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Joanna G. Harris
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15th Black Choreographers Festival Delights with a Range of Works

by Joanna G. Harris
March 12, 2019
Lanley College
900 Fallon Street
Oakland, CA 94607
(510) 834-5740
Joanna G. Harris Author, Beyond Isadora: Bay Area Dancing, 1916-1965. Regent Press, Berkeley, CA, 2009.
Kendra Barnes and Laura Ellis have accomplished the miracle of presenting the
Black Choreographers Festival: "Here & Now" for 15 years! This year, the festival was presented at Dance Mission Theater in San Francisco for two weekends, at SAFEhouse Arts in San Francisco for one weekend, and finally at Laney College in Oakland on March 9 & 10. As usual, they were able to bring together diverse groups to show the remarkable range, creativity and skill of the many groups, dancers and musicians.

The March 9 program included a work-in-progress by Barnes entitled "ReD zONE". The score included music by Jennifer Johns, including lyrics, poetry and sounds. The piece involved today’s traumatic events in many women’s lives: assault, attack, humiliation, loneliness and grief.

Danced by Clairemonica Figueroa, Jhia Louise Jackson, Paige Mayes, Cria Merchant and Linda Steele, it was very moving and intense. Four light circles separated and then enclosed the dancers. There was a moment that the audience read projected statistics concerning assault. For the future, one hopes the sections of the dance would come together more tightly.

An unusual event was the solo by choreographer/performer Dazaun Soleyn called “love me naked” to music by various artists including Michael Walls and Ella Mae. Soleyn was concerned with “love of self” and “vulnerability.” His movement stayed close to the torso; arms and hands embracing his body. He executed many somersaults and tumbles in acrobatic fashion. As a choreographer, he might explore some reaching and moving into space to vary his movement vocabulary. A chair, upstage right, was an intriguing set. Alas, he moved toward it but it was not used.

“Novos Caminos/New Pathways” opened the program. The program note on it thanked the Orixas, ancestors “to grant permission to us to create this collaboration for Tô Aí.” As a ceremonial dance it was very powerful as danced by Anisah Abdulla, Shawna Adkins, Ebonie Barnett (Ogum), Ilana Andujar, Kyziah Shavers (Exu) and Holly Shobeas (Omibagira). The performers collaborated on the choreography which was exuberant and lively. It was danced to the wonderful drums of Julio Remelexo and Graca Onasile. The dance was a dedicated ceremony of energy.

As a finale, the festival presented “Return to the Light of the Sun” (2019) by Mahealani Uchiyama and her group, Halau Ka Ua Tuahine. What an exciting event, to see ten dancers (even two little ones) in the Hawaiian skirts and headgear that shake and shimmy and bring such excitement to the stage. One kingly gentleman, held the center space. The costumes by Aaron Sencil were sensational.

Congratulations to the Black Choreographers Festival for another great year and for the range of work that was included in the performances.
Robert Henry Johnson in 'The Gospel According to Roland Brown III'.

Robert Henry Johnson in "The Gospel According to Roland Brown III".

Photo © & courtesy of Jason Hairston

Dazaun Soleyn in 'love me naked'.

Dazaun Soleyn in "love me naked".

Photo © & courtesy of Jason Hairston

Mikaela Robles in 'Return to the Light of the Sun' by M?healani Uchiyama.

Mikaela Robles in "Return to the Light of the Sun" by M?healani Uchiyama.

Photo © & courtesy of Danny Tan

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