Audience Favorites Highlight Black Choreographers Festival
BCF 2017 runs Feb. 11-26 at Malonga Casquelourd Theater.
Jamie Wright. The DanceWright Project.
Photo by Weidong
What does African-American dance mean to you? Jazz? Initiation rituals? Hip-hop? Alvin Ailey? It is that, but also a lot more.
For the last 13 years, Oakland dancer/producers Laura Elaine Ellis and Kendra Kimbrough Barnes have made sure that at least once a year dance lovers are offered a glimpse of just how varied choreographers of African descent are. Each February, the Black Choreographers Festival, or BCF, presents three weekends of choreographers, experienced and those just acquiring independent stage voices. A summer festival last year gave additional perspectives.
While BCF works with a small advisory committee, its two co-directors choose the final lineup. This year’s opening weekend at the Malonga Casquelourd Theater includes what Ellis calls AFs—or audience favorites—with all presenting new or very recent works. Also scheduled are Oakland arts activist and National Poetry Slam winner Marc Bamuthi Joseph, who will show an excerpt from his witty and thoughtful dance theater meditation on soccer, /peh-LO-tah/. According to Ellis, he is also planning a world premiere solo, tentatively entitled Trumps First 100 Days.
Robert Moses is creating a new “Frankenstein-like solo” for Chrystal Dawn Bell based on his recent 21 Fully Realized Incomplete Thoughts. Maurya Kerr and Gregory Dawson—Alonzo King Lines Ballet alumni now running their own ensembles—will offer world premieres, and so will Congo native Byb Chanel Bibene and Raissa Simpson, who are working on new solos.
BCF’s mix of experienced and mid-career artists also presents talented newcomers. Ellis remembers having seen a work by Mills graduate student Stephanie Hewett in a campus performance. She was, she says, “blown away” by the work. So this will be Hewett’s first professional opportunity. Hewett is a multimedia artist who recently moved to the area from Boston. In a recent dance discourse event, she explained her new home in Oakland as “finally a place where I can be myself” because she doesn’t have to constantly explain herself both as a woman and an artist. A fabulous performer, Erik Lee, a member of Dimension Dance Theater, made his debut as a choreographer last year. He is back joining mother/daughter team Afia Thomson and Nafi Watson, longtime choreographer, the musically astute Jamie Wright, and Dazaun Soleyn, who recently graduated from Alonzo King Lines’ Ballet Training Program. Chosen for the 2017 BCF Artists Mentoring Program were young co-choreographers Noah James and Ashley Gayle.
Black Choreographers Festival 2017, Feb. 11-26, Malonga Casquelourd Theater, 1428 Alice St. Oakland, and Dance Mission Theater, 3316 24th St., San Francisco, $10-$30, BCFHereAndNow.com.
This report appears in the February edition of our sister publication, The East Bay Monthly.
Published Feb. 6, 2017 at 8:00 a.m.