performance of it & maintaining the integrity of the work.  the choreography is attributed to Vagnova with the music composed by Cesare Spugni.

of the six pieces presented, there is only one perceived woman acknowledged as a creator of work.  to some this may not seem a big deal, but have heard from independent dancemakers – specifically throughout Chicago – who have attested to this exclusion on the established regional level of being represented…again i will be diligent in looking at this concern myself.  in witnessing such beauty & dimensions diversity throughout the evening, my consciousness, most directly awakened by my female associate, compels me to put forth this question: Do we need to ‘track’ gender in as it relates to choreographers/creators of work when thinking of diversity?   where is that representation in the larger companies? why is it important to make note of it?

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Chicago Dancing Festival at The Harris Theater Tuesday, August 20th 7:30pm


Chicago Human Rhythm Project’s In the beginning…(2013) [male choreographers Lane Alexander & Bril Barrett]

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago Little mortal jump (2012) [male choreographer Alejandro Cerrudo]

Guest Artists Brooklyn Mack of The Washington Ballet & Tamako Miyazaki of Columbia Classical Ballet / Dortmund Ballet  Diana and Acteon pas de deux (1935) [female choreographer contributor Aggripina Vaganova / with credit to Madame Alicia Alonso***]

Lar Lubovitch Dance Company w/ Le Train Bleu [music ensemble] Crisis Variations (2011)[ male choreographer Lar Lubovitch]

Brian Brooks Moving Company  I’m Going to Explode (2007)[male choreographer Brian Brooks]

The Joffrey Ballet Son of Chamber Symphonic (2012) [male choreographer Stanton Welch]

more to come on how  Chicago Dancing Festival explores the complex subject of ‘diversity’ soon…CDF13_BP_Button_120x60

The Path of Excellence, An Inroads to Diversity: A conversation with Chicago Dancing Festival’s Co-director Lar Lubovitch

diversity’s considered a hot topic within the dance community. nationally, it has been the bedrock of compelling forums and presenter gatherings such as Nyc’s APAP. sparked by controversial discussions at the 2012 Dance USA conference in San Francisco, this potentially overwhelming subject matter has permeated Chicago conversations inside convenings hosted by dance service organization Audience Architects; out of which led to a loosely formed committee comprised of arts organization leaders aligned with independent artists and has inspired a series of humanities discussions entitled Moving Dialogs of which i curate.  these discussions attempt to tackle the complexities of its multi-dimensions by looking at body type, ability, gender, sexuality, aesthetics, cultural concepts and race. to me race, racism has been the seed to the intentional consciousness raising surrounding diversity…why people of all types have come together…have formed life changing coalitions and landmark movements.  foundations have further illuminated how ‘hot’ this topic can be, by instituting financial grants to companies & individuals who seek to expand their exploration of diversity or deepen its meaningfulness to a cross-section of communities.

last year i reflected on the communal exchange aspects of the 2012 Chicago Dancing Festival; enjoying the opportunity to share insights into the beauty and joy of witnessing multiple ways ‘everyday’ Chicagoans participated beyond being an audience member.  this year my focus is on how ‘diversity’ is embraced, explored or communicated via the presence & presentations of the festival. from The Harris Theater to Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago and Millenium Park’s Jay Pritzker Pavilion, there are many reflections as to what diversity could look like on and off the stage. to support this exploration i spoke with acclaimed choreographer & co-director of the festival Lar Lubovitch; gaining much needed context into the selection of artists, companies & works that are part of the 2013 line-up.

Lar Lubovitch - photo by Nan Melville
Lar Lubovitch – photo by Nan Melville

before speaking with Lar, i looked up the mission of Chicago Dancing Festival[CDF]: to present a wide variety of excellent dance, enrich the lives of the people of Chicago and provide increased accessibility to the art form, thereby helping create a new audience.  Its vision is to raise the national and international profile of dance in the city, furthering Chicago as a dance destination.

and a bit of its history:

On August 22, 2007 at 7.30 pm, seven leading American dance companies from Chicago and across the nation took the stage at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park and 8,500 people came to see the presentation.

This was the beginning of the Chicago Dancing Festival.

Six years later, through the combined curatorial expertise of Lar Lubovitch and Jay Franke, the Festival has become synonymous with excellence…has presented more than 55 exceptional dance companies from Chicago and cities throughout the country as well as abroad…and performed before more than 60,000 people while maintaining free admission for all.”

excellence. this is a ‘key’ word that comes up frequently during our conversation. when i ask Lar about diversity and whether it’s an “intentional or a deciding factor when looking at a company for possibly inclusion”, he shares:

“My eye is on what is great in dance; especially since it maybe the first time for some of our viewers.  It is important that they see the best in the art form. The bottom line of art – dancing – is excellence. And excellence comes in all colors. excellence comes first.”

i ask pointedly whether there is an intention of including different “colors”, to which he responds: “it is not color-conscious but color-blind excellence. Excellence arises in many shades.

referring back to the mission of CDF,  he believes the evidence is clear that there is no question that the festival has struck a bright & loud chord that resonates throughout the city”.   this resonance, he feels, carries beyond festival’s performance attendance. it impacts various theatre & dance companies attendance throughout the city.  looking at the truly impressive record-breaking numbers, i truly understand his summation.

it’s about what’s onstage. that excellence. so i discuss with him the curatorial process:

We [himself and Jay Franke] go to see a lot of dance. We look for it to be distinctive. We see it for its excellence.  When we see something we believe in, we go to the company,  we ask them for that specific dance with those specific dancers who danced it when we saw it.  We make little room for chance.  When we have  a “collection” of works we are interested in, we create like a storyboard. A journey [told] through a story.  The key to programming is to tell that story; not a literal one [but] a story of energy, dynamics & flow. This “story” may bring about an epiphany….brings someone to a place that is more lifted.

it’s also about who’s onstage. the intriguing eclecticism of distinct forms & artists. on the SAME stage.   Lar concurs. “On the same night you can see this with companies as diverse as rhythmic tap, ethnic dance, ballet.  and then, moving beyond the eclectic concept, he goes to the essence –  Dance is coming from the same place. from the spirit.”  is that it? respective of their difference it all draws from the “spirit”? i have to recognize the profundity of this remark. within my own aesthetic i create from the ‘spirit’. and while it’s not necessarily something i haven’t heard other choreographers say before, it’s gratifying to hear an artist of his stature in the dance community, speak to this concept.”Dance is coming from the same place. from the spirit.” the spirit. the transcendental nature of dance.  as well, Lar connects with how it should transmit to someone watching the performance. it also influences why they select a particular work : “...if it sparks, wakes up someone’s imagination…  as he puts it “seeing live art – well good live art – is a sensational high.” If someone can take away a meaningful moment, that is great. It is what I want.  –

i ask him: “what are some of the past highlights of the festival?” Lar intentionally does not speak about one company or artist but goes to the first festival as a whole:

