In 2014 diversity in dance—and in ballet in particular—is the latest buzz phrase. With highly promoted programs like American Ballet Theatre's Project Plié and companies like New York City Ballet and universities nationwide hiring luminaries in the field to head diversity committees, the future of dance looks hopeful in terms of there being true representation of the rich multiplicity of cultures in America.
Indeed a few new faces and atypical bodies such as Misty Copeland's have emerged as a recognized force in ballet, but the journey of the African American ballerina has been long and arduous. While men of color have managed to crack the ornamented ceilings of the ballet world, too few qualified black ballerinas have received the opportunity or recognition worthy of their talent, work ethic, and skill.
My research will examine the careers of dancers of color—past, present, and future—tell their stories, and through performance, interviews, and documentation celebrate their strength, beauty, and perseverance in the midst of an aesthetic and ethnic bias that persists even as we move toward a brighter, more colorful future.
Additionally I will continue my work in the area of employing dance as a tool of empowerment and healing for battered women and children, as well as using the dance idiom as a pathway toward discussion of this devastating social issue. For several years I have worked with an organization called the Institute on Domestic Violence in the African American Community (IDVACC), whose mission is to enhance our society's understanding of violence in the African American community and help end it. I first became involved in the war against domestic violence upon meeting Oliver Williams, executive director of IDVAAC. His innovative approach to sparking awareness and his respect for the role of art in domestic violence advocacy led to my choreographing and performing several works for IDVAAC events.
My most recent work with the group was choreographing a four-part piece entitled One in Three for a diversity conference in 2012; this work tackles the universal, equal opportunistic scope of domestic violence that can manifest itself as a deliberate and measured campaign of abuse or as an unprovoked outburst of anger and physical violence. Domestic violence is a twisted juxtaposition of abandonment and control. Through the eyes of four women from varying cultural, social, religious, and economic backgrounds, I attempted to explore the duality of these attributes in a multidisciplinary work. My approach to infuse pointe work, modern, African, and salsa to allow the dancers to represent these differences through movement also highlighted and embraced the individual strengths of the dancers I had the pleasure to collaborate with. Each segment works with and pushes the boundaries of the respected dance form and challenges the dancers to extend themselves beyond being movers to being actors and narrators of a contemporary commentary on battered woman syndrome and domestic violence.
One in Three was formed through a series of interviews, open exchanges of ideas, and experiences between the dancers, experts in the field, domestic violence survivors, myself, and videographer Joe Rodman, who captured the movement and back story of each section on film. The nebulous structure of the work allowed the dancers to participate in the dance making and left room for the unexpected to emerge. Through experimentation, each pas de deux took shape, as the couples reflected on and developed their own process in the characterization of the complex roles.
My hope for my research is that it highlights and brings forth two topics that are near and dear to my heart: looking at social issues such as domestic violence through an artistic lens and exploring the role of the black ballerina in the world of dance and its history.