“To have all Black and all female choreographers makes a powerful statement to what’s happening in dance now,” said Kiesha Lalama, one of four Black female choreographers chosen to present work in the August Wilson Center’s for African American Culture’s first Dynamic Women of Dance event, which celebrated the contributions of African-American women choreographers in commemoration of Women’s History Month, which falls in March.
Lalama presented an energetic piece that spurred the audience to a call for action in numerous areas of society from politics to personal issues.
“Some obstacles can be overwhelming and this piece is a call to make a change for the better,” said Lalama an educator and choreographer that have created more than 30 works to date. She is an assistant professor at the Point Park University dance department and education director for the Pittsburgh CLO.
In addition to Lalama, the other choreographers featured in the two-day event were Kim Bears-Bailey, Camille A. Brown and Sidra Bell.
“I am humbled and tremendously honored,” was the sentiment from each woman when asked how she felt about being chosen to participate.
The initiative was the brainchild of Greer Reed who serves as Director of Dance Initiatives at the August Wilson Center as an effort to bring the contributions of women choreographers to light.
“Male choreographers outweigh us by about four to one,” Reed said. “I thought this would be a no-brainer because it is a great spring board to showcase Black female choreographers and their work. All of the choreographers have their own voice and aesthetic and each piece takes the audience on an emotional roller coaster. The pieces touch on lessons of the heart, celebrations of the heart and they take you up down and sideways. The pieces make you laugh and cry.”
Each chosen choreographer was given the task to create a work to be performed by the August Wilson Dance Ensemble.
“I was able to draw on the kids’ individual strengths The group found a good rhythm,” said Bell of her slightly melancholy and intimate piece that dealt with relationships.
Bell, who has her own dance company in New York, has a BA in History from Yale University and an MFA in Choreography from Purchase College of Dance. She currently works as an Adjunct Professor at Columbia University’s Barnard College. When I went in, the dancers were very generous. They were willing to take risks and were willing to reveal themselves. They were very inquisitive also. As a group they are really tight and they really trust each other.”
Fellow Choreographer, Kim Bears-Bailey echoed Bell’s sentiments.
“The dancers were like a canvas for me to work with,” Bears-Bailey said. “All the dancers had their own strengths and they all intertwine with each other and that made my job easier.”
Bears-Bailey’s piece is shrouded in music and focuses on relationships and how they interact. Bears-Bailey is the former principal dancer with the PHILADANCO dance company. She currently serves as the Assistant Artistic Director of the company.
“The dances challenge the August Wilson Dance Ensemble spiritually, physically because it makes the kids go out of their box even more. They go beyond what we do in the studio and they let themselves go. It’s an opportunity for them to continue to grow and test their own limits and the experience will ultimately make them more well-rounded as artists,” Reed said.
Camille A. Brown is glad to be bringing her unique style of storytelling through dance to the table.
Her thought-provoking piece was based on Hurricane Katrina and highlighted the courage of the residents that survived the devastating event.
“We as women need to encourage other women coming up behind them,” said Brown, a contemporary dancer and choreographer who has created works for such companies as Alvin Bailey American Dance Theater, Urban Bush women and Ballet Memphis. “It’s our responsibility because we are standing on the shoulders of the people that came before us and people are standing on our shoulders. There are women who push dance and are innovators. It’s good to celebrate the men and the women.”