“We had no idea what to expect. Chicago had not had a festival like this. We knew we wanted it to be accessible (free) as art belongs to everyone. We got the best dance at that time. he goes on to speak about “that first night at Pritzker.” –  We [speaking on behalf of the festival company of artists] had a rehearsal the night before, then a tech that afternoon.  We [Jay & Lar] went on to a pre-reception where some of the supporters of the festival were gathering. When we left the Pritzker it was empty.  When we came back not too much later, there were 8000 people watching dance… the dancers who performed said it was like nothing they experienced. The audience was hollering &  rooting. It was like a rock concert!”

inside our continued conversation here are some other reflections he shared:

in response to “why dance?”–

It’s something I invest & believe in. I love dance. It is my operational moment [modus operandi].  I like to believe it can be that for other people.

speaking on intentional inclusion of more Chicago dance companies this year–

“We made a decision to look at Chicago dance this year & let audiences know it’s really happening in this city.”

we return back to the subject of diversity. Lar brings it back up because “the subject of diversity”, as it relates to ‘what’ or ‘whom’ is seen onstage, is not necessarily what he’s concerned about.  He is more concerned about the lack of diversity in the audience. Why is this?” we both wonder and think on this... given the rich diversity here in Chicago why isn’t this reflected in the attendance?…the focus should be on the audience.“he goes on to say that “this is not just for the festival but throughout the city. I have gone to many dance performances here and witnessed this.  It’s one thing when we have someone who only wants to see ballet, but here – at this festival – is an opportunity to see more than that, all on the same night.”

“It’s good to awaken thoughts, provoke questions. The ideas of this festival are larger than one dance, a dancer. it is about the “collection[of artists & works on a given evening] bringing meaningful experiences to those who witness it.”

we go on to explore some theories as to why diversity is lacking in the audience; such as marketing and how the images may or may not reflect how diverse the performers and works can be. genuinely, he shares that this is not his expertise, but is willing to look at that. as well is the notion that reflection of who and what is onstage has a correlation with who is coming to the festival. again with sincerity he responds with We shall see.”

our final exchanges bring up thoughts surrounding how the concept of diversity is reflected:

in his personal life— 

he being born on near southside on maxwell street to immigrant parents.  having lived there first 8 years, they then edged up north landing in Rogers Park – my present hood – which, as he puts it seems to be one of the most if not most richly diverse neighborhoods in Chicago”

in the city–

The city is a patchwork quilt, not yet quite as blended, but there is a movement in that direction that is slowly unfolding.” 

in ‘political’ or ‘larger societal’ aspects —

“I’m not a social worker.  i’m an artist. Often the argument around diversity is one of social concerns. Yes it can go that way. That’s not my position. i hold a position that excellence in art automatically ensures diversity.

true to himself,  Lar’s focus remains consistent with his premise regarding the standard of excellence…of what will resonate on stage.”

What WILL resonate on stage? in what ways will this 2013 Chicago Dancing Festival resonate?  i”ll reflect more on this & the complex subject matter of diversity inside the August 20th 7:30pm performance at The Harris Theater soon….


Bad Boys, Back Beats & Best Bets: Closing Reflections on 2013 Rhythm World Festival’s Final Performance

Chicago Human Rhythm Project’s (CHRP) Lane Alexander and Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago’s (MCA) Yolanda Cesta Cursach   onstage of 2013 Rhythm World Festival’s final performance on Saturday, August 3rd at Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, like proud parents, offered introductions to not only this evening’s artists, but to what’s to come… CHRP’s upcoming fall Global Rhythm 2013 presentation of Che Malambo gave Lane opportunity to express his excitement for this Argentine company’s ‘flavor’; inspiring him to further utilize flavors and food metaphors when discussing the “cornucopia of different dishes” we will savor tonight.

Lane Alexander
Lane Alexander

True to previous performances, there were distinctive flavors going on in this collective performance gumbo; however to ‘whet our appetite’ we were first delivered musical samplings from Greg Spero Trio [Greg SperoJunius Paul & Makaya McCraven].  they set the tone for what’s to come…inviting us to ease back into our seats and welcome the opportunity to attentively listen to their masterful  sonic artistry. i did just that.  Lane came back on, proud parent that he is, to announce who’s up next on the menu – “two former scholarship students [of CHRP], now world class professionals” – Nico Rubio and Jumaane Taylor; each offering a solo dish.  i’m inspired to keep on using food metaphors even though Lane begins to move into the tap language when further sharing insights on these two artists or the binary world of tap.  “it’s either toe-heel or right-left” he theorizes…but what they creatively do with those limited binaries inside their rhythm making….that’s a world without limits!

“hola” Nico greets us as he feels out the floor.  he dances about; drawing us into his subtleties, his turns…the way he toe- heels.  then comes the music of the trio…they play, he plays. both with such confidence & comfort; relaxing into the interplay between their sounds, his sounds…and the sounds being made by the audience. we clap and laugh and daresay are giddy at points when he adds a little extra ‘spice’ to a step.  a crowd pleaser!

Nico Rubio. photo by Cristiano Prim
Nico Rubio. photo by Cristiano Prim

distinguished, sporting a jacket & crisp white collared shirt, Jumaane at first seems a bit reserved….pensive perhaps.  he lays ‘low” &  hangs back close to the musicians…the trio begin jetting a rhythm that almost makes me jump out of my seat. he remains low… until he cannot anymore. alit by their music, his feet deliver a tight well-knitted battalion of percussive steps; echoing textures i’ve heard in music from East AND West Africa. this diasporic sound carries into his taps and becomes the jazz; the density of the trio’s ambient waves allows him to solo on top; adding a lick, other times an accent, smacks, stomps and shuffle….gliding he lifts up his pants and lays into the edge of a phrase; never missing a beat.

moving on to tell us about the next performance, Lane injects this quote: 1 % inspiration, 99% perspiration. Einstein may have said it. Thomas Edison noted for originating it when referencing  ‘genius’. Lane aligns it with  the rigor of tap….”putting in those hours on the wood”.  With over 20, 000 votes cast, he next introduces the choreography winner of CHRP’s Virtual Rhythms tap competition. performed by Hannah Rickman,  Seattle-based Shauna Mindt’s  choreography is very in sync with the recorded composition. Hannah shows off her ‘port a bras’ and polished patterns…finishing with a very on-point turn.

