Inspired by the political force of legendary activist Angela Davis, Rejoice! Diaspora Dance Theater presents “UPRISE” – a collection of politically-charged dances that explore the themes of power, oppression, and community.
The performance, running from April 27 – 29 at the Interstate Firehouse Cultural Center (5340 N Interstate Ave.), is composed of five works by 15 dancers from Rejoice and its community ensemble.
In its press release, the company said it anticipates the performances to stir conversations on “race, ally-ship, and our right to protest” – adding that it “unapologetically challenges racism, bigotry, and passivity.”
Rejoice’s artistic director Oluyinka Akinjiola told The Skanner that she borrowed messages from Angela Davis’ 2016 book “Freedom is a Constant Struggle” to guide her thinking around UPRISE.
In her book, Davis writes on how today’s social justice movements should become more intersectional. In other words, explains Akinjiola, “We have all these struggles, so how can we be more inclusive and more supportive within them, and also be more aware of the overlapping, undercurrents of oppression that are happening from community to community?”
For example, Davis draws parallels between the military tactics used against both Palestinians and residents of Ferguson, Missouri.
“People from Palestine were actually giving support to the people of Ferguson, like how to deal with tear gas attacks and how to protect themselves,” said Akinjiola. “So Davis looks at when those movements started to support each other. Even though they’re different communities with different circumstances, it’s the same oppressive, hegemonic forces.”
Based on stories of intersectionality such as these, Akinjiola gave the word “uprise” to her choreographers to interpret. The result is five forceful and distinctly different dances.
“Each choreographer leads their own work, but there’s a lot of collaboration within that, with one mind framing the perspective of the dance,” said Akinjiola.
The company spent the last year, from inception to stage, to bring the works to fruition.
Combining her background in Afro-Cuban, Afro-Brazilian and modern dance, Akinjiola presents “Quiet Strength,” which questions patriotism through the Black women’s perspective, from the Underground Railroad and the election of Barack Obama. The dance echoes the protest cries of the Black Panthers, inner-city Chicago, Standing Rock, and Flint, Michigan in a nod to civil rights activism.
Michael Galen’s “A Light of Hope” draws movements from b-boying, capoeira and street to present a dance performance with deep roots in resistance, confrontation, and community strengthening; while Jamie's Minkus’s "To Protect" embodies the warrior spirit of Ogum as a call for systemic change on social justice issues, including police brutality and its aftermath.
To accompany UPRISE, the gallery within the Interstate Firehouse Cultural Center will feature multi-media work on the African diaspora by local artists Intisar Abioto and Sharita Towne.