Education on the achievements of African Americans will take on a new form with a dance celebration that combines an original collaboration between faculty and students in an event that combines dance, spoken word and singing to celebrate black history at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 26 in Yeager Recital Hall.
“The show is not only addressing the journey of slaves from West Africa, specifically Ghana to the United States, but it’s also looking to stimulate the community about some issues that the community is facing in terms of equality, gender [and] diversity that students face here on campus,” said Jason Aryeh, artistic director and assistant professor of dance.
Though the show is done each year, Aryeh considers aspects of the human experience and student life as inspiration for new pieces. When choreographing original works for the Black History Month Dance Celebration, he weaves together a show that will both celebrate black history and address issues of relevance to the community.
But the phrase “dance celebration” isn’t all audiences can expect from the performance.
“I’m bringing these people together to share my work and also to collaborate with them to be inspired by them,” Aryeh said.
In addition to collaboration with faculty, staff and professionals, Aryeh has incorporated routines that students from his recent Winter Term course to Ghana learned and performed there.
The course participants will perform two West African dances, as well as man a table at intermission in support of service projects they helped while there.
“For me personally, I learned so much about black culture,” said sophomore Donita Sharkey. “There’s a reason for each movement, for me not being a dancer. Each movement has a meaning; each dance has a feeling. It’s more than just a dance, it’s a lifestyle.”
During the Winter Term program, students performed 16 pieces in local towns, working in collaboration with Aryeh’s company in Ghana.
They also had the opportunity to visit a slave castle, which inspired Aryeh’s choreography and the students’ performance.
“I am also really looking forward to performing the slave dance, because when we were in Ghana we were actually able to visit the Cape Coast Slave Castle, where much of the roots of slavery took place,” said freshman Monica Steffey. “I was able to see the inspiration behind this piece in person. Whenever I dance this piece, my mind travels back to that castle, back in time. I am not only excited, but honored to be a part of portraying this story.”
Aryeh has been integrating black history and culture together for the show since this past fall. Inspired by his research, the main theme of the performance is change and remembering and celebrating the journey of slaves from Africa.
While Black History Month has been celebrated through dance in previous years, Aryeh believes this year will be different because of inspiration, performance location and more collaboration with faculty and professionals.
“This is different because it’s in a space that best defines the idea and the creative process that I’ve gone through,” Aryeh said. “In the past, I did this staged in Whitley, and it was just a lot of dances. This time, it’s more research-based inspired, so that puts some form of storyline to it that sends a deep message across.”
Aryeh likes to be able to use a stage as a platform to spread messages about community and historical issues.
“I hope this is an ounce of the beautiful and rich cultural [that] Ghana has,” Sharkey said. “It’s hard to sum up what they do; it’s not just a performance, we enjoy what we’re doing.”