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Creating a New Work from scratch…

by Countess V. Winfrey, Black Futures Series guest blog part 1 of 2


Black Futures Series , Countess V. Winfrey , Dance , Homage , site specific , video


…is no small feat. There are so many factors that go into creating a completely new choreographic work, from casting the performers, to finding or creating the right music, to costumes, and in this case, creating a new work that is SITE SPECIFIC!

Some examples of “site-specific” performances are performances seen at a park, or at a library, or in a museum – basically anywhere that doesn’t have a traditional theater setting such as the Music Hall or Lincoln Center. As a dancer who LOVES dancing in site-specific performances, this is my first time choreographing a new work that’s meant to be performed and tailored for a unique space. This new venture has been such a welcomed challenge, but I would be remiss to say that I’m not just a tad bit nervous! I have given myself an even larger challenge for choreographing this work with plans for the dancing to be performed in 3 different areas of the Cincinnati Art Museum!

Luckily, our initial rehearsals are happening in a familiar space, the studio! The dancers and I have begun our rehearsals for this project in a much more explorative way. Instead of just giving them movement, I have challenged the dancers to collaboratively generate movement for this work based on various writing prompts that explore our African American heritage to create three exhibits in dance: the past (“What was”), the present (“Is”), and the future (“To Come”). Together, we are using this creative time to call upon our ancestral history, bring light to the present-day Black experience in America, and imagine what our Black Futures can look like.

I chose a cast of younger dancers purposely because I wanted their young voices to be a part of the “Black Future” we are imagining through this work. So far, the dancers have been very open to the process and have truly dived into every rehearsal with their eyes open, their bodies warm, and their minds ready to receive, think, and share.

In addition to the dancers, I’ve also casted a spoken word artist to be a part of this performance experience. She will serve as a “tour guide” for the audience, informing the audience in each exhibit, and guiding them from one exhibit to the next. She and I have begun having conversations regarding “Where do we start? How far back into our history do we go? How do we want to engage the audience? What do we want them to think and feel from the words you will be sharing?” Our research includes investigating several online and print resources to help fuel the perspective, the language, and the character of the spoken word “tour guide.”

Overall, we are the infant stages of this project. The dancers and I will move into site rehearsals at the Cincinnati Art Museum in April. As the choreographer of this work-in-process, I am so excited to begin witnessing this work come to life!

Video: Aaron Frisby, Nicolay Dorsett, Courtney Draper, Alexis Diggs, and Niarra Gooden-Clarke rehearsing at Dayton Contemporary Dance Company studios