Northwest Tap Connection follows.  fresh urban rhythms danced by Alex Jackson & Shaina Mitchell lead to the youth ensemble overtaking the stage. i catch glimpses of James Brown & MJ signature moves as well as current popular steps inside their performance. they gleefully strike a pose. an audience member calls out “the party’s on!” and Ne-Yo’s Closer fills the whole theatre. back of the house, audience members roar and the young performers eat it up; ham it up as they lip-sync to Ne-Yo, ending with a final gesture: “get closer”.

a ‘break’ from the tap steps us into the hip-hop world, where Monty Rezell of Stick & Move Dance Crew exhibits his liquid grooves. Monty, an instructor with American Rhythm Center, was one of the teachers inside the festival workshop programming. as part of the “non-tap” experience [along with Tai-Chi & Isadora Duncan technique] he contributes valuable enrichment to the student’s ‘education’ –  and to this evening’s mix – in delivering stylistic shades of urban dance that continue to inform & intermingle with the tap world.

closing out the first half, the  dynamic duo of Jumaane &  Jason Janas skillfully take on the compositional complexities of Stravinsky’s Sacrifice with aplomb, humor and utter finesse.  their shared costume choice of white & black, stylized tap patterning & theatrics combined with the dramatic score evoke cinematic-like images oddly akin to James Bond movies in my mind…i’m half-expecting agent 007 to show up at any moment!


during the intermission i took in and saw a bit of  ‘who’s who’ of tap in the audience including the esteemed tap pioneer Lady Di Walker and some of  the vibrant Brazilian Cia Trupe TOE  performers from Thursday. love how they’ve come to support, witness and affirm the other tap artists…

Bad Boys, Back Beats & Best Bets titled this evening’s performance. definitely got the “bad boy” vibe, felt the back beats ripple throughout the space….and it’s only half-way through! no wonder every time Lane comes on stage to announce the next performer(s), he is beaming….

but back to this concept of  bad boys? BOYS huh? well SHE may have something to say about that…

Starinah Dixon. Photo by Andrea Bauer
Starinah Dixon. Photo by Andrea Bauer

Starinah Dixon comes out in gold lame pants & tresses of multicolors to prove that the ‘boys’ are not the only one who are among the ‘best bets’ tonight!  the “tap darling of Chicago” meets Chaka Khan in this solo; utilizing Chaka’s arrangement of My Funny Valentine to soften the mood and our hearts with the softness of  her tap phrasing…resisting any potential sentimentality with a rapid-fire display of footwork & sounds defiant to the final sustained notes.

continuing on with this smorgasboard of tap offerings…..it seems that Lane proffers no more food analogies, so i will discontinue as well; rather he speaks of time when introducing the soloist Daniel Leveille.  Swiss time that is. how exacting the Swiss can be….Swiss watches known for their precision and detail.  “a reputation for being great time-keepers” Lane remarks.  Daniel does not disappoint in his precise, exacting footwork. in keeping time with feet that tip not tromp. with arms that slice through space like a Swiss army knife and swift turns, his style transmits the age-old elegance of some of the finest time mechanisms.

Jason Janas! as if he didn’t perform an exhausting duet at end of first half, Jason comes on stage looking fresh and ready.  no time like the present, he jumps in and starts ‘playing’ the ‘drums’ like he had a drum kit, but all he’s got is a foot. a foot holding down one pattern that is, while the other foot taps another.  rub the stomach while tapping the head?  that’s nothing to trying to simultaneous hold down a polyrhythm with two feet! arms existing on a whole other qualitative plane…flowing and undulating ala Swan Lake in one  moment…or relaxed and pedestrian at another moment, as the feet take on a feverish repetition.  the classical & pedestrian collide in ways that keep us guessing and truly see tap’s mercurial nature….urban street hoofer or Earl “Snakehips” Turner? Jason transforms from one ‘persona’ or ‘instrument’ into the other in an instant…tips and tickles the floor like piano keys then lays into a beat like the drum against the drummers fierce motiffs. his is a liberated journey…and we are along for the ride!

Jason Janas
Jason Janas

Tre Dumas
Tre Dumas

back to the concept of ‘time’…. Lane had earlier mentioned one notion of time when referring to Daniel’s Swiss bred exactitude.  when speaking on Tre Dumas, Lane talks about how this tap artist “bends the framework of time”.  it sounds mysterious and almost as supernatural as the symbolic spiderman shirt that Tre wears. “yeah i heard that Tre” Lady Di calls out to him at a particular moment.  he has stopped to listen for how he is going to relate to what is being musically played….the rhythmic possibilities he can achieve… how  he might lay into the edge of his tap shoe in order to achieve that right tone. you feel how his spidey senses are tingling. i start to listen in a whole new way, witnessing how Tre tunes in to what he hears and “bends the time” of the pattern with his accents, shifts of feet against the sounds of the trio and/or the floor.  in all this he remains cool in that way you see Chicago steppers float around as they step….

And to close?

perhaps we’ve seen all the best bets for the evening. so who could possibly close? Sam Weber, “grandmaster” tap artist with grace like Fred Astaire. that’s who…. i am reminded of the elders of Africa who dance inside a Bantaba. they possess an authentic quality that speaks volumes through a side step or a shift of an elbow. a legacy of the lived experience.  Mr. Weber is so light on his feet. there’s no rush in the way his shoes touch the floor.  no rush at all. you must savor the moment. i do just that. put my pen down and see and hear how he steps, patterns, builds patterns, communicates with the musicians, with the floor, with the audience. such exquisite adornments – the way he hits his foot against the surface. the embellishments that surprise us at times…yet still allowing us to be purely present with him and further listen, savor

to exhale.

Sam Weber
Sam Weber

Chicago Human Rhythm Project’s Bad Boys, Back Beats & Best Bets  was the final performance of  their Rhythm World Festival 2013 at Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago on Saturday, August 3rd at 7;30pm.

CHRP is part of the 2013 Chicago Dancing Festival‘s line-up…more on that and Chicago Dancing Festival soon!


Resonance: The Further Depths Of Tap Artistry On View In Chicago Human Rhythm Project’s Berkshires and Brazil

the more i experience tap dance, the more i seek to discover the further depths of its artistry – history, traditions and influences…thankfully the artists on view in Chicago Human Rhythm Project’s [CHRP] August 1st Berkshires and Brazil performance at Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago allowed me, those who attended, much opportunity to experience its dimensions…feel the resonances of its history and tradition through the diverse artistry on display… resonance carried over from the previous performances i have reflected on…but unique.

Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards
Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards

unfortunately i was running late and didn’t have the chance to hear Lane introduce the line-up and share initial insights…or to again experience Michelle Dorrance’s Push Past Break which opened the evening. i did however arrive in time for Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards‘ …who’s solo contribution to the evening illuminated the myriad of ways tap artists would “enter” the space – how one might decide to simply walk in and begin tapping….no lights needed at first. just the sound of her taps against the resonant stage.  casual and sophisticated, in a fitted jean outfit, heel taps, Dormeshia first floated around the stage without music…as if  it was enough to just enjoy being in the space… testing out the textures, potential rhythmic or ambient possibilities. “That’s cute” she comments, speaking on a musical entry phrase the trio [Greg SperoJunius Paul & Makaya McCraven] offers… but not yet…not yet does she bring them in… in this moment she is her own music….and it’s clear when the musicians do enter into the rhythmic landscape that her tapping is at the forefront.  walking, strutting, skipping and jogging, Dormeshia invites a conversation…how will she interact with them? the bass? drum? a pause, a stop shows how she’s listening in on what they have to offer to the conversation. she then responds so thoughtfully, so effortlessly that it feels like it could go on forever. then she simply walks off…

and just as easily, Nicholas Young enters.  what newness, other tap dimension will he bring? i’m at first skeptical… then i notice how he shifts in his posture to get more grounded. a slap on the thigh methodically escalates to powerful rhythm making, beat-boxing with multiple parts of his body… dripping down into the fronts of his black trimmed white taps. it is exquisite to watch & hear how he can make his taps sing!

Nicholas Young
Nicholas Young

CHRP’s Virtual Rhythms videography contest winner Rhythm of Life followed Nicholas.  over 20, 000 votes were cast from 21 countries to determine which one would be shared tonight. congratulations to Dean Hargrove, videographer and Chloe Arnold, choreographer!

North Carolina Youth Tap Ensemble, under the direction of Gene Medler, with choreography by Michelle Dorrance, tap into her abstract patterning with joyful precision. Michelle then takes the stage in a solo…we spend time in the darkness with just the sounds of her taps. not at all the kind of darkness that led to Dormeshia’s playful “conversation” opener… it’s a darkness that we can’t escape. seemingly neither can she. deprived of being able to see, all we can do is hear those patterns reverberate throughout the space… finally a hint of light and all i can make out is a shadow…it is Michelle, hooded, her back to us…. a tightness in her stance, she is relentless; demanding that we listen, not see or try to “look” at what is happening on stage.  the music is as relentless. a voice pushes forward. it is Martin Luther King, Jr. speaking; Michelle’s postmodernist expression rigorously working against his profound eloquence. “freedom” “justice” is heard again and again as Maladjusted beautifully dissolves towards its potent but unresolved end.

Michelle Dorrance
Michelle Dorrance

The “tightness” i may have felt from  witnessing Michelle is quickly released once Derick Grant appears in the closing solo to the first half.  He is loose and confident…at times igniting the floor with a blazing run of tap riff walks and pattering like chattering of teeth….you can’t help but smile.

Derick K. Grant
Derick K. Grant


not sure of what or whom the Berskhires might have referred to… it is clear who and what is the Brazil connection to this evening… though at first you may not have a sense who’s going to tap and who are the musicians… The second half features the stylings of Cia Trupe TOE and their work Recriando Linguagens.   all are around a table, some sitting, as one sets off the beat…others add on. a clave pattern is heard. a clap. the bell. who’s going to tap? who are the musicians? Dancers as musicians, musicians making their instruments dance, this is the beauty of their tradition…it is so natural they way both relate – the tap to the music and vice versa – that i have to wonder if the full company has been trained in both… a synergy that is  symbiotic.  with rhythms indigenous to their heritage, they infuse the American tap form with their own flavor! and Samba! 4 musicians, 3 dancers fluidly move through solos, duets, trios and musical pairings. along the way we are fortunate to experience tapping to remixed version of The Girl From Ipanema…. a capoeira tap joda complete with berimbau… a pandero skillfully executed and counterpoint to a male soloist’s fancy footwork…the loveliness of acoustic guitar softly underscoring the tender textures of tap.  it feels lik Cia Trupe TEO has lived with these rhythms since they were born….the way they carry them not only in their feet, or through their playing of instruments…it’s in their hearts…it’s bone-deep.

Charles Renato of Ciao
Charles Renato of Cia Trupe TEO

Chicago Human Rhythm Project’s Juba! Masters of Tap Berkshires and Brazil Thursday, August 1st, 7:30pm at Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago.

more reflections to come on CHRP’s 23rd annual festival’s closing performance on Saturday, August 3rd at MCA –  Bad Boys, Back Beats and Best Bets.

The Feet The Song The Music: Chicago Human Rhythm Project Steps All The Way Into Broadway

after witnessing the exceptional sampling of tap artists at The Jazz Showcase on Monday, i look forward to the extended works being presented by Chicago Human Rhythm Project [CHRP] in association with Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago[MCA].

the curtain is closed, the seats are full, MCA’S Edlis Neeson Theater is packed!

Juba! Bronzville and Broadway attempts to encapsulate the range of ‘perspectives’  this evening.  it’s “a collection of ‘perspectives'” Lane Alexander informs the audience, as he shares the stage with Peter Taub, MCA’s director of performance programs; giving us background into how MCA & CHRP came together as well as other insights… ‘intense, dense and exciting” is Peter‘s description of what’s in store for us a viewers, some aficionados of tap. together they stand representing a valued collaboration.  Lane commends Peter for providing a space where the tap community to gather…a platform for Chicago to see some of the best tap around!

curtain opens…

stage is revealed. first a light on a tap soloist, a luminous voice of a woman is heard, the vocalist sings “My man….” it is live, the band behind her comes alive…NYC-based choreographer Michelle Dorrance’s Push Past Break lays bear the pulse of indigenous rhythms; layering blues, hip-hop, house & jazz performed by an ensemble of five with musical support from Greg Spero, Junius Paul & Makaya McCraven [trio]. from startling soloist’s Star Dixon‘s captivating footwork to thrilling polyrhythmic landscapes, they flow through duets, trios and a quintet that pushes the performers to dig deep into the emotional paradoxes of these steps; wherein the histories of the past collide with the future. i see images of field workers dissolve into tap krumping. a ‘chain-gang’ breaks forth into hollered transcendent moments sung by the dancers, led by Star; exposing rich rooted legacies, impassioned struggles and dare say joy that the ensemble embodies…explosive.

Sarah Savelli
Sarah Savelli

Next, Sarah Savelli enters…at once easy going and pedestrian. she puts her foot down and feels out the possibilities for ‘play”… what will it be this time? keep it simple? the trio, now joined by a saxophonist,  brings forth a jazz standard. all seems like this will be a simple moment where tap meets jazz and they live harmoniously ever after? except this is Sarah Savelli!  her low fast feet patterning is anything but simple… the musicians are offering their own push against her phrasing. who will outshine who? in the end they both come out shining.

Spoken word meets stomp. Lisa La Touche collaborates with Discopoet Khari B on this duet.  “They called you crazy” Mr Khari B shouts…. Ms LaTouche takes on the frenzy, the uncharted terrain of madness…the highs & lows…but it’s a madness that sets you free.  When he let’s go of a thought, the music catches it; propelling her into a labyrinth of sweeps and gestures. Lisa responds in ways that you can sense her deep listening…. not so much the language itself as his intonation… how he lays into the side of a word.  it’s like she’s dotting his ‘i’s’ and crossing the ‘t’ but more than that…it’s synergy.

