Joya Powell, CC ’01, founding artistic director of Movement of the People Dance Company, strode to the front of Barnard 305 on Monday night. “This is a sharing,” she proclaimed to the audience.
The crowd had gathered for MOtPDC’s winter intensive, which culminated with a studio showing. Dancers in attendance were not only from the Barnard dance department, but the greater New York community as well. The intensive consisted of master classes, workshops, and choreography labs focused on addressing “sociocultural issues as a means to educate, inform, and ignite dialogue,” according to Powell.
As Powell explained in her opening speech, the pieces presented on Monday were a result of just 10 hours of choreography that took place over the weekend. She invited audience members to write feedback on note cards throughout the performance, creating a workshop-like environment and removing some formality from the performance space. The production’s interactive nature contributed to Powell’s vision of the night being a “sharing” between the dancers and the audience.
Through the five new pieces of dance, dancers and choreographers shared personal struggles related to their identities. The works felt like rough drafts, with unfinished stories and slightly awkward choreography at times, but the raw emotion that dominated the night shone through.
While the pieces ranged in subject from the vibrancy of female black bodies to apathy in the United States, dancers reached for unseen people or writhed away from invisible horrors were common throughout. Choreographers also incorporated spoken elements in their pieces, most notably in “I’ll Make You Proud”, choreographed by participant Solange Buon.
This piece had no music, and was danced to a spoken rendition of actor Justice Smith’s poem “Dam the one” performed by one seated dancer on stage. Two other dancers in the center of the room moved to words about a black family being shot, often grimacing and beating their hands and feet on the floor. They communicated the agony of losing a family through tortured backbends and upward reaching hands.
“What excited me most about these pieces was the amazing risks that these choreographers and dancers took,” said Powell in regards to the five new pieces. “They bared themselves and it’s so phenomenal to see.”
The performance closed with something different: a MOtPDC repertoire piece titled “(For) Those We Left Behind” that was fully choreographed by Powell years before. Dancers from the intensive had the opportunity to learn and perform the piece, and also added to it by speaking their own poetry throughout.
The repertoire piece showed what works previously introduced, if expanded upon and developed, could become. It was masterfully choreographed, with many moving parts that all worked together. It used suitcases to represent carrying the weight of people that immigrants left behind; as dancers opened the cases, these stories erupted out through their bodies and words.
In brief interludes, dancers would address the audience, embodying an ancestor left behind on their journey. One woman described a mother’s desire for her daughter to walk at graduation; another lamented a loss of identification with blackness. These stories added a personal touch to the performance, helping the audience understand the stories that motivated the dancers’ rushing and contorted movements.
After the performance, dancers returned to the stage and sat informally, and Powell invited the audience to share its feedback on the pieces. Choreographers also asked the audience questions about its reaction and clarified the motivation behind the pieces, further contributing to the concept of “sharing” new dance and new ideas.
In an interview following the performance, Powell expressed hope that dance could continue to serve as a medium for identity and activism at Columbia.
“It’s not just my presence. There are voices here that are doing the same thing, and they should be given space to create,” she said.