Music and dance have long been a crucial part of Black history and for Black people to express what they have experienced.
For the past 26 years, the African American Arts Institute presented Potpourri of the Arts, its fall concert that features all three ensembles.
“Reimagining Potpourri: A Black Performance Virtual Experience” was moderated by Maria Hamilton Abegunde, a professor in African American and African Diaspora Studies.
The event premiered various short videos with new music and dances the institute had worked on during the pandemic.
It also included a conversation and look inside the process of making music and dance about Black resilience and hope during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The panelists included Stafford C. Berry Jr., the African American Dance Company director, Raymond Wise, the African American Choral Ensemble associate director, James Strong, the IU Soul Revue director, Gemi Beard, a member of the African American Dance Company, Raven Curry, a member of the IU Soul Revue, and AJ Boyd, a member of the African American Choral Ensemble.
“Black popular music is an American treasure and for Black people, music is a lived experience,” Strong said.
The African American Choral Ensemble, the African American Dance Company and the IU Soul Review showcased three performances. Abedunde, the moderator of the event, said during the COVID-19 pandemic, the institute has had to adjust and reinvent how to teach performance online.
She said the institute transitioned to outdoor and online rehearsals, implemented the use of protective equipment, masks, social distancing and mitigation testing. The ensembles navigated through the pandemic with countless hours of video recording and editing, she said.
The first performance was a song by the African American Choral Ensemble titled “Walk On.” The song was written, composed and directed by Wise.
“The civil unrest that was going on, George Floyd’s murder and the pandemic and all the people dying, that was what influenced us to want to do these songs to try to provide hope,” Wise said. “ And nothing has changed, which means that these songs are even more important. We are telling people to keep going, walk on.”
The African American Dance Company then played a short dance video. Berry Jr. said he had a difficult time adjusting to performing online and dancing with a mask.
Berry Jr. said he was used to creating possibility as a choreographer, but this pandemic felt different. “What was important to us was to mourn what used to be, though hard or scary, and it gave us space to acknowledge where we are now. And we flew,” he said.
It was hard to adjust to a new online way of teaching dance Beard said, but the pandemic has taught the group so much about what is possible with technology.
“Just because it was difficult doesn’t mean it’s impossible,” Beard said.”We learned a lot about videography, and it gave us a lot more creative freedom than we would normally.”
The last performance was a rendition of “Shine,” a song written by John Legend and The Roots, performed by the IU Soul Revue and directed by Strong.
Boyd, a part of the African American Choral Ensemble, said despite the challenges the pandemic brought, she enjoyed watching the videos premiering. She said she is grateful they can reach more people now through online adjustments.
“This was so cool because we were presenting the same song in different places, which we could not do in person,” Boyd said. “Access to our work has become much easier because now people just need access to our webinar address, and they can watch us from anywhere.