We’ve all witnessed pictures, seen sculptures and heard stories detailing, to the best of knowledge, the Middle Passage and the inhumane conditions Africans were forced to endure. Each time, there’s a startling feeling that shutters to the pit of my stomach.
And the more we learn and have to pass down this history to children, the more unreal it seems that human beings were treated in such a disgusting manner. Acknowledging and re-telling this history never becomes easy. Never becomes ‘ok’. As teaching tools the hope is that the struggle it took for me to even be sitting here and typing this, is one never to be taken for granted. It happened. It’s real. And though it was centuries ago, there’s a stain embedded, just knowing that the depths of our ancestry are linked to such heinous actions forced upon our kin. Knowing that someone in our family experienced this part of history – first-hand.
Our part is to never let the stories and histories of our ancestors be forgotten. We are to learn from them and promote positive change. We articulate the struggle through creativity and the arts. Performance, literary, spoken and visual arts are our outlets into educating and engaging younger generations in being aware of their history and the life experiences of Black people.
We forget that these captured Africans were once free people and had lives. Who were they before their capturing? What did their lives consist of before becoming enslaved? What was the family structure like, were parents involved? If so, a father, a mother, both?
Red Clay Dance, an emerging Chicago-based Dance Company brings contextual movement to these questions in their fifth anniversary concert, “Transcending” taking place October 18th and 19th at the Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts.
Included as part of this dance tribute is the heartfelt “On Hallowed Ground” performance. Conceptualizing from the underground reef sculpture, Vicissitude by Jason deCaires Taylor, this body of work inhales the tragedies of the Atlantic Slave Trade and the lives lost during the Middle Passage, and exhales layered stories of what life may have been prior to enslavement.
The Vicissitude sculpture symbolizes a change of circumstances, most common, one that is unfortunate and unpleasant, to describe the least. It’s a concept that fuses well with the mission of Transcending, as it connects with lives that have been rocked and changed forever.
The dancers take on a character and were encouraged to conduct individual research surrounding Africa, where most of the slaves were taken from, and the conditions forced upon Africans to further build and develop their character’s story.
“We’re using our imaginations. So we kind of transport ourselves back to that time and then bring that to the present so that it speaks to each one of our own movements and phrases,” says Vershawn Sanders Ward, Founder and Artistic Managing Director of Red Clay Dance. “We want to remember that they are people and there was life before the slave trade.”
The 75-minute presentation will also showcase “Gone 2 Soon” a dance composition that formed prior to the Trayvon Martin verdict. Here, the group uses movement to express grief over a life stripped unexpectedly and too soon.
With each repertory piece, music composer Alpha Diallo provides an original composition to further enhance the stories.
Red Clay Dance’s choreography and Diallo’s composition, “The Spirit Under Water” blends to journey into a dark part of history.
“What I did was really take in the characters and the stories. I really wanted to reflect the character through the music,” explains Diallo. “This kind of sound, you can feel it.”
Red Clay Dance creates, performs and teaches African Diaspora inspired work, with the goal to transform social, cultural and economic imbalances.
“Transcending” aims to move you through dance, text, and original music.
“We’re using a work of art that has been kind of static,” says Vershawn. When you pull emotion or movement out of that, there’s really no limit. There’s no affinity. Everything is possible as long as it’s real to us as the characters then hopefully it’ll be real toward the audience.”
General Admission: $20 | VIP Package: $40 (Saturday Only!!) |Purchase Tickets by phone 773-702-ARTS (2787) or online athttp://ticketsweb.uchicago.edu/shows/transcending/events.
On Saturday there is a very special VIP/Red Carpet Package available that includes a pre-show Mix and Mingle reception with Red Clay Dance’s Board of Directors from 6-7pm; premium reserved seats for the performance; and admission to an exclusive post-show “Paint the Town Red” Benefit Party in the Logan Center Penthouse where you can meet the dancers and enjoy complimentary cocktails, hors d’oeuvres, DJ, dancing, and much more!