Middle and Upper School Arts News & Stories

Visiting Dance Troupe Celebrates Civil Rights
Posted 09/11/2014 03:14PM

The 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation and the 20th anniversary of the abolishment of apartheid in South Africa are monumental events. They’ve been celebrated in speeches, noted in articles, and studied in classrooms worldwide.

But sometimes, such events merit more than talking. 

On Sept. 10, award-winning dance company Kyle Abraham/Abraham . In . Motion brought their interpretation to Riverdale’s Middle School assembly as part of a program that invites writers, performers, and social activists to come to the campus and explore topics related to social justice and personal expression.

In “When the Wolves Came In,” the Brooklyn-based group delves into the triumphs of the Emancipation Proclamation and end of the South African apartheid. Drawing inspiration from Max Roach’s 1960-protest album We Insist: Max Roach’s Freedom Now Suite, “When the Wolves Came In” examines, details, and celebrates the history of global human rights successes. And it does so in a way that conversation can’t quite grasp.

“Dance has a language and a vocabulary all of its own,” says Coordinator of Community Engagement Antoinette Quarshie. “We know this intuitively but have also experienced this practically if we’ve spent more than five minutes in a dance class. The articulation of a dancer’s body conveys a message that goes beyond words.”

Throughout the assembly, choreographer Kyle Abraham, a 2013 MacArthur Fellow, and his troupe took breaks from their scripted choreography to demonstrate improvisation. Whether making pieces up on the spot or showcasing works derived entirely from videotaped solos, the group stressed the intermingling of found movement and “just going with it.”

And what better way to learn than to participate? Taking their cues from Kyle, trios of Riverdale students danced their way across the stage — reacting to word sequences like “slice, swim, dive, kick” and “turn, swim, kick jump.”

After a brief Q&A session, in which dancers answered questions ranging from, “Why do you wear sweaters on your hips?” to “What would you say to your middle school self?” the group said goodbye. But not without leaving a little interdisciplinary learning behind.

 “I hope that students recognize the ways we can inform our passions through multiple disciplines,” says Quarshie.  “Although Kyle Abraham is a talented and passionate dancer and choreographer, his work is interwoven with history and his other interests. Following your passion isn’t a narrow pursuit — it involves staying actively engaged with life and learning.”   

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