By Michael Sugerman
Dancers from the Lula Washington Dance Theatre commemorated Black History Month with a performance in Taper Gym today during a special all-school assembly.
The troupe, founded in 1980 by Lula Washington, is determined to “build a world class contemporary modern dance company that travels worldwide with contemporary modern dance works that reflect African-American history and culture,” according to its website mission statement.
Black Leadership and Culture Club president Evan Brown ’12 said the club booked the dance ensemble because dance is a universal form of expression that everyone can understand. Club members felt that today’s performance would be a perfect way for the student body to observe Black History Month, she said.
The dance group, which is celebrating its 32nd anniversary, has toured over 150 cities in the United States, in addition to dancing in China and Canada. Washington is responsible for choreographing Disney’s “The Little Mermaid” and also staged Navi tribal scenes in James Cameron’s “Avatar.”
The first dance was choreographed to “Lift Up Your Voice and Sing,” which Washington identified as an African American anthem of sorts. Incorporating colorful scarves into their movements, dancers painted a picture of the African American experience in the United States throughout history.
“The gold represents the immense wealth of the African continent,” she said. “Red represents the blood of slaves who died in passage to America, and black represents our people, African-Americans.”
The second dance was a tribute to the “Little Rock Nine,” a group of nine black students in Arkansas who enrolled and attended Little Rock Central High school following the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court case that outlawed segregated schools.
The music and dance were preceded by an epigraph quoting the Langston Hughes poem “I Dream a World.” The poem was meant to demonstrate the tribulations of inequality for the average African-American in the 1950s and 60s, Washington said.
The traditional African-American spiritual “We Shall Walk Through the Valley In Peace,” played as members of Dance Theatre performed. Their movements and dancers’ expressions imbued a certain angst highlighted by strong hope, further depicting the perseverance of the black man or woman despite hardship in America.
The third dance was performed by a soloist to a musical rendition of another Langston Hughes poem, “I’ve Known Rivers,” an account of the African-American passage from Africa to the New World.
The assembly ended with what Washington called a “spiritual and joyous hip-hop piece,” in which she invited the student body to get on their feet, clap and let loose. At the end of the piece, Washington returned to the roots of her culture, bidding farewell in Swahili.
“Asante sana,” she said. “Thank you very much.”
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