2009 Symposium

Performing Diaspora Symposium 2009

Nov. 7, 2009 at CounterPULSE

Presented by CounterPULSE and the Alliance for California Traditional Arts, in association with the African and African American Performing Arts Coalition, Dance Mission Theater, and the Dance Studies Working Group at UC Berkeley, groups of working artists and community members discussed the following issues:

Like/Unlike: Whose Standards? Whose Aesthetics?

Panelists:Gregory Maqoma and Russell Rodriguez
Facilitated by Lily Kharrazi and Sherwood Chen

What makes a “good” performer or performance? How does an audience—of insiders, outsiders, or something entirely in between—shape, judge and value a tradition-based artist’s work? How do layers of an artist’s personal and cultural identity impact performative choices, and for whom? Is “innovation” a dirty word for a traditional artist? A sexy one? How do “mainstream” standards of beauty and value compromise or propel an artist’s work? A participatory discussion about the challenges, expectations and (mis)interpretations of culturally-specific aesthetics and the artistic fidelity to or abandonment of them.

Listen to Like/Unlike: Whose Standards? Whose Aesthetics?

Appropriation: Dilemma in Dance

Panelists: Deborah Vaughan, Anne Bluethenthal & Denise Pate
Facilitated by Laura Elaine Ellis

The subject of appropriation raises questions for the traditional artist: When is appropriation seen as representation? When is it considered merely stealing? What factors determine the difference? A community conversation that delved into the controversial issues surrounding the topic of appropriation – such as race and identity and the impact of appropriation on contemporary and traditional dance forms. A panel of artists shared their professional experiences and informed opinions about the topic.

Listen to Appropriation: Dilemma in Dance

Inside Polyrhythm: an Experiential Lecture/Demonstration with Adia Whitaker

Choreographer and master teacher of Afro-Haitian folkloric dance led an exploration of the rhythmic traditions anchoring African-based music and dance forms.

Standing Up/Acting Out: Activism & Social Justice in the Traditional Arts

Panelists: Denise Solis, John Jota Leaños and Loubna Qutami
Moderated by Krissy Keefer

Traditional forms of performance are often a means of affirming heritage and preserving traditional movement, music and song practices within specific aesthetic and cultural contexts. But can tradition-based forms of cultural expression be used to convey messages of political protest and express social justice-oriented concerns related to class, gender, race? How are artists using culturally-specific traditional song, dance and music forms to speak to very contemporary social and political issues, and how do these performance practices change in the process?

Listen to Standing Up/Acting Out: Activism & Social Justice in the Traditional Arts


Panelist Biographies

Panel: Like/Unlike: Whose Standards? Whose Aesthetics?

Gregory Maqoma - A contemporary African dance maker, born and bred in Johannesburg, Gregory Maqoma is regarded as a visionary in his country of birth, South Africa. Pundits describe his work as ‘cutting edge contemporary work to emerge from Africa’.

Maqoma is founder and artistic director of Vuyani Dance Theatre in Johannesburg, South Africa. He received his training both in South Africa and In Belgium. As a choreographer, teacher, dancer, artistic consultant and creative director, he has taught and presented work in the Netherlands, United Kingdom, Sweden, Switzerland, Mexico, Finland, Burkina Faso, Austria, Nigeria, France, Senegal, Norway, Belgium, Germany, USA and in South Africa. He has won several awards, accolades and nominations in South Africa and internationally including the FNB Dance Umbrella Choreographer of The Year, Standard Bank Young Artist for The Year and Gauteng MEC Award for Choreography. He’s been a Rolex Mentor and Protégé Award Finalist as well as a Daimler Chrysler Choreography Award Finalist. Maqoma also serves as Associate Artistic Director for Moving Into Dance and as Artistic Director of The Afro Vibes Festival in the Netherlands. He was Creative Director for Gauteng Carnival in 2007. He is founder member of MUiSA (Multi Arts Initiative of South Africa).

