It is with great pleasure to share my thoughts on this season’s A.I.R. Dance Conference titled and themed “Balancing Tradition.” A.I.R. is the acronym for Artistry in Rhythm and it is certainly that. I began my A.I.R. journey six years ago when I moved back to Florida. I participated as a performer, choreographer, teacher, lecturer, and now as a dance reviewer and critic; I am amazed at the evolution of the conference. I think it was stated that this is the 11th year (correct me if I’m wrong) that Mrs. Michelle Grant-Murray has blessed the South Miami community with this conference. Over the years, I have seen the participation fluctuate but never did Grant-Murray’s level of excellence waiver. She continues to pour into her students’ lives as well as the community, imparting grandiose wisdom and experiences through this conference. A.I.R. offers “A synthesized historical, cultural, and philosophical experience that explores dance, music, visual arts, and the aesthetic of a global narrative that grounds and expands the innovative practices of art making” (Grant-Murray 2023). Participants travel through the embodied, theoretical, scholarly, and artistic worlds “engag[ing] in masterclasses, panel discussions, artist talks, performance, and scholarly presentations” (Grant-Murray 2023).
Every year Grant-Murray recognizes a national powerhouse in the dance world, this year the awardee was Kevin Iega Jeff: Renowned dancer, award winning choreographer, and Co-founder/Artistic/Executive Director of Deeply Rooted Dance Theater (DRDT). She also recognized South Florida Power of the Arts Honorees: Commissioner Kionee McGhee, attorney and author of the best-selling book Conquering Hope: The Life You Were Destined To Live; Marion “Neise” Sneed: (Branch of Hope: Supporting Individuals and Families Impacted by Incarceration); Leatha Bush (Survivors Affected by Violence); and Romania Dukes (Mothers Fighting for Justice). Tiffany Meritt-Brown, currently a Visiting Professor at the University of Iowa received the “Distinguished Alumni Award in Artistry.” She also taught an Afro-Fusion contemporary class. The conference featured many Miami Dade College Kendall alumni as performers, choreographers, and teachers as well as local and national guest teachers and lecturers. Several featured guests are quintessential in their area such as A.I.R. Resident Choreographer Paunika Jones, Former Principle with Dance Theater of Harlem; Dr. C. Kamal Nance (Umfundalai Technique); Dr. Keisha Abraham (A Jedi Framework); and Marisol Blanco (Afro Cuban) to name a few.
Performances are crucial elements transmitting knowledge, memories, histories, traumas, and identities (Taylor 2003 and Schechner 2013 and 2006) and within this construct, whether within the role of performer or observer “within cultural performances…we often come to realize truths about ourselves and our world that we cannot realize in our day-to-day existence (Madison 2020, 150).
Cultural performance “…include[es] ritual, ceremony, carnival, theatre, and poetry, [which] is an explanation and explication of life itself…” (Madison 2020, 146). As I watched the performance, I thought about how these elements were displayed in various forms through multiple representations of nationhood. Diana Taylor in The Archive and the Repertoire: Performing Cultural Memory in the Americas discusses how it is important to “keep examining the relationships between embodied performance and the production of knowledge (Taylor 2003, xvii -xv). The program was full of knowledge, offering a range of styles and aesthetics which were clear representations of African spirituality, fusion, womanhood, struggle, history, balance/imbalance, community, freedom, power, and tradition. There is not enough time or word count to discuss the luminous works featured on the program. I will briefly discuss three works that embodied this notion of cultural performance: they “transmitt[ed] knowledge, memories, histories, traumas, and identities (Taylor 2003 and Schechner 2013 and 2006).
“Rituals” choreographed and performed by Shanna Woods featuring her daughter, Storyteller Lillian S. Harris. This mother-daughter duet is powerful. Harris is seated narrating a fable/myth dropping pearls of wisdom while Woods crawls through and over the chairs and small square tables. Harris exits stage right and Woods devours the space, conjuring, shapeshifting, asserting her power and revealing her feminine energy. African aesthetics are ripe and rich. She speaks of her history, heritage and offers affirmations focused on healing and self-love. Yasssss!
“Dame La Receta!” choreographed by Chachi Perez in collaboration with David Velazco (Musician), Jennifer Rivera (dancer) and Genesis Castaneda (dancer) offered a kaleidoscope of rhythm, movement, and vocalization that sucked you into their Spanish familia. The playfulness juxtaposed with ritual offered a comedic element to the work. The Orisha Yemaya was present. The rich blues of the costumes were captivating on each woman. The unspoken and the bodily narratives, winin’ hips, live drumming, beating of the pots and pans, and the constant rhythmic changes, pulled they audience inward to the next dimension.
“InterDimensions: ACTIVATED” choreographed by Jennifer Rivera in collaboration with the cast brought the house down. Shango showed up and showed out. Each dancer was in it and received the spirit. Rivera is one to watch. Her aesthetic choices which include Hip Hop, House, Contemporary, and Afro Cuban, are full bodied, flavorful, and caliente! The red costumes, flaming energy, and warm lighting are the right combination—the audience agreed. They were moving, clapping, and smiling.
At the end of show Dance Department Alumni and former Jubilation Dance Ensemble (JDE) President Brittany Williams discussed Grant-Murray’s purpose and vision for the conference when she presented her with a Certificate of Excellence at the Saturday show. The moment was impactful in many ways, yes, as Williams stated, “give them their flowers while they are alive” because there is no doubt that she is so deserving of this recognition, for her impeccable work and brilliance but Williams stated that Grant-Murray was addressing a need. The Black and Brown students in the community needed a place where they could dance, create, and explore, particularly in forms, vocabularies, and languages that were innate and germane to their ancestry while exposing them to new experiences and other technologies that they could draw upon, engage with, and coalesce. So, when you consider the theme “Balancing Tradition” and the conference offerings in terms of classes in Hip Hop, Contemporary, House, Kemetic Yoga, Umundalai Technique, Afro-Cuban, Afro-Fusion, and Ballet and the performances which embodied these elements, it was the perfect celebration and representation of culture.
The ancestors were pleased!!! Special mention to Light Designer, Apon Nichols and his fabulous technical crew.
Madison, D. Soyini. 2020. Critical Ethnography: Method, Ethics, and Performance. New York: SAGE.
Schechner, Richard. 2013. “What is Performance Studies?” Rupkatha Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies in Humanities, 5(2): 1-11.
________________. 2006. Performance Studies: An Introduction. New York: Routledge.
Taylor, Diana. 2003. The Archive and the Repertoire: Performing Cultural Memory in the Americas. Durham: Duke University Press.
Image 1: Tiffany Meritt-Brown and AC
Image 2: Tiffany Meritt-Brown, Michelle Grant-Murray, and Brittany Williams
Image 3: Kevin Iega Jeff and Michelle Grant-Murray
Image 4: Michelle Grant-Murray and Cast
Image 5: “InterDimensions: ACTIVATED” choreographed by Jennifer Rivera and Cast
Image 6: “Rum.jesus” choreographed by Joshua Archibald
Image 7: “SIT; Symbiosis in 3” choreographed by Stephanie Franco
Image 8: “SIT; Symbiosis in 3” choreographed by Stephanie Franco
Image 9: “Dame La Receta!” Choreographed by Chachi Perez in collaboration with David Velazco, Jennifer Rivera, and Genesis Castaneda
Image 10: Michelle Grant-Murray