Indiana Daily Student

African American Dance Company unites art and activism in upcoming show

<p>Dancers in the African American Dance Company perform solos, duets, group dances and contortions during the technical rehearsal Thursday, April 5. The company will perform at 8:00 p.m. Saturday, April 7, at the Buskirk-Chumley Theater.&nbsp;</p>

Dancers in the African American Dance Company perform solos, duets, group dances and contortions during the technical rehearsal Thursday, April 5. The company will perform at 8:00 p.m. Saturday, April 7, at the Buskirk-Chumley Theater. 

The African American Dance Company will present its 44th annual spring concert, “Engendered Bodies Embodying Gender,” at 8 p.m. April 7 in the Buskirk-Chumley Theater.

Under the direction of Stafford C. Berry Jr., AADC will present eight works: five choreographed by Berry, two choreographed by a student and one choreographed by guest artist Cesar Valentino. 

Berry said the works will deal with themes about gender performance and gender relations, such as masculinity and the empowerment of women, especially black women. 

Valentino choreographed his piece in the Vogue dance style, which originated from 1980s gay black and Latino nightclub culture, and has dancers mimic modeling poses from fashion magazines. Berry said the dance style is now practiced worldwide.

Valentino, who teaches at the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater's extension program in New York City, began working with AADC during its trip to Cuba. He returned to IU in March to finish his piece for AADC. 

Berry said his own form of African dance is not traditional but rather contemporary African dance, which incorporates the rhythm and movement found in traditional dance but is separate from its traditional context.

AADC is one of three performance ensembles of the African American Arts Institute, which is a branch of the Office of the Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Multicultural Affairs. 

Amelia Smith serves as the Dance Company’s associate instructor and as Berry's assistant. She is a Ph.D. candidate in African American and African Diaspora Studies. Her duties include administrative work, assisting with choreography and running rehearsals when Berry is absent.

Smith will dance in the piece “Mas(k)ulinities,” which questions the limits masculinity by putting its dancers in masculine or non-masculine poses regardless of their gender. She will also perform in “Battle Ready,” which she said is a call to action to address racism, sexism and other injustices.

Smith said she enjoys seeing how Berry collaborates with the dancers. 

“It really centers the experiences of the people in the room and what they bring to the community of dancers,” Smith said.

Berry approaches his performance art both as an artist and as a scholar.

"We approach the dancing from a cultural perspective," Berry said. "We approach the dancing from a socio-political perspective. We also approach the dancing from an artistic or education perspective, but also as intellectual discourse."  

Smith said the show integrates art and different forms of activism in a way that is rarely seen. 

“It encompasses so much, and it makes us think about dance and the arts in general in a different way,” Smith said. “It’s not just 5-6-7-8, let me get up and do this cute dance, but it is a part of resistance, not just intellectual, not just social, not just economically. It is all of those things.”

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