This has certainly been a full summer of dancing, love, joy, power, African ancestral memory, and legacy. I have so much writing to share with you and I’m getting it out slower than I would like to but please know that it’s coming. I’m also believing and manifesting the right platform for all this dance and culture writing, and ohhhhh, the images that I am collecting; they are amazing!
What is T.W.E.R.K? T.W.E.R.K. is an acronym for (T)ransnational dance (W)orks and practices that (E)voke (R)evolutionary (K)inship. Michelle Grant-Murray, the Artistic Director of Olujimi Dance Collective birthed this project last year as a Summer Dance Intensive (T.W.E.R.K. originally started as a Black Artist Talk at Deering Estates in Miami, FL) at the Moss Performing Arts Center in Cutler Bay, Florida. This year’s intensive was a little different, we began with an Olujimi company professional development workshop facilitated by Wakumi Douglas a “social justice leader, organizer, educator/trainer, restorative justice practitioner, and ritualist” (www. wakumi.world/about) on Thursday, August 10th. The movement experience/teaching was only two days this year, commencing on Friday, August 11 and Saturday, August 12th with an informal showing of works by 4 of our local Black female extraordinary artists.
This year’s movement offerings took us “from and within Kemet, West Africa, Cuba, Jamaica, the Bahamas, Haiti, Nigeria, Liberty City, Goulds, NYC, Georgia, Ghana, and Guinea” (Grant-Murray 2023). The teaching roster featured multi and inter-generational dance professionals: Baba Eddie DeCosta Dorman, Michelle Grant-Murray, Anita MacBeth, Marisol Blanco, Tiffany Merritt-Brown, Denzel Williams, Jennifer Rivera, Shanna Woods, A'Keitha Carey, and Tawanna Hall.
On Saturday afternoon, Olujimi Dance Collective initiated its first Olujimi Choreographic Incubator (The Secret Sauce- SAVE THE DATE: Oct 18, 19, 20) with innovative works of art by Dr. Keshia Abraham, Hattie Mae Williams, Shanna Woods (accompanied by Nicole Machadeo) and A'Keitha Carey. These women brought the house down with their ferocious energy and sublime artistry. Hattie Mae Williams offered “Quiet Cotton” which featured elements of “memory, addictions, and place within the memory/dreamscape.” Williams entranced us with her evocative performance to Ray Charles’s “Georgia on My Mind.” Williams’s head is covered in a scarf which remains on the entire piece. She maneuvers throughout the space connecting with, evading, and slapping several beer bottles. The clacking sounds of the beer bottles collapsing on the floor and spinning offer an eerie backdrop to the luscious vocals of Mr. Charles. The imagery is profound and transcends time. One is forced to reflect on many political, social, and personal themes which can make the viewer uncomfortable. Her pure movement vocabulary juxtaposes the raw themes. The piece is deeply transformative.
Dr. Keshia Abraham presented “Stories Our Bodies Carry.” This work is experimental and an exploration of word/sound/micro-movement which engages a sensory experience through word play and rest. Abraham wears a white flowing floor length gown. Dressed as a Queen, in royal fashion, she holds court. The audience is mesmerized by her soothing voice as she reads from her tablet/folder giving instructions for the audience members. She asks them to “close [their] lips, soften [their] jaw, [and] breathe out through the nose…” Dr. Abraham talks them through a sensory exercise that becomes a community experience. The vocalization of the woman singing on the supporting track is entrancing and spiritual, encouraging the spirit to ascend.
Shanna Woods (accompanied by Nicole Machadeo) showed her untitled work in progress. This duet is a breath of fresh air. These women are floating through the space yet grounded in their bodies. Legs dig deep into the earth as their torso’s undulate and curve, sinuously carving space with their rhythmic phrases. They connect and disconnect from each other. Their relationship is sisterly, supporting each other and at times disregarding their connection.
A'Keitha Carey closes the afternoon performance with “CariDad: Bahamian Warrior Woman.” Carey’s piece features ritual music and chanting as well as Afrobeat. Through spoken word she articulates that she is the daughter of the river goddess Oshun, goddaughter of Ogun, and protected under the Damballah loa. She also demonstrated this in her movement as she travels through the space building alters, conjuring up energy, and performing rituals building up the fortitude to prepare for battle. Carey takes no prisoners with her erotic performance displaying power, virtuosity (she is swinging that cutlass like and Agojie Warrior!), sensuality, freedom, [and] pleasure…” (Carey 2022).
After the showing, there was a talk back/Q and A. The audience had an opportunity to hear more about each artists life story, their artistic process, and what influenced their work. They were encouraged to ask questions to gain greater clarity about what they witnessed and to share ideas about how to possibly advance the work. Questions ranged from “what were the identity and ancestry of each artist,” “what politics if any influenced the work,” and “what things they connected to/disconnected from and what they wanted more of.” Each audience member was given cue cards to write down their thoughts to be collected and shared (in a brown paper bag) with each artist.
WE NEED MORE OF THIS! Well done Mama Michelle (I appropriated this phrase from Wakumi); the Olujimi Choreographic Incubator (The Secret Sauce) showing demonstrated the rich power of Black expressivity through the lens of African Diaspora aesthetics. The South Florida community (and nation) NEEDS to be exposed to this level of Black Female Artistry. Waaw Waaw!
Special thanks to the Moss Performing Arts Center, David Velasco (music director), Melodi Mellerson (volunteer and photographer), Jennifer Rivera (photographer) and all the student volunteers.
1: AC Warrior Woman
2. Olujimi Dance Collect Retreat
3. Michelle Grant-Murray: Kimetic Yoga Class
4. Tiffany Merritt-Brown Afro Fusion Class
5. Hattie Mae Williams
6. Jennifer Rivera Hip Hop (House) Class
7. Dr. Keshia Abraham
8. Shanna Woods and Nicole M.
9. AC w/machete
10. Post Performance Talk Back