Dancing the Voice of the People

Article excerpt

DANCING THE VOICE OF THE
PEOPLE

URBAN BUSH WOMEN
NEW HAVEN INTERNATIONAL FESTIVAL OF ARTS
AND IDEAS
JOHN LYMAN CENTER FOR PERFORMING ARTS
NEW HAVEN, CONNECTICUT
JUNE 28-30, 2001

When Dixwell, a piece created by Urban Bush Women in collaboration with Connecticut's Dixwell community, premiered at New Haven's International Festival of Arts and Ideas, the audience was nearly as vocal as the performers. In their signature style, the dancers moved with fierce conviction and spoke, sang, and acted out their message. The company performed Dixwell at New Haven's Southern Connecticut State University, portraying the evolution of a local neighborhood that played a prominent role in the emergence of jazz and which protested against urban renewal projects in the later part of the last century.

How does a New York-based company enter a community they know little about and transform its history--the good, the bad and the ugly--into an inspiring and accurate depiction of its development? One that had spectators shouting "Yeah, that's right!" throughout and applauding at the end? UBW, directed by Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, specializes in making dances with social consciousness as well as aesthetic appeal. After a six-month search, the festival and the Regional Cultural Plan selected the company to work with the community.

UBW's blend of movement, voice, and text made for a smooth and multifaceted telling of Dixwell's story. Zollar and Musical Director Kwame Ross created most of the choreography, with contributions from dancers Shani Nwando Ikerioha Collins and Tania Isaac. Nine New Haven dancers and community members augmented the eleven-member company, which spent six weeks in residence crafting the piece--it included film, slides, and recorded interviews. Musicians Ross, Rhan Burton, Charles Vincent Burwell, Brian Jarawa Gray, Jesse Hameen II, and Shawn Vincent performed live; two singers, David Miller, an 18-year-old student at SCSU, and Gloria J. …