Have you ever lit a match and then watched the flame? Like, really watched it? No matter which way you turn the match, or where you hold it, what you do to it, the flame keeps reaching upwards. When presented with the theme of their upcoming performance, UPRISE, the choreographers of Rejoice! Diaspora Dance Theater chose the same focus—to keep looking upward.
Committing to moving forward and seeking change can be difficult in a world where violence and oppression weigh heavily on our hearts and minds—it’s easy to get trapped in hopelessness or anger. But under the artistic direction of Oluyinka Akinjiola, this company chooses to look in another direction. Heavy topics are approached onstage, from the civil rights movement, to Black Lives Matter, to last spring’s hate crime on the MAX.
“We’re not going to shy away from tough issues,” says dancer and choreographer Jamie Minkus. “We find ways to keep momentum, recognizing what we do individually and in our community to be realistic about our past and continue forward.”
By understanding and sensing the motion of the human body, the dancers have fine-tuned their awareness to produce movements that speak clearly on these topics. Characters and attitudes are vivid—shown not only through pantomime but also a strong progression of shapes and sultry, soulful interludes. There are many traditional and contemporary influences from African dance forms, some hip-hop stylings, and stepping—which, if you’re not familiar with it, is a form of percussive dance and sound creation in which a dancer employs their whole body. It’s not just like creating a drum out of the body—it’s like making a synthesizer (complete with light show). Step has roots in historically Black colleges and fraternities and sororities as a community building ritual. Choreographer Michael Galen expertly weaves stepping into his work to build a sense of community between his characters (and they look really awesome doing it).
The multiracial ensemble has gathered their voices and experiences to craft an evening that is perfectly balanced between entertainment and introspection. Once the stage lights rise up, I’m sure you will be left inspired and hopeful.