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Flash Dispatch, 10-2: Color My World
Intersection 2 Confab: Heaven for Artists of Color

By Maura Nguyen Donohue
Copyright 2000 Maura Nguyen Donohue

AMHERST, Massachusetts -- I have seen Heaven and it looks something like the "Intersection II" (I-2) conference. An intersection of performance, practice and ideas took place September 26-29 at New World Theater at the University of Massachusetts here. This was a true gathering of peers, not a booking conference or an academic conference full of deadening paper presentations. Roberta Uno, artistic director of New World Theater, recalled in her opening speech that the first Intersection conference two years ago was the conference that theater artists of color always wanted to go to. She was absolutely right. But, and this is an enthusiastic addition not a contradiction, what I-2 has done is expand the geography. I do not consider myself necessarily to be a 'theater artist' but I felt absolutely at home here. This was a space for peers to speak about and see work that crosses borders both artistic and geographical. The dialogue included peer artists from the international arena and across wider interdisciplinary lines. I, for one, was thrilled to be standing in the midst of such innovative and inspiring traffic.

New World Theater is a 21-year-old visionary cultural institution known for highlighting work by artists of color. In residence at the Fine Arts Center of the University of Massachusetts, it has successfully redefined the role of the arts in higher learning. Though its primary focus is the presentation and production of works by playwrights of color, it is the model every college and university dance/performance department should be following as well. It has successfully blurred the lines between professional and community, art and politics, scholarship and activism.

More than 50 artists/companies were brought to I-2 to speak and present their work at the conference. Activities included keynote addresses, performances, play responses, illustrated case studies, artist technique workshops, roundtable discussions, organizational meetings and late night events. The Five College Dance Department held a pre-conference panel with David White (Dance Theater Workshop, Laura Faure (Bates Dance Festival), Laura Colby (Elsie Management), Dorothy Jungels (Everett Dance Theater) and moderator Bob Antil (Residential Arts Director). It was a required event for their dance students that offered valuable and varied insights and exposure to important aspects of the professional dance world. The New England Foundation for the Arts and the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation each held presenter meetings. Meanwhile, the DTW Suitcase Fund Mekong Project held organizational meetings and the Theater Communications Group held a panel on International Collaborations.

Sekou Sundiata, poet and writer in residence at the New School for Social Research, gave an engaging keynote address on "East Coast, West Coast, Worldwide" that discussed how music can show us about borders, boxes and breaking down walls. I appreciated his question "Why can't people keep their differences without antagonism?" Diana Taylor, scholar of Latin American Theater and chair of Performance Studies at New York University presented a keynote address on "Staging Social Memory." Though more static than Sundiata's, it was no less interesting as she focused on Peru's major theater collective Yuyachkani, which presented one of the three feature performances for I-2, in an examination of embodied knowledge.

Yuyachkani's "Antigona," adapted by Jose Watanabe, directed by Miguel Rubio and performed by Teresa Ralli adds a level of political struggle to Sophocles's play. The work stems from hours worth of testimony from the mothers, daughters and sisters of the men who have disappeared in Peru. Another featured performance was "Uttar-Priyadarshi" by Ratan Thiyam's Chorus Repertory Theater from Manipur. For more information on that check out Tehreema Mitha's review, Flash Review 2, 9-25: Surprise.

Everett Dance Theater from 'down the road' in Providence performed "Somewhere in the Dream" on the second night of the conference. EDT is a New York Dance and Performance ("Bessie") Award-winning troupe that also maintains the Carriage House, a performance space and school in Providence. They are a phenomenal alternative example of how to make work away from the NYC model. The company is directed by Dorothy Jungels and her son Aaron, who also performs, designs their interactive sets and built much of the Carriage House; is managed by her daughter Therese and also includes daughter Rachael. The work uses bits of "Giselle," "Othello," "Hamlet" and other classics to look at the state of education in America. Modern dance, circus arts, gymnastics, hip-hop, and ballet combine in an examination of race and the "American Dream" set against the backdrop of a high school graduation. Rolling chain link fences heighten the kinetic activity on stage and allow the performers to showcase their athletic talents. The company's artistic vision is fueled by their work with youth and this clearly shows in "Somewhere." Five young boys steal the show - a real achievement amongst the large and vibrant ensemble -- in break-dancing sequences. One who had hurt himself before the performance danced his way around stage on crutches, inspired by a Carriage House residency with Bill "Crutch" Shannon. Sokeo Ros pops and locks his way through his Cambodian family's story of loss and dislocation. Hip-hop theater is alive and well in New England. And I mean ALIVE.

Late night, or 9:30 depending on how you felt that day, events included Split Britches -- demystifying the Queer, disorienting the Orient and demythologizing Southern Gothic in "Salad of the Bad Cafe"; Carl Hancock Rux, Helga Davis and Valerie Winbourne crossing poetry, music, dance and theater to examine the iconography of the black male in historic and contemporary society in the overwhelmingly powerful "No Black Male Show"; and Universes, a spoken word/poetry/hip-hop/funk/vocal music/theater company from the South Bronx presenting "Slanguage." An interesting side note as a member of the journalistic community: Universes consists of Bessie- and Obie-award winning artists and yet it was pointed out during a case study I was a part of that they couldn't get a New York Times review until they came down to P.S. 122. Add that to Paul Ben-Itzak's 9/29 rant about Jack Anderson trying to review Rennie Harris's hip-hop take on "Romeo and Juliet" and think about what you can do to change the landscape of performance review and criticism. (Editor's note: That rant was sent out to the free Dance Insider e-mail list. For a copy of the rant or to be added to the list, e-mail paul@danceinsider.com.)

Illustrated case studies included Ananya Chatterjea's dance-theater work "Unable to Remember Roop Kanwar," inspired by the 1987 story of a 19-year-old, college-educated woman who committed sati (self-sacrifice by a devoted wife on her husband's funeral pyre). The work uses classical Indian and modern dance and spoken text to question the safety of domestic space; Julie Tolentino-Wood, a senior member of David Rousseve/REALITY, shared "Mestiza," which layers post-modern movement, endurance, visual imagery and live video to address cultural and sexual identity, class and familial relationships, and societal notions of beauty; Thomas DeFrantz, assistant professor of Theater Arts at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (yup MIT), showed and discussed parts of "Monk's Mood," an experimental theater work utilizing tap and puppetry to detail episodes in the life of Thelonius Monk; and I presented parts of "SKINning the surFACE," which uses the historical episode of 30,000 abandoned Amerasian children at the end of the war in Vietnam as a springboard into an exhaustive physical exploration of the bi-racial body and its personal and political repercussions.

I've briefly skimmed over only some of what took place over 3.5 days in Western Massachusetts. There was much more taking place and many more artists sharing thoughts and hope. New World Theater does not actually have a theater of its own and, as Roberta Uno put it during the closing of the conference, they "have been sneaking into other people's houses and throwing parties" for a couple decades. Regardless, they throw a great conference. For more information on New World Theater, write Box 31810, U. Mass, Amherst, MA 01003.

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