Lisa La Touche
Lisa La Touche

Bronzville? what about West Side?

“whatever he’s putting in the kool-aid, it’s working!” indeed Lane speaks highly of Bril Barrett when introducing this culmination to the first half. rightly so. Mr. Barrett is one of a kind in Chicago. This west-sider is the force behind M.A.D.D. Rhythms[Making a Difference Dancing Rhythms], his ensemble comprises not only members like Star, Ian Berg and Jumaane Taylor, but promising youth from his educational program – a fertile hub that has brought forth some of the best tap artists in Chicago…. an all star crew of 7 including Star, Ian, Jumaane and Donnetta Jackson leads off Heartbreaks, Freestyles, Rhythm Symphonies and an African Mailman. Polyrhythm is broken down to its sublime essence with this crew. the patterning precise & bold. adding on and layering both sound and style.  A community of students follow, determined to win us over…then a quartet [of the first 7] invoke foot rhythms akin to global Africa against a recorded score…such bravado. A solo by Ian makes way for a octet with a bit of Latin flavor. Mr. Barrett solos. like a boxer called out onstage, he is formidable when it comes to his distinctive nuance of steps.  “We keep passing it on so it keeps living”  indeed, what he states he does…it’s walk the walk with this gentleman and his students, members of the ensemble prove worthy of this legacy.  a legacy he speaks of when mentioning the late great Dr. Harold Cromer. it’s like he saying to these performers make him proud.  They do!



Broadway! second half offers a Salute To Sammy Davis Jr.  Tony award nominated Ted Louis Levy transforms this stage to Broadway concert with his performance as ‘Sammy”.  this is not an impersonation but a beautiful embodiment of all that Sammy Davis Jr. stood for. with multimedia projections and a classy sextet of musicians including the earlier trio, Mr. Levy graces the stage with a beguiling presence. he croons, he taps, he belts out some of Mr. Davis’s signature songs, he almost plays an instrument [Mr. Levy shares a story of how the quintuple-threat Sammy  did a set where he not only danced and sang but then got a hold of some of the instruments!] and as one might expect from all of that ‘quintupling’, Mr. Levy like i’m sure Mr. Davis would need a break!  a break where Mr. Levy has to ‘only’ sing while  Jessica Chapuis, Lisa, Star (i’m dubbing the “tap darling of Chicago”), Michelle Dorrance, Tre Dumas  captivated us once again with scintillating tap solo after solo….the ‘break’ ending with power duo Jumaane and Jason Janas taking on a remix of “who can take a sunrise…”

Ted Louis Levy
Ted Louis Levy

by the end of this salute,  even though this was only an excerpt, Mr Levy –  a true showman himself- showed us quintessential Sammy!


Chicago Human Rhythm Project’s

Bronzville to Broadway: Juba! Masters of Tap & Percussive Dance 

7:30pm, Wednesday July 31

At Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago 

soon reflections on:

Berkshires and Brazil, August 1st 7:30pm

also at MCA


Living the Legacy: Chicago Human Rhythm Project’s 23rd Annual Festival Taps Into Community & Beyond

Jazz lives deeply in Chicago, with a rich & powerful legacy… much like tap in Chicago, but for me it is one that feels somewhat invisible. perhaps it’s just me.  nonetheless this tap legacy is one that -after witnessing Chicago Human Rhythm Project‘s vibrant showcase- provokes the need for serious research and further excavation to understand the depth of its history….

this past Monday night, at the wonderfully intimate and warm  Jazz Showcase , Chicago Human Rhythm Project [CHRP] presented a brilliant showcase where “the ‘pros’ and ‘ams’ came together”. the impressive Lane Alexander, co-founder & director of CHRP, has brought together an incredible group of tap artists from around the world for this festival; in its 23rd year dubbed “Rhythm World”.  inside this world some will teach, others to learn, to perform…many will do ALL of the above.

Jazz Showcase
Jazz Showcase

tonight it’s a true mix of up & coming with masterful artists. walking into the entrance you can already feel the buzz and anticipation for what’s to come. and ambiance! the space: resonant  and low-lit with images of famous musician performers from the past. the present: a trio of musicians offering distinctive jazz  standards, medleys & mashups; complementing  the explosive tap percussive rhythms. and what better way to create ambiance for the tap to come than to have live music! especially with the stellar jazz trio led by Greg Spero on piano,  Junius Paul on bass and Makaya Mccraven on drums. inviting and compelling.

the stage is set…rather a floor has be set on top of the legendary stage of the Jazz Showcase – a staple for kool vibes and koolness all around since 1947. students, teachers and masters of tap have assembled with lovers of tap to witness, be part of and take part in this JAM.

 yes, the stage is about to be lit up! but FIRST:

Lane welcomes us then introduces our host for the evening, Stomp’s Lisa La Touche. she smartly articulates what’s about to happen,  who’s about to come up and offers up nicknames, tidbits and small anecdotes to give further insight into this expansive spectrum of artists & artistry.

with closed eyes listening, i wonder as it begins ‘to stomp or not to stomp’: how will each tap artist share their unique sensibility?

#1 Toronto (Christian) lanky, stomping, fresh eyed, eager

#2 Chicago (Mark/Chicago Tap Theatre) light touches, finely detailed execution, tickling the stage with his foot,  Ali-like, riffs, finesse

#3 NYC  based (Samara & Christina female duo) ‘flava’, communicative to musicians & each other, at points contrapuntal, awakened improvisatory sensation that continues to reverberate throughout the evening.

#4 Texas/NYC (Nicholas Young) spoke to musicians as if he was “conductor’, a conduit, groove, channeling the legacy of tap, put a smile on the pianist’s face, stomp, put his foot down! the strength of his dynamics

the way they communicated to the musicians…a creative symbiosis

#5 N. Carolina (Adriana) seeking to rise to above a challenge. setting the tone for the musicians, began sans music, a sweetness arose, in phrasing in expression, exudes the freeness of free jazz.

#6 Chicago/Boston (Ian/M.A.D.D Rhythms) relentless, confident, syncopated, TALL.

it’s about how they lay into the beat or against the beat, the dynamics, textures, phrasing

#7 Vegas & Australian international duet (Winston & Victoria) him from Melbourne, she living in Vegas. dressed in slacks & collard shirt, all black with dreads, he lays the foundation, hips slightly swaying curving inside the contours of the steps. she of comfort leggings & t shirt, much taller but light and smiling, pounces on top of his smoothness. they finish each others sentences. ends in a layered dense satisfying simultaneity of his and her feet coming together.

