Sunday, June 30, 2013

Take 5 - Bay African Diaspora Dance Panel at EDF

lft to rt: Festival Co-Director, C.K. Ladzekpo; Deborah Vaughan Founder, Dimensions Dance Theatre;
Colette Eloi, Artistic Director, El Wah Movement; Ms. Blanche Brown, Haitian Dance Pioneer; Latanya
Tigner, Director Dimensions Extensions/Dancer-Dimensions Dance Theatre |photo cr: Jan McDermott
YBCA - LAM Theater
"...when I think of the African Diaspora, I think of it in terms of movement."

Dance Pioneer Ms. Blanche Brown, reflects upon seeing her Aunt dancing the jitterbug in the 40's as she further comments that African Diaspora people have,

"... an Ancestral memory in our body that makes us move in a certain way." 

june 29, 2013_San Francisco, CA -- Ms. Blanche's formal training of African Diaspora Dance was under the aegis of Dance Educator, Cultural Ambassador Ms. Nontsizi Cayou, whose formidable spirit principled the campaign, which led to the formation of San Francisco State University's Department of Dance in 1986. This groundbreaking feat represents pioneering efforts in creating some of the country's first degree programs, offering concentrations in both Performance/Choreography and Dance Ethnology.  Professor Cayou was also the founder of the Wajumbe Cultural Institute, located in the heart of San Francisco’s Western Addition neighborhood at the African and African-American Center for Art and Culture.1

Serving as the preclude to the evening festivities, the panel was moderated by Ethnic Dance Festival Co-Director C.K. Ladzekpo, 40-year Bay Area Cultural Architect. Topics covered interpretations of the term “Diaspora”, questions about African Dance technique and shared histories of African Diaspora Dance in the Bay Area, through the perspectives of its esteemed panelists. Award winning choreographer and Cultural visionary Deborah Vaughan placed Diaspora dance beginnings in the Bay Area as far back as the 30's, citing the Dance trek of luminary Ms. Ruth Beckford, an Oakland native who was discovered by Dance Pioneer Katherine Dunham and toured professionally, thus ushering her upon the path of African Diaspora Dance. Ms. Beckford also was the founder of the first recreational modern dance department in the United States at the Oakland Parks and Recreation Department and the founder of the first African-Haitian dance schools in Oakland and San Francisco.2 
Ms. Vaughan also cited Ms. Dunham's acclaimed artistic works in Dance performance often translating her field works from abroad into staged works upon Theatre, on Television, scholarly Institutes and protests--the World was truly her stage and garnered generations of captivated audiences, while leaving a legacy of Dance training through “Dunham technique” for which all the panelists were aptly trained.

Dimensions 40-year legacy boasts the works of Latanya Tigner, whose first Dance experience was with Ms. Deborah Vaughan at Contra Costa College. She furthered these works into a shared role as an Arts Administrator and Dancer with Dimensions Dance Theatre. Today she is the Director of its 20 year Dimensions Extensions Performance Ensemble, birthed through their Rites of Passage program, providing educational outreach serving primarily African American youth through the Performing Arts.

     "... the sway...the birds and their pattern of flight in the sky, large, bright, beautiful-colored nation of astral bright lights." is the way College Dance Teacher and Dance Choreographer Colette Eloi envisions her native Haiti. She is a Dance faculty member of the legendary Laney College of Oakland, CA and a veteran to Bay Area stages. Impassioned with a deep focus upon differentiating technique and style in her teaching methodology, Colette shared that although she is inspired by contemporary pieces, it's more so those that preserve the traditional meaning. In her Artistic works of Haiti she aims to deconstruct ongoing stigmas that diminish the prosperous notion of what the country, culture and history offers. And through her artistic works she highlights elements that does, like this song in her presentation: 

"Rele Tout Bon Moun Yo" [Call All the Good People]

Colette further informs that utilizing a machete may overtly be seen as an act of violence, yet it is an idea of justice and sometimes it's time to draw-the-line! 

     Although a powerful creative force whose works and Dance speaks, often met in person of quiet demeanor, Ms. Vaughan excitingly espoused jewels of information giving us a glimpse into her creative process about fluidity, exploring how Diaspora agents have survived through music and movement. Ms. Blanche observed how Haitian movement and Dance is getting faster and styles becoming more dynamic, exclaiming,  "...but that's how Dance moves." While Latanya points out that African American contributions to the Diaspora aesthetic are often "missed" her study remains consistent focusing upon Second line and Jazz funeral traditions of New Orleans, and comments that although it is a free-style of movement associated, her Festival choreographic presentation is an extension of these traditions and raises awareness. Upon the closing question posed, 
“How has your Dance changed in the 20 years.” Ms. Blanche espouses how important it is in keeping the Soul and music together and teaches that you must Dance from the inside out – inspirations drawn from her teacher, Nontsizi Cayou.

     Determined to address the urgent comment delivered at the top of discussion by Ms. Vaughan “…the Bay Area has a rich history that needs to be archived.”--As I saluted the Eldership and Colleagues onstage and in the audience, I shared that as this is my inheritance, I too shared a concern in archiving these traditions and Artistic works and raised the question as to what current efforts were underway. I referenced Amara Tabor Smith’s “revival of Ed Mock” which invoked some audience yelps, and went on to inform the assembly about the closing of the Performing Arts Library Museum [P.A.L.M.] and how these files [Ed Mock] are not accessible and currently in storage with other vital files from this community [I actually did perform several searches] and the access remains denied upon a pending re-opening date. Also, I shared my love for libraries, and how I’ve combed through Dance collections across the country inspiring the current #Dancestory2013 project. 
But ALAS! - time shut down any exchange for response. However, two people approached me with a background in library science and a Community Arts advocate willing to collaborate- the crème de la crème?! - A donation towards #Dancestory2013.

{Thank you Ms. Vaughan, you are the GIVE of THE GIVE.}

     Overall, the experience certainly was a catalyst of excitement for the evening show to follow – A menagerie of vividly colored culture and music, with special artistic elements contributed by Antoine Hunter and his “American Sign Dance”. The dessert of the evening for me, was the youth group “Mona Khan Company Emerging Performers”, they were a bloom of excitement, against a boom of performance prowess by emerging youth Dancers of El Wah Company - Ebonie Nefertari Barnett and Ngalifourou Matingou.

Congratulations Artists, Directors, Technicians, Volunteers and SF Ethnic Dance Festival. #RiteOn 

~R. Califa Calloway | nzo.califa Dance Works
 about #Dancestory2013 - [click link]