DANSONDERZOEK/DANCE RESEARCH PROJECT: The representation of Afro Western heritage in contemporary dance
by Monique Duurvoort
Throughout 2013-2014 I am carrying out a dance research project ‘The representation of Afro Western heritage in contemporary dance’.
My research focuses on the conscious representation of themes pertaining to Afro Western ethnic heritage, as well as the impact of choreographic and creative processes upon these themes, such as the choice of repertoire, choice and training of dancers and staff, and development of educational and/or community projects.
African American theatre dance has always been of great inspiration and example for dancers, choreographers and other artists of color around the world. Its legacy bears straightforward examples of this conscious integration and representation of ethnic background and heritage into art/choreography, which also utilizes academic and/or urban dance styles and techniques as means of expression.
Finding considerably fewer examples of this here in The Netherlands and Europe, I have decided to take a look at several American dance companies, academies, and independent choreographers, artists and teachers, as an example to get a good impression of the large and specifically diverse representation of artistic interpretation and translation of African American culture and heritage into dance and the performing arts in general.
Regarding my own dance background, I am looking at dance companies, academies, and independent choreographers and artists who use academic dance (classical ballet-, modern and jazz dance), urban dance or a mix of these dance forms as their vocabulary.
The research has two objectives, the first one is personal, the second one more general:
1. Finding tools that can help me with the development of my own signature as an Afro European artist in the projects that I initiate in The Netherlands. By being able to expose myself to clear examples of embodiment of Afro diasporic culture into art and specifically dance, I hope to obtain a better insight and understanding of the processes I encounter when developing my own artistic work.
2. To establish firm theoretical stepping stones towards international exchange in the world of Afro Western contemporary dance.
Both in Europe and throughout the world, audiences and choreographers alike are inspired by the rich heritage of African American theatre dance. It’s a tradition developed in a way to a common legacy, a vocabulary tangible and recognizable for people of color throughout the world, and has influenced the way several artists of color explore themes like identity, historical legacy and creativity. For me it is interesting and essential to develop a creative and artistic dialogue with dance companies, choreographers, dancers and other artists, in other places of the Black Diaspora, which may be the basis for creative exchange projects.
In June 2013 I started the first phase of my research project. For this I traveled to the US, where I viewed many classes, rehearsals and performances of a diverse range of dance styles.
I spoke to directors of various dance companies, arts organizations, academies, independent choreographers, dancers, dance teachers and other artists, and was able to observe their artistic and working processes, hear their stories and exchange experiences, thoughts and ideas.
My biggest thanks go out to the following people and organizations who helped me carry out my research project in New York and Philadelphia (June-July 2013 & April/May 2014):
Abraham in Motion: staff & dancers
Ailey II: staff & dancers
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater: staff & dancers
American Ballet Theatre: staff & dancers
Ben Kimitch / New York Live Arts
Bill T. Jones / Artistic Director Arnie Zane Dance Company | New York Live Arts
Bill T. Jones / Arnie Zane Dance Company | New York Live Arts: staff & dancers
Camille A. Brown / Artistic Director Camille A. Brown & Dancers
Carla Peterson / New York Live Arts
Cathryn Williams / Alvin Ailey Arts in Education & Community Programs
Dance Theatre of Harlem & Dance Theatre of Harlem School: staff & dancers
Darrell Grand Moultrie
Ella Baff / Director Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival
Jacob’s Pillow Dance
Jamel Gaines / Artistic Director Creative Outlet
Janet Wong / Bill T. Jones / Arnie Zane Dance Company | New York Live Arts
Jawole Zollar / Artistic Director Urban Bush Women
Joan Myers Brown / Artistic Director Philadanco
J.R. Glover / Jacob’s Pillow Dance
Kyle Abraham / Artistic Director Abraham in Motion
Lane Harwell / Dance NYC
Liz Montgomery / Gibney Dance
Maija Garcia / Artistic director Organic Magnetics
Melanie Person / Artistic Director The Ailey School
Nasha Thomas-Schmitt / Ailey Camp
New York Live Arts
Norton Owen / Jacob's Pillow Dance
Philadanco: staff & dancers
Rennie Harris / Artistic Director Rennie Harris Puremovement
Rennie Harris Puremovement: staff & dancers
Robert Battle / Artistic Director Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
Roger C. Jeffrey
Shay Waver / Executive Director 651 Arts
Sylvia Waters / Artistic Director Emerita Ailey II
The Ailey Extension: staff & dancers
The Ailey School: staff & dancers
Theresa Ruth Howard
Timothy Stockton / Studio Museum
Troy Powell / Artistic Director Ailey II
Virginia Johnson / Artistic Director Dance Theatre of Harlem
And in The Netherlands:
Esther van den Brink
Eva Nijman van Zanten
Marijke van Velzen
This research is supported by the Performing Arts Fund NL (Fonds Podiumkunsten).