#8 Chicago/N. Carolina  ‘national duet’ (Luke & Donnetta) he white, she black both young and vibrant. bass begins, snaps ensue, they go! catch where one ends and take it somewhere else, dazzling footwork (hers),how he lays into a step.  summertime  and the livin is easy floats inside the musical renderings…she of footworKINGz he the “Justin Beiber of tap”.

#9 Chicago (Star) closes out first half.  young & beautifully hip with her tap boots & leggings, her multicolored long tresses.  a sincere koolness, she says hi to us sweetly and then works it out on the floor!  laughter, joy emanates, playfulness, with moments of complex and fast fast footwork.

BREAK. stage ‘cools off” room buzzing with what has been experienced. excitement for who’s to take the stage next….

Adriana Ogle at Jazz Showcase
Adriana Ogle at Jazz Showcase


as #10 Canada (Lisa), proudly proclaiming her “Canadianness” the hostess opens up the 2nd half, contributing her own flair to this richly diverse tapestry of tap. quite clean and graceful.

#11 Japan is in the house! (A trio) probably reppin the youngest tapper of the evening, she is quick and on point with her percussive footwork. two other older but still young men transmit and transcend moments of interplay between the three. snippets Route 66 drip inside the arrangement and they finish with a “bow” to the audience and musicians.

continuing the international flow…

#12 Switzerland (Daniel) head nodding, a far away look that as he searches the music for that precise moment(s) to land, hit, accent and punctuate…

Now for an all star line-up with faculty from CHRP’s festival workshops

#13 Ohio/NYC/Chicago (Sarah) fresh from working alongside Savion Glover,  gives the “go ahead” to the musicians..”I like that” she shares with us as the smile grows and the feet get to moving. sporting a “skull & crossbones” shirt, not at all symbolic of  her feet that are so alive! she shimmers her way to end and curtsies.

#14 Chicago/Riverdance (Tre) nonchalantly drops his keys on a nearby table and with his white patent leather shoes gives full on tap swagger.

diverting to numbers #16 – 18 ALL STARS CONTINUE

#16 Touring the world /Chicago (Nico) though i thought i heard “Rico” and with all intention he gives the best form of “suave” tap one can imagine. it is finessed.  it is smooth.

#17 NYC (Jason) New Jersey born he boldly takes the stage. stomps, commands.  ‘kicks up dust’. contends with the drum. tracks the beats, becomes the beat. an intensity of focus, an exquisite articulation and expression that inspires a mash up of music, an ’empire state of mind‘.

#18 Chicago (Jumaane)  Chi-town closes out the evening with the “bearded hoofer”, hip and elegant. skinny jeans. white shirt. jacket and gold shoes. yes golden. from southside he transports all of that and then some.  “yall know Dr. Jimmy Slyde?” he asks as if he is about to channel this beloved tap legend. indeed he carries forth that prowess as if he is channeling this man. but not just this man. it seems he is channeling the ancestors of Africa through the drums of his feet.  rhythms, at one point like murmurings that resonated throughout the intimate showcase space….ones that that feel ancient, yet he is truly a contemporary artist…

Jumaane Taylor's golden shoes
Jumaane’s golden shoes

and though they did not close out the evening they are the future

#15 Y-Tech (a crew of 10) members from CHRP’s annual Youth Tap Ensemble Conference, this group of young ardent students crowd  the small tap floor ready to jump in! it’s about the blues, a 12 bar moment for each one to show what they got. taking turns in sync with the shifts from chorus to phrase, individually offering a subtle or distinctive touch to how they choose to step, tap or slide. culminating in a full on jam of all 10 on the floor. yes they are students! we are reminded of this when Lisa challenges them by asking them to name the legendary artists displayed throughout The Jazz Showcase. they are still learning of this legacy but it is clear that they are absorbing the essence of tap and it lives deeply within their feet…

Tap Into the Night”,  in its third year at Jazz Showcase. Monday, July 29th, 2013

Jason Janas at Jazz Showcase
Jason Janas at Jazz Showcase

more to come on:

Chicago Human Rhythm Project’s 23rd annual Festival performances  at Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, Wednesday, July 31st, August 1st and 3rd.

dance [process], dance [showings] dance [performances] dance [community]…keep on dancin’

As August approaches, inspired by what i have seen and what is yet to be seen, i have decided to devote this month to reflecting on dance in Chicago.  The past couple of weeks witnessing showings of Jose Hernandez/Ishtar Bukake, Re|Dance Group and a recent tap showcase of Chicago Human Rhythm Project’s expansive festival line-up inform images, poetics and written renderings to be shared in the days to come.  More soon…

Jose Hernandez / Ishtar Bukake

Quarter Inch 1
Re|Dance Group’s newest work: A 1/4″ Below The Surface of The Earth

Jumaane Taylor // The Bearded Hoofer - One of the tap artists at Chicago Human Rhythm Project's 2013 showcase at Jazz Showcase
Jumaane Taylor // The Bearded Hoofer – One of the tap artists at Chicago Human Rhythm Project’s 2013 showcase at Jazz Showcase

Rose Water Ocean

Wearing rose(s)
Smelling of rose(s)
Carrying rose(s)

All for you
All for you

Papa Legba ouvri bariye
sou mache manman dlo

Petals mixed with tears
Yemaja welcomes them 
Her curves guide their shifts against the ebullient waves

Like honey Erzulie carries the sweetness into the deeper parts of the water

And lured by their scent Oya’s whirlwinds lifts them further into infinity

manman ap mache sou dlo
mache mache li ap mache

–Rose Water Ocean (for Ma linda)

From The Dark Tower: A “recitation” of Countee Cullen’s poetic in honor of his induction into NY Writers’ Hall of Fame

From the Dark Tower

We shall not always plant while others reap
The golden increment of bursting fruit,
Not always countenance, abject and mute,
That lesser men should hold their brothers cheap;
Not everlastingly while others sleep
Shall we beguile their limbs with mellow flute,
Not always bend to some more subtle brute;
We were not made to eternally weep. 
The night whose sable breast relieves the stark,
White stars is no less lovely being dark,
And there are buds that cannot bloom at all
In light, but crumple, piteous, and fall;
So in the dark we hide the heart that bleeds,
And wait, and tend our agonizing seeds. 

Sir Cullen your words remain with me throughout the many years since i first recited them in highschool. Congratulations on being inducted into the NY Writers’ Hall of Fame!

“Engaging the world through the dancing body” – One World’s Initial Reflections

Audience Architects

On Monday, April 8th, Moving Dialogs’ One World event will take place inside the Preston Bradley Hall of the Chicago Cultural Center. Our Moving Reflections contributor for this event, the esteemed Dr. C. S’thembile West, offers some initial thoughts to ponder prior to this public “conversation”:


“Dancing bodies communicate on multiple levels with respect to kinesis,
physicality, emotionality, technique, nuance and insinuation. The
body contains and transmits cultural texts that are specific. In short,
the body is like a manuscript with multiple chapters, each nuanced by
particular life conditions and experiences. The dancing body is indelibly
marked by culture, the sum-total way of life of a specific group, as well
as nuances from persistent cultural encounters with difference.