Russell Rodríguez, Ph.D., is a University of California President’s Postdoctoral Fellow. In June of 2006 he received his Ph.D. from the department of Anthropology at the University of California, Santa Cruz, completing his dissertation under the guidance of Professor Olga Nájera-Ramírez. He is currently working on his manuscript Mariachi: Performing the Soundscape of Greater México. Rodríguez has also worked as a curator for the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage annual American Festival, co-curating the Latino Music Program in 2004. He co-produced the Smithsonian Folkways Recordings CD compilation Rolas de Aztlán: Songs of the Chicano Movement. He is a practicing musician and has worked as a professional mariachi musician for over twenty-five years throughout the southwest United States, Washington, DC, San Juan, Puerto Rico and in Guadalajara, Jalisco. Today Rodríguez continues to play music professionally with Mariachi Azteca and Los Soneros del Este grounding himself in vibrant transnational music scenes. He is in constant dialogue with the Chicana/o musicians throughout California, participating in musical collaborations in the Bay Area and Los Angeles with group members of Quetzal, Ozomatli, Cava, Dr. Loco and His Rockin’ Jalapeños, and La Colectiva; all of which has been highly informative to his studies on Latina/o, Chicana/o, and Mexicana/o cultural expressions in the United States.

Lily Kharrazi, Living Cultures Grants Program Manager, earned an M.A. in Dance Ethnology, studying at UCLA with Allegra Fuller Snyder, a pioneer in the field of dance and culture. Kharrazi served as the Program Director of World Arts West, the producers of the San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival for 9 seasons, during which time through extensive outreach efforts, new and little known cultural dance had the opportunity to be presented. Prior to joining ACTA, Lily worked in the refugee resettlement field as well as arts education. She continues to write freelance on issues of dance and culture. Lily was hired as the Living Cultures Grants Program Manager in May 2005.

Sherwood Chen is Associate Director of the Alliance for California Traditional Arts (ACTA), and has worked in festival production, youth arts programming, arts grantmaking, and community arts, working for organizations including the City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs, The San Francisco Foundation and the Music Center Education Division. As a performer, Chen has worked with artists including Grisha Coleman/Echo::System, Anna Halprin, inkBoat/Shinichi Iova-Koga, Amara Tabor-Smith, Oguri, Do Hee Lee, and Sara Shelton Mann. He was a resident member of Min Tanaka’s performance collective Maijuku in rural Japa. Chen leads Body Weather Laboratory movement research training originally developed by Tanaka. He currently serves as a member of the City of Oakland Cultural Funding Advisory Committee, and as a board member of Intersection for the Arts in San Francisco, and Khmer Arts Academy in Long Beach / Phnom Penh.

Panel: Appropriation: Dilemma in Dance

Deborah Vaughan, Artistic director and primary choreographer of Dimensions Dance Theater, received her M.A. in dance from Mills College. She has traveled and studied traditional dance and culture in Jamaica, Cuba, the Bahamas, Trinidad, Haiti, and West Africa. Deborah is strongly committed to artistic collaboration, and has worked with an eclectic mix of internationally recognized performing and creative artists. Deborah’s exceptional treatment of traditional African dance and other ethnic dance forms of the African Diaspora has brought about an enhanced appreciation of African derived work among audiences in the Bay Area. Her choreography has drawn its inspiration from experiences and circumstances that have affected life in America and around the world in powerful ways, taking the experience of Africans and African Americans to a new frontier by blending contemporary influences with the deep and vital traditions of the past.

Anne Bluethenthal, M.F.A. is the founder and director of ABD Productions, the producing arm of Anne Bluethenthal & Dancers, a San Francisco-based multi-ethnic and multi-cultural modern dance company, dedicated to activism in the arts. ABD was founded in 1984 and has developed a repertoire of more than 60 original works, including four evening-length multi-disciplinary pieces addressing issues such as Palestine-Israel, globalization, genocide, the environment, and the gift economy. ABD has received a number of notable awards and honors, she has been teaching her unique approach to dance technique for over 20 years and is currently on the faculties of California Institute for Integral Studies’ MFA Creative Inquiry Interdisciplinary Arts Program, Academy of Art University’s Motion Picture and Television program, and Institute for Transpersonal Psychology’s Women’s Spirituality MA program.

