Two Events Making Duke the Center of Black Dance

Rujeko Dumbutshena is a dancer, choreographer and teacher of what she terms “neo traditional” Zimbabwean dance technique, Rujeko Dumbutshena teaches and performs throughout the U.S. and recently received her MFA from the University of New Mexico.

The Rubenstein Arts Center at Duke University will host two events that will bring together leading dancers, choreographers, and scholars of the African diaspora for five days of performances and discussions (Feb 19–23, 2020).

Organized by SLIPPAGE@Duke—a think-tank and interdisciplinary performance research group directed by Duke professor Thomas F. DeFrantz that explores connections between performance, history, theater, and emergent technology—the events are a chance to highlight the contributions of Black dance, allowing artists, dancers, students, faculty, and the wider Durham community to share in critical inquiry and inspiration.

Events begin on February 19 with a symposium titled “Afro-Feminist Performance Routes: Diasporic Dis/Locations.” Over four days, seven prominent female dancers from the African diaspora will engage in “a dialogue in movement” about creative practice, migration, and African philosophy. Workshops, presentations, performances, informal conversations, and roundtable discussions will all be centered around the ways in which “movement constitutes culture, embodied practice engenders place, and migration informs subjectivity and notions of belonging.” They will take place at the Ruby, as well as the White Lecture Hall on East Campus.

Invited artists include Léna Blou, Rujeko Dumbutshena, Sephora Germain (pictured below), Yanique Hume and Halifu Osumare, Jade Power Sotomayor, and Luciane Ramos Silva, all of whom will offer workshops.

Sephora Germain is leading female contemporary Haitian dancer (one of the very few) with an international performing career, Sephora also has a local commitment to teaching in Port-au-Prince.

“They constitute a multi-ethnic and multinational cohort of Black women whose practices reflect the intersections that people of African descent must navigate to locate themselves within past, present, and future histories and experiences,” said Mario LaMothe, an assistant professor of African American Studies at the University of Illinois-Chicago and one of the event’s conveners.

“Dance is their medium not only to illuminate the dangers of unquestioned attachments to gendered and racialized hierarchies in the circum-Atlantic region, but also to think or move through them.”
— Mario LaMothe, University of Illinois-Chicago

Ni’Ja Whitson, photo by Scott Shaw.

Afro-Feminist Performance Routes is being organized in convergence with the second event, the fourth biannual conference of the Collegium for African Diasporic Dance (CADD), which will take place from February 21 to 23 with the theme “Fluid Black::Dance Back.” The conference seeks to “center African diaspora dance as a resource and method of creative and aesthetic possibility.”

“Fluid Black::Dance Back explores the always-shifting identities that we explore while dancing,” said DeFrantz, an organizer of both events and a professor in the Duke Dance Program, Department of African & African American Studies, and the Program in Gender, Sexuality & Feminist Studies.

“In the dance, hard edges can be smoothed in a partner hand dance, or willowy gestures can be toughened up in a b-girl battle. This year’s conference explores fluid identities among Black people and within our dancing, making space for cis, queer, trans, non-binary, and intersex, mixed-race Blackness.”

Taking advantage of the Rubenstein Art Center’s multifaceted spaces, the conference will host critical dialogue and provocative research presentations, breakout sessions, movement workshops, panels, a curated film series, and parties, expanding the reach and impact of the artists and scholars in attendance. Other features of the conference include CADD’s inaugural book summit featuring books by members of the CADD executive committee, and current and past keynotes.

“Katrina Hazzard’s landmark work, Jookin’ The Rise of Social Dance Formations in African American Culture, turns 30 this year,” said DeFrantz, who is also a founding member of CADD. “We want to celebrate her achievement and learn about her current research priorities. Award-winning choreographer Dianne McIntyre will offer a presentation on dance and archives within Black cultures, and Ni’Ja Whitson, an outstanding Black artist who explores non-normative sexualities in their work will provoke us to ask harder questions, research more carefully, and create expansive vistas of Black life in dance.”

Afro-Feminist Performance Routes: Diasporic Dis/LocationsCollegium for African Diasporic Dance