This Friday and Saturday, Brooklyn-based dance company Urban Bush Women will perform at the Reynolds Industries Theater.
Founded in 1984 by Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, Urban Bush Women has firmly established itself as an American modern dance company. The group is innovative and collaborative, embedding storytelling, diversity and community into their works.
“Urban Bush Women are an incredibly important and vibrant postmodern dance company,” Thomas DeFrantz, professor of African and African American studies, dance and theater studies, said. “They have proven that dance artists can effectively change the way that people experience their lives, not only by performing on stage, but by teaching workshops, by performing in beauty parlors or senior center homes, by making films, by touring internationally.”
While primarily a modern dance company, Urban Bush Women is dedicated to lifting up untold and under-told stories of women and the history and traditions of the African Diaspora. The dance company, then, infuses the aesthetics and cultural values from all over the world into their work. Their movements might incorporate dance from the United States, West Africa, the Caribbean and so on, mixing together elements for a new dance expression.
“Because of where they live stylistically and the kind of political and social agenda that is interwoven into their work, the company resonates really strongly in Durham,” Aaron Greenwald, executive director of Duke Performances, said. “[Duke Performances] seeks to engage a visiting artist not only for the presentation or finished work, but also for as robust and engaged a residency as we can muster.”
The company’s two-week residency at Duke has notably included a series of education and community-related engagements or workshops, facilitated by BOLD (Builders, Organizers, & Leaders through Dance), an extensive program developed by Urban Bush Women.
“They’re part of the conversation; their political, social, aesthetic concerns are borne of, fundamentally, who they are as an ensemble,” Greenwald said.
At Reynolds, Urban Bush Women will not only premiere their pieces, but also will celebrate their 30th anniversary. This will be the first performance after a two-season touring hiatus, during which the company focused largely on education, community engagement and strategic planning as the company looks toward its next 30 years.
“At the very crux of it, we want to add beauty and inspiration and wonder to the world in addition to being grounded in social justice principles,” Maria Bauman, associate artistic director and dancer for Urban Bush Women, said.
The first of the four pieces, “Being Bushified,” is choreographed by Zollar and Bauman. The piece will start with a sort of keynote address before the audience is hit by a surprise. “Hep Hep Sweet Sweet” takes place in a fictional jazz club in Kansas City, where Zollar grew up, and follows how the city became a hotbed of jazz and art during the Great Migration (in which 6 million African Americans moved from the rural South to urban areas up north and out west). “dark swan,” choreographed by Nora Chipaumire, is a take on the dying swan in “Swan Lake,” examining the African body, the female body and acts of resistance. Lastly is “Walking with ‘Trane,” choreographed by Zollar and Samantha Speis. The company will dance alongside composer and pianist George Caldwell as he performs his own non-linear composition, inspired by John Coltrane’s seminal “A Love Supreme.”
“Anytime we go out onstage we hope the audience feels moved. We hope they connect with us and with their own sense of humanity and culture and power,” Bauman said. “We hope that we offer something beautiful to the world.”
Urban Bush Women will perform Fri. February 7, and Sat., February 8, at 8 p.m. in the Reynolds Industries Theater. Tickets are available online and at the box office. For more information, visit the Duke Performances website. The “Dancing the African Diaspora” conference will be held this weekend, alongside these performances.