After about 15 minutes we were welcomed by a member of the Live Arts Miami Staff and then introduced to The Historic Hampton House Brand Manager, Edwin Shepard. Co-artistic director Mame Diarra Speis entered the space, asked us to look at our program, find the inner paper, look on the back to see what number we had, and sent us on our way with the guides. I had number 1 on my sheet. I walked with my group to the first stop on the journey which featured co-artistic director Chanon Judson and two Miami Dade College/Jubilation Dance Ensemble MDC/JDE student performers. Guests gathered in the space. Some were seated while others stood. Everyone listened deeply to Channon’s words which included information and directions for traveling “in safety and in care” while watching her body give and take energy. Her shoulders rolled forward with fists clenched. She contorted her chest, stepping forward, over her imaginary bridge or gateway. She swayed her upper body like a palm tree in the hot wind of the Savannah and rolled her neck, torso, and hips. The MDC/JDE performers anchored Channon walking forward with their blue fabric. Are they gatekeepers? My eyes are drawn to the table placed in the corner where I was standing, covered with a beautiful crème fabric. There are note cards placed on the edges of two corners of the table as well as various gold trinkets—bells, shells, and a small basket. This was an enigmatic yet lucent embodiment of African spirituality. I was intrigued and curious to see what was next on the journey. We were sent on our way while several other MDC/JDE members danced us to our next location in the courtyard. There were hand washing stations facilitated by dance program director at MDC and artistic director of JDE Michelle Grant Murray as well as Olujimi Dance Collective company member Shanna Woods. Givers Revival provided a drink bar that offered cool and refreshing drinks –I had a delicious womb strengthening lemonade. There was also an intricate alter space constructed by healer, ritualist, and restorative justice practitioner Wakumi Douglas. At the alter we were afforded the opportunity to either meditate, write a prayer, or connect with and write an ancestors name down and place the paper on the alter. This was a magnificent and necessary beginning to the work. The elements of African spiritually offered by Douglas, Grant-Murray and the Olujimi Dance Collective provided a grounding that is essential based on the premise of the piece which, “explore[s] the movements histories, and stories, of community elders, [and] ancestors” (liveartsmiami.org).
What I viewed previously in November 2022 at the first iteration and what “I saw” (Warren 2022, 29) and felt via the “psycho-meta-emotional-spiritual” (Gottschild 2022, 30) at the premier were different. I had several questions concerning intention, spiritual embodiment versus performance of spirituality, and how the concept of “Haint Blue” which is a ritual involving painting the ceiling or roof of a homes in the South blue to ward off spirits was imparted and evidenced (non-superficially) in the work. That might be a question for the dramaturg as well.
Overall, this is undeniably a “dance theater” work. It is interactive; the community travelled through the space, room to room, experiencing deep mythical expressions of longing, memory, and sacred healing elements. We also were enthralled in dance/house party vibes, offering a cacophony of sound and movement. The dancers performed superbly, both UBW and MDC/JDE. Those young dancers are a force, they held their own, and yet provided the necessary support for UBW.
From an aesthetic perspective, this UBW company offers a different movement vernacular as opposed to what I remember what UBW presented several years ago. I am still thinking about what this means to me —the groundedness and openness of the hip, African aesthetics, looseness and articulation of the torso and extremities, and that fiyah batty. Much of the choreography is devoid of these elements. Grace Galu Kalambay, vocalist and musician, was fantastic. She rocked the house with her sultry rhythm and blues performance offering another dimension to the work while also leveling out some of the schism. I loved the gold netting costume with the black trunks/body suit underneath. This visual conjures up multiple visions and memories of our ancestors either as fisherwomen/men or being fished and hunted by white murderers. The imagery is stunning.
In November, as I stated in my mini reflection, the (then) work in progress was piercing, poignant, and powerful. It centered Blackness, Black culture, and offered a space/place for Black women to “heal and [be] present [while] we are in a constant state of erasure” (Nadege Green 2022). This is still an accurate statement. Haint Blu should be seen and experienced. Thank you for the Bush Medicine!
Asantewaa, Eva Yaa. 2022. “As We See It: Black Elders On Writing on Dance: Eva Yaa Asantewaa in Conversation with With Brenda Dixon-Gottschild and Charmaine Warren. Movement Research Performance Journal (56).
Image 1: Shanna Woods, A’Keitha Carey, and Apon Nichols
Image 2: Chanon Judson, Alaina Spears, and Stephanie Franco
Image 3: Wakumi’s alterspace
Image 4: Grace Galu Kalambay
Image 5: UBW in gold netting
Image 6.: Chanon Judson and Mame Diarra Speis