Culturally grounded worldviews and perspectives shape not only the
protocols for dance in diverse cultures, but also determine, to some
extent, who moves, how she/he moves and the purpose/s for…

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Come be part of “One World”: A Call for Dancers, Musicians to be one of the “7” on April 8th at Chicago Cultural Center

Be part of “One World” – an event for the Moving Dialogs series i’m curating…

Audience Architects

In crafting the next moving dialog, here’s an opportunity to be involved as  one of the core participants:

Come be part of One World at the Chicago Cultural Center on Monday April 8th from 6:30 – 8:00pm!

Dance Groups & Musicians from diverse neighborhoods throughout Chicago are invited to perform live inside the Tiffany-domed Preston Bradley Hall as part of Moving Dialogs: Diversity+Dance vibrant event “One World”. 

“One World” will be hosted by world renowned choreographer and founding artistic director of Urban Bush Women Jawole Zollar, who, with her company, has toured five continents and  performed at venues including Brooklyn Academy of Music, Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts and The Kennedy Center.

Multi-faceted communities will converge at the Chicago Cultural Center to honor diverse dance groups that thrive throughout the city’s urban landscape.  7 Select troupes representing a cross-section of the city’s neighborhoods will perform live inside an open…

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creating space. opening up the body to a conversation on “diversity”. Sunday, March 10th in Chicago.

It’s about who’s in the room…

Old Town School of Folk Music - Myron R. Szold Hall
Old Town School of Folk Music – Myron R. Szold Hall

6:30pm on Sunday, March 10th, after months of  envisioning, collaborating, researching and conversing, this “room” at Old Town School of Folk Music, will become the “space” for a continuing dialog on diversity…

The diversity that existed Then

10 years

50 years ago

beyond a century ago

will co-exist with the Now

that moment you decided to come be part of this conversation

the diverse legacies that  each one of us carries will fill this space

open up our bodies to listening in distinctive ways

and bring forth discoveries that may be deeply personal 

or simply intellectual

or to just listening. that’s enough.

with Moving Dialogs: Diversity+Dance, i curated with the vision to embrace the co-existence of diverse bodies & voices in one space. within the opening event  – Diversity: Then/Now – this intermingling may bring out polarities, moments of unison & break open some new thoughts.

 it’s all about who’s in the room.

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Audience Architects’ Moving Dialogs series begins March 10, 2013 with “Diversity – Then/Now,” at the Old Town School of Folk Music’s Myron R. Szold Music & Dance Hall. The discussion, which begins at 6:30pm, is free and open to the public (RSVP here). Core participants scheduled to participate are:

Robert Battle, Artistic Director, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
Sarah Dandelles, Dance Education Director, 
Old Town School of Folk Music
Julie Nakagawa, Artistic Director, DanceWorks Chicago
Onye Ozuzu, Chair, 
Dance Center of Columbia College Chicago
Wilfredo Rivera, Artistic Director, 
Cerqua Rivera Dance Theatre
Emerging Artists NIC K and Dorian Rhea

Moving Dialogs curator Baraka de Soleil will host and moderate the discussion. Produced by Audience Architects: Heather Hartley, Executive Director; Carissa Johnson, Program Manager; Gery Moore – Assistant to the Curator.

finding peace

6 months this day to my motha’s passing
a shifting in spirit and tone.
brought back ancestral images from NyC
her smiling mother
a beloved aunt
& sacred Ghanaian water captured from slave river Donkor Nsuo
to lay with her
so she would be with “family”.
she’s found home
i’m finding peace.

remembering Don Belton on the 3 year anniversary of his tragic death….living “Ujima”

“This man wanted to know you and to share life with you. He wanted to know your life and become involved in it in a way you don’t find many folks doing. We sat and had coffee as if we had been friends forever…” —Byron Craig, remarking on Don Belton.


Don, i’m thinking of you man. on this day marking the 3 year anniversary of your tragic death. time has passed, “justice” has been served and the legacy of your writings, connections with loved ones still permeate the collective mind.

Kwanzaa’s day of Ujima resonates deeply when i think on how the community of people gathered, kept record and never let your memory fade or the tragic events of your death overcome the beauty of your unique being. There are blogs honoring you, keeping tabs on the court proceedings and holding space for those to continue to share their memories….may it continue to…

Don Belton, a community of people still speak your name with warmth and fondness, with joy in their hearts….

Happy Kwanzaa!

not sure when i’ll be “dancing” again. the final #3 of 3 distinct showings of process

this coming week final #3 of 3 distinct performative moments this fall. 2 opportunities to see a progress of process. not sure when i’ll be “dancing” again…

“I don’t know why i can’t dance” 

part of:

DanceBridge Works-In-Progress
at the CCC December 4th and 5th

Chicago Cultural Center
78 E. Washington St, Dance Studio

Chicago, IL 60602
December 4th + 5th, 6pm

I don’t know why I can’t dance
Anthony Romero with Baraka de Soleil, Hope Penner, and Marina Miliou-Theocharaki. 

Written collaboratively by Anthony Romero, Baraka de Soleil, Hope Penner, and Marina Miliou-Theocharaki, I don’t know why I can’t dance, is an investigation into the generative possibilities of deconstruction in dance. Each of the dancers was asked to begin with a movement phrase that they felt was deeply ingrained in their muscle memory. Over the course of the residency this phrase was slowed, elongated, and eventually folded back in on itself. This process has been repeated at length; making and unmaking itself as it has grown. 

DanceBridge is an initiative by the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events to grant space to dance-makers and performance artists in order to foster the creation of new work.

In this work-in-progress showing, the Fall 2012 Dancebridge artists present a selection from the work they created while in residency in the Dance Studio at the Chicago Cultural Center.

Presenting artists: Striding Lion Performance Group, Anthony Romero, and Antibody Corporation.

live the unknown

be not afraid

of the coming day

when springtime rolls up
and shapes the May
it is this time to live
and forgive
what winter brought
leaving u wrought full of listless dreams
so seems
now all is forgotten
and what is revealed
sealed by the kiss of flowers
and redolent awakenings
heals the gaps
undoing map’s impermanence 

be not afraid

of the coming day
when springtime rolls up
and shapes the May
step it up
and thrive
for sublime is the time to recognize
how imaginings come real
when we feel beyond the reaches of space
and face the depths of our be-ing
this mile is like no other
so stop being next
be the new
dive headfirst into the calm 
balm of sanctity’s
and live the unknown

This is Where: A site specific response to decay / farewell to Gladys Luncheonette

On “This is Where”

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“Another classic marker of the South side has been consigned to history’s ether with the demolition of Gladys Luncheonette Monday. Located in Bronzeville at 4527 S. Indiana, the restaurant w

as one of the most popular soul food restaurants in the Midwest. Owner Gladys Holcomb first opened her restaurant on State Street in the mid-1940s, and then moved it to a basement location at 4541 S. Indiana before moving to its final location in 1963. Holcomb ran the restaurant until 1997, when age and declining health prevented her from maintaining the day-to-day operations of her luncheonette and she sold the restaurant to her daughter and other investors.