Denise Pate has spent over 20 years working in the arts community as a dancer, choreographer, teacher, and arts administrator. Currently she serves as Development Coordinator at Destiny Arts Center. She is the former Associate Director, Operations for California College of the Arts’ Center for Art and Public Life (2005-2007). Past affiliations include Young Audiences of the Bay Area, Wolftrap Institute for Early Learning through the Arts, Youth In Arts, and World Arts West. As the former Executive Director of CitiCentre Dance Theater, she led one of Oakland’s multi-cultural dance centers. She received her B.A. from Dominican University, she also holds an M.B.A. from the University of Phoenix. Some of her current and past board and advisory committee memberships include Dancers’ Group, Luna Kids Dance, and the Bay Area National Dance Week Steering Committee.

Panel: Standing Up/Acting Out: Activism & Social Justice in the Traditional Arts

Krissy Keefer, as Artistic Director of Dance Brigade, has incorporated everything from Japanese Taiko drumming, American Sign Language, and Tibetan buddhist texts into her own inimitable, multi-dimensional form of political dance theater. She has received numerous grants and awards, including three NEA Choreographers’ Fellowships, San Francisco Magazine’s 1998 Arts Achievement Award for Dance, two Individual Artist Commissions from the San Francisco Cultural Equity Grants Program, a 1997 “Goldie” Award from the Bay Guardian, Isadora Duncan Awards in 1995, 1998 and 2000 and the East Bay Express’ “Artists Who Make A Difference” Award in 1993. She is a legend for her community and political activism, including running as the Green Party candidate against Nancy Pelosi for Congress in 2006, and has inspired countless artists, activists, and culture workers with her example.

Since 1984, Dance Brigade has created, performed, presented and produced issue-oriented dance theater exploring socio-political issues such as violence against women, class injustice, war, racism, breast cancer, sexual abuse and homophobia. The company has created approximately 10 full-length concerts of contemporary dance theater pieces including Pandora’s Box, Ballet of the Banshees, Cinderella, Queen of Sheba, CaveWomen, Spell and has won numerous awards. Dance Brigade also builds community through the arts by creating, presenting, producing, and teaching at the multicultural dance center Dance Mission Theater, which houses a 140-seat theater, three dance studios, a six-member professional women’s dance company, and an instructional dance program that serves both adults and youth.

Denise Solis is an activist, labor organizer, and musician who has lived in the Bay Area since 2002. Denise began studying the Afro Puerto Rican musical tradition of Bomba in 2004 with Hector Lugo and Roman “Ito” Carrillo. In 2005, she became a founding member and began performing with the Bay Area based Afro Puerto Rican ensemble Cacique y Kongo (2005-2007) for which she was a principal singer and drummer. She is also a co-founder and co-director for the Bay Area’s first and only all female Bomba ensemble, Las Bomberas de la Bahia, along with Sarazeta Ragazzi. Denise was a co-artistic director for the Bay Area production, La Bomba es Nuestra, which brought together Bomberas from Puerto Rico and the Diaspora in April 2007 and which was the catalyst for the inception of Las Bomberas de la Bahia. She later participated in and was the Musical Director for Cimarronaje, a follow up performance and reunion of the Bomberas from Puerto Rico and the Diaspora in July 2008. Denise is one of 4 female lead drummers (Primo Player) in Puerto Rico and the Diaspora within the Bomba genre. Along with directing Las Bomberas de la Bahia, she has performed with other Bomba groups in the Diaspora including, Modesto Cepeda y La familia Cepeda in Maestros de Bomba en la Bahia, with Grupo Nandi in Puerto Rico, Chicago and New York, with Grupo Aguacero, La Mixta Criolla in the Bay Area, and with Grupo Tambuye in Puerto Rico.

John Jota Leaños is a social art practitioner who utilizes all and any media to engage in diverse cultural arenas through strategic revealing, tactical disruption, and symbolic wagon burning, His practice includes a range of new media, public art, installation, and performance focusing on the convergence of memory, social space and decolonization. Originally from Pomona, California he identifies as part of the mainly hybrid tribe of Mexitaliano Xicangringo Güeros called “Los Mixtupos” (mixt-up-oz). Leaños’ work has been shown at the Sundance 06 Film Festival, the 2002 Whitney Biennial in New York, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Leaños is a Creative Capital Foundation Grantee and has been an artist in residence at the University of California, Santa Barbara in the Center for Chicano Studies (2006), Carnegie Mellon University in the Center for Arts in Society (2003), and the Headlands Center for the Arts (2007). Leaños is currently an Assistant Professor of Social Practices and Community Arts at the California College of the Arts.

Loubna Qutami – Al Juthoor, whose name means “Roots” in Arabic, was founded in January 2005 as a dance company whose mission is to bring awareness to the Palestinian cause through the use of traditional Palestinian dabkeh as a statement of resistance against oppression. Dabkeh, the folkloric line dance indigenous to Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, and Jordan, is performed by Palestinians both in the occupied territories and in the diaspora as an act of both cultural preservation and political protest. Al Juthoor is among the few professional Palestinian folkloric dance companies in the United States and is in great demand for performances in the Arab community, as well as Bay Area events such as the Ethnic Dance Festival and Women Against War. Loubna Qutami, a member of Al Juthoor since 2005, is a graduate student in Ethnic Studies program at San Francisco State University. A member of the General Union of Palestinian Students at SFSU and co-founder of the International Palestinian Youth Network, her activism has taken her throughout the Arab world, the United States, and Europe as an organizer, speaker, and scholar. She currently works as a special project coordinator at the Arab Cultural and Community Center in San Francisco.

Performing Diaspora Curators

Sherwood Chen is Associate Director of the Alliance for California Traditional Arts (ACTA), and has worked in festival production, youth arts programming, arts grantmaking, and community arts, working for organizations including the City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs, The San Francisco Foundation and the Music Center Education Division. As a performer, Chen has worked with artists including Grisha Coleman/Echo::System, Anna Halprin, inkBoat/Shinichi Iova-Koga, Amara Tabor-Smith, Oguri, Do Hee Lee, and Sara Shelton Mann. He was a resident member of Min Tanaka’s performance collective Maijuku in rural Japa. Chen leads Body Weather Laboratory movement research training originally developed by Tanaka. He currently serves as a member of the City of Oakland Cultural Funding Advisory Committee, and as a board member of Intersection for the Arts in San Francisco, and Khmer Arts Academy in Long Beach / Phnom Penh.

Laura Elaine Ellis is a dancer, choreographer and producer. Presently, she is Executive Director of the African and African American Performing Arts Coalition (AAAPAC) – a San Francisco based, non-profit organization, founded in 1995 by a collective of artists looking to create better performance opportunities for and produce shows that reflect the aesthetic and cultural representation of Africans and African Americans. As AAAPAC’s executive director, Laura Elaine Ellis has co-produced successful events such as the Labor of Love Dance Series, The Quilt Project: Pieces of Me, and currently the Black Choreographers Festival: Here & Now. The Black Choreographers Festival: Here & Now is a community event of dance concerts, symposia, mentoring programs and workshops celebrating the legacy and artistry of African and African American choreographers.Funding awards for AAAPAC projects include: The Creative Work Fund, The Irvine Foundation, San Francisco Arts Commission, The San Francisco Foundation, the Walter & Elise Haas Fund and the Zellerbach Family Foundation.

Debbie Smith, Cultural Program Coordinator for San Francisco’s Arab Cultural and Community Center, has a Bachelor of Arts in Middle Eastern Studies from the University of Texas at Austin. From 2001 to 2007, Debbie worked for Dance Brigade’s Dance Mission Theater, a multicultural dance school and theater