Processing: Black + Woman + Avant Garde + Choreographer …

There are not yet clear thoughts or conclusions to offer here — just beginning efforts to gather thoughts in one place for future reference.  Black, woman, choreographer all ring true.  Avant-garde?  I don’t know.

Seismic shifts …  I have been bracing myself as seismic shifts knock me off my center.  Shifts of all kinds in all areas.  While I can’t quite tease out where this whole thing is going, I’m clear that exciting things are being said out in the open.

Case in point … Steve Ginsberg of Hartford’s Hartbeat Ensemble sent me an email over the holidays informing me of this event.  Taking place during this past APAP convening, and live streamed on the world wide web, an intergenerational group of artists gathered to address the realities of Black Woman Choreographers.  It was hosted by Camille A. Brown and moderated by Onye Ozuzu.  I wish I could have been there.  I was not.  In fact, I just got around to checking the link Steve sent, and am pleased to find that the site offers video documentation of the gathering.  There’s a sense that “you just had to be there”.  Video doesn’t always adequately capture the moment, but there’s also an obvious power, chaos, yearning, warmth, tenderness and striving for honesty/transparency transmitted through the video.  There’s a claiming of the moment that stands out to me as well, a sense that we are increasingly compelled to speak out.  In my first quick view of the video, I did catch a moment where Jawole Willa Jo Zollar speaks about the evolving vision of Urban Bush Women as a resource for dance makers.  Then she speaks of the lack of resources as a hindrance to one’s freedom to fail, and failure as a requisite for growth.  Ah.  This is complicated …

A couple of days ago, I happened upon publicity for a panel discussion at New York Live Arts.  Back in March, Bill T. Jones moderated a discussion called, “When did the avant-garde become black? ”  Huh.  That’s puts me on the edge of my seat.  In this conversation, Jones was joined by Ralph Lemon, Brenda Dixon Gottschild, Adrienne Edwards, Ishmael Houston-Jones, Dianne McIntyre, Bebe Miller, and Charmaine Warren.  There appears to be no video documentation available for public viewing.  Again, I suppose you had to be there, but NYLA offers a reading list as a companion to their discussion. And on her website, Gottschild writes a bit about the topic.

All this to say that the so-called avant-garde is an ongoing thread in Africanist [i.e. AFRICAN AND AFRICAN AMERICAN] genres of visual art, music, and dance—part of the disjunctive dissonances; the high-affect juxtapositions; the aesthetics of HOT-AND-COOL; the chromatic scales of African American blues and field hollers; the abstract nature of rhythm tap dance; the DOWN grassroots poetry of signifyin’ and the dozens—and, ironically, these are elements that Europeanist cultures appropriated in the service of infusing and injecting new blood, new life, into the dominant culture.  And then, in typical recursive fashion, Europeanist appropriation circled back into counter-appropriation.  In other words, even though INVISIBILIZED, what was characterized as avant-garde is, IN PART, an Africanist thread TEASED OUT AND REPURPOSED to fit the needs of the dominant culture.

This also brings to mind Ishmael Houston Jones’ Parallels at Danspace Project, a series of concerts featuring black choreographers, all of whom operate outside mainstream modern dance.

What is Black Dance?  TimeOut New York on Houston-Jones’ Parallels

On Black Dance: Shifting Movement, Words, Identities  Hyperallergic on Houston-Jones’ Parallels

About Deborah Goffe

Deborah Goffe's making is rooted in the crafting of environments, contemporary performance, community engaged practice and interdisciplinary creative processes. Since its founding in 2002, Scapegoat Garden has functioned as the primary vehicle and creative community through which she explores these interests. She currently serves as Assistant Professor of Modern/Contemporary Dance at Hampshire College and the Five College Dance Department.
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