Gladys Holcomb passed away in 2003. Shortly after her passing, the Illinois General Assembly passed a resolution honoring Holcomb and the restaurant:

WHEREAS, Gladys’ Luncheonette became one of the most popular “soul food” restaurants in the Midwest, known for its delicious fried chicken, smothered chicken, smothered pork chops, peach cobbler, “melt-in-your-mouth” biscuits, and other down home, southern delicacies; many famous people were known to dine at the Luncheonette including Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Lou Rawls, Redd Foxx, Governor Jim Thompson, Della Reese, Reverend Jesse Jackson, Gladys Knight, and a host of others.

Gladys Luncheonette has been closed for years and decayed to the point where rehabbing it would have cost as much, if not more, as buying the lot outright.

“This is Where” conceived & directed by Dance of Decay curator Baraka de Soleil with performance by Carolyn Alvarado Castillo, video/photography capturing by Myra Boone on the site of Gladys Luncheonette.

Step Into This Room… #2 of 3 performances

On Baraka de Soleil’s newest performance experiment, part of Dance of Decay:

“Step Into This Room”

Both my mother and father passed away in the same room. Different times, but the same room – Their bedroom. This space holds  deeper meaning than I ever imagined. What was once a “forest” of activity & loving, where we laughed together, slept in her arms, hugged him, felt the sting of their punishment, witness the weight of papers, greeting cards, memories fill the space, is now decomposed to… what?

I am reminded of an image that a creative & wonderful soul named Ellen shared with me: “Nurse Log – a fallen tree which, as it decays, provides ecological facilitation to seedlings. Broader definitions include providing shade or support to other plants. Some advantages a nurse log offers to a seedling are: water, disease protection, nutrients, andsunlight.  Recent research into soil pathogens suggest that in some forest communities, pathogens hostile to a particular tree species appear to gather in the vicinity of that species, and to a degree inhibit seedling growth

John Harvey’s Three Trees Nurse Log

Nurse logs may therefore provide some measure of protection from these pathogens, thus promoting greater seedling survivorship.”  — Wikipedia

Yes, mom. Yes, dad.

Tall is Her Body: Onye Ozuzu’s Composition of Decomposition

On the physical response work TALL IS HER BODY:
There is a small island in the West Indies, Dominica, not to be confused with the Dominican Republic. It is the youngest of these islands, still being formed by volcanic activity. During the colonial era, it was notable for the resistance of its rugged mountainous terrain to European agricultural technique and infrastructure, it was also notable for the resistance of its indigenous people, Caribs, to colonial rule. It is one of the few places in the Carribean where Caribs survive. It is one of the few places in the modern world where pristine rainforest thrives and where the dance of growth, decay and regeneration in the natural environment is evident and relatively unchecked. The Carib people described their homeland as appearing from above like a woman. In their language they named her “Wai’ tu kubili”, which means “Tall is her Body”. – Onye Ozuzu

Onye premiere’s this work tomorrow, Sunday the 4th at 7:00pm as part of Ayako Kato‘s Dance Union event: Dance of Decay. Curated by Baraka de Soleil with additional performances by Anthony RomeroCarolyn Alvarado Castillo atFasseas Whitebox at The Drucker Center

no words exchange

Bending down to grab his bag
He gently grazes left hand to her knee.

A pass not unlike others along a cramped ride.

Long the way back up
Almost nuzzling ear
He takes in her scent. 

Nostrils flare.

Bus shifts then stops they flow.
He eases out of bus
Her sight
On his way.

No words exchanged.
Her scent will linger with him throughout the day.
His touch is still felt.

the first of 3

performance #1 

a new solo experiment

“just not the [face]”

26th october, 2012


at School of The Art Institute of Chicago – The Columbus Auditorium, 280 South Columbus Drive


part of Insight Arts’ hybrid event: Trauma, Technology & Resistance

Trauma, Technology, & Resistance is a participatory creative research and analysis project.

The first quarter of 2012 has witnessed a number of innovative uses of new media technologies to address a number of important human rights struggles. The most remarkable has been the campaign of a well funded US based non-profit organization named Invisible Children to build public support for the capture of Joseph Kony the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army, a Christian rightwing Fundamentalist Guerrilla group notorious for war crimes including the kidnapping and brainwashing of children and young adults in Uganda. Social media has also played a significant role in the campaign to address the murder of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed 17 year old African American boy by George Zimmerman, a community watch leader in a gated neighborhood in Sanford, Florida. Racial Justice advocates have also used new technologies to address the brutal murder of Shaima Alawadi, a 32 year old Iraqi immigrant woman within her own home in San Diego, California. Finally, international human rights advocates have attempted to publicize the plight of Yemeni Journalist Abdulelah Haider Shayne who has remained a political prisoner in Yemen because of the direct intervention of the United States.

Insight Arts is assembling an impressive collection of diverse artists, intellectuals, activists and journalists to reflect on these four intersections of new media and human rights struggles. This events will be an engaged hybrid of performance, information sharing, dialogue and art making

Dance of Decay…evolving soon.

soon, curating an evening  through Dance Union . Sunday, November 4th, at 7:00pm.

experimental compositions of decomposition. artist-generated physical response works to the curated theme of decay.

Baraka de Soleil with Carolyn Alvarado Castillo


some poetic thoughts…

Dance of Decay: Compositions of Decomposition.

returning to the organic body

three artists explore
dance as decaying 
metabolic matter moving from the interiors of muscle memory
impermanence intuited
exuding its beauty within formlessness
a temporal space undoing habitual desires as
give way
yielding an evolving composition of decomposition.


DANCE OF DECAY@ the Fasseas White Box Theater at The Drucker Center, Menomonee Club for Boys and GIrls, 1535 N. Dayton St. Chicago, IL 60642 map

FREE Parking Available
Admission: $12 general, $10 students/Seniors, and $20 for Tickets for Two (available only 7 pairs through FanFuelded). Tickets are available at the door or: FanFueled.com (sale starts one month before the show)
For more info on DANCE UNION &  DANCE OF DECAY Contact: danceunion1 (at) gmail.com312-330-4171


We come in all shapes shades sizes

faces of D UNDERBELLY 

artists from past present communal exchanges

shaping futures

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