Bay Area black choreographers look past and forward 

click to enlarge Raissa Simpson dancer Ashey Crockett is among the performers in the 11th Black Choreographers Festival at Dance Mission Theater for two weekends. - COURTESY MATT HABER
  • Raissa Simpson dancer Ashey Crockett is among the performers in the 11th Black Choreographers Festival at Dance Mission Theater for two weekends.
The Black Choreogaphers Festival, now in its 11th year, celebrates the theme “Here and Now.” But organizer Laura Ellis emphasizes that contributions from local pioneers of African-American dance are what make the festival possible.

“Our mission is to understand and pass on our history,” says Ellis.

Opening Saturday and running two weekends at Dance Mission Theater, the event showcases works by emerging and mid-career choreographers as well dances by and influenced by the Bay Area’s most established and lauded black choreographers, many of whom mentor the new generation of artists.

“Here and Now” refers to personal, highly relatable stories about the human experience that these artist tell through dance, and the genre’s unique qualities.

“The gorgeousness of African-American dance is that it’s raw, rough and unrefined. The flexed foot, the turned-in position, the arched back, the fusion with hip-hop – that is beautiful to me because of the heart and soul that’s in it. We’re not trying to be pretty; we’re trying to be real,” says Ellis.

This weekend’s program features On Demand, an all-girls hip-hop troupe led by Phylicia Stroud, a member of Dimensions Dance Theater carrying on the tradition of that group’s founder Deborah Vaughan. Nafi Watson, another Vaughan follower, who founded Bayiha Movement, appears in a performance blending hip hop, jazz, modern and African forms.

Byb Chanel Bibene, whose dance reflects his native home, the Republic of Congo, and Carmen Roman, whose work is rooted in her Peruvian heritage, also appear.

Rounding out weekend one are works by Antoine Hunter, who is deaf, and self- choreographer Jamie Wright, whose piece is inspired by the controversial death of Michael Brown in Missouri.

On weekend two, LINES Ballet is represented, with works by former LINES dancers Maurya Kerr, whose tiny pistol dance company reprises “beast,” and Gregory Dawson, who presents a site-specific piece.

Former Robert Moses Kin dancer Raissa Simpson, whose Push Dance Company turns 10 this year, presents a work about how the redevelopment of San Francisco’s Hunters Point Naval Shipyard has affected the mostly black residents of the area.

Weekend two programming also includes Savage Jazz Dance Company founder Reginald Ray Savage’s solo “Spiegel Im,” set to music by Arvo Part, and “Life Cycle Series” by Christal Brown, who teaches at Middlebury College in Vermont.

Special events include a post-concert discussion led by Ellis with the artists on March 1.


Black Choreographers Festival: Here & Now

Where: Dance Mission Theater, 3316 24th St., S.F.

When: 7:30 p.m. Saturdays-Sundays: closes March 1

Tickets: $10 to $20

Contact: (415) 273-4633,

About The Author

Andrea Pflaumer

Andrea Pflaumer

Andrea Pflaumer is a Berkeley-based author and journalist and former dancer who writes dance and arts previews for the San Francisco Examiner. She has just published her first book: Shopping for the Real You.
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