Black choreographers in the spotlight 

click to enlarge Byb Chanel Bibene
  • Courtesy Photo
  • Congolese dance and theater director Byb Chanel Bibene is among the artists whose work is being presented in this weekend’s Next Wave Choreographers Showcase at Dance Mission Theater.
Getting on the public radar presents some unique challenges for many black choreographers and dancers.

But some are being helped by Laura Ellis, executive director of the African American Performing Arts Coalition, and choreographer Kendra Barnes of K*Star Productions.

During Black History Month, the pair sponsors the Black Choreographers Festival, marking its 10th anniversary this year. The event includes the Next Wave Choreographers Showcase, scheduled this week at Dance Mission Theater in The City.

The showcase features three evenings of dance, each night premiering work by seven artists.

“What I love about the showcase is the raw spirit and passion from the artists,” Barnes says. “You’re always seeing something fresh and new. The work is relatable but also electrifying and moving. They really, really want this opportunity and are not taking advantage or being comfortable in any way, so they put everything into what they’re presenting.”

Ellis, particularly pleased by the exposure the showcase offers, says, “Presenters from some of the more mainstream or well-known theaters — from Laney to Zellerbach, and from Dance Mission and CounterPULSE to ODC — come to see these performances. I think that is the best thing the festival can provide to emerging choreographers.”

In addition to setting up the showcase, Barnes and Ellis curate works in progress and teach the fundamentals of what it takes to run a dance company: where and how to seek funding, how to stay connected with the movers and shakers in the field, and how to get their work seen.

They also assist in providing mentoring from notables in the field.

“We usually sponsor three artists a year and assign three mentors who work with them,” Ellis says. “The mentors listen, watch and give feedback.”

Among the performers appearing this weekend is Congolese dance and theater director Bibene. His mentor was Robert Moses, known for his work on social issues.

“I’m always looking for the points where my dance aesthetic and social issues can meet,” Bibene says.

Although the showcase choreography runs the genre gamut from ballet to traditional African dance, there is a unifying thread.

“Part of our quest is to stay connected with who we are as African-Americans,” Barnes says. “We study traditional dance forms because they help us discern which tribe we come from and they help us maintain and identify with our culture.”


Next Wave Choreographers Showcase

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

When: 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday

Tickets: $10 to $20

Contact: (415) 826-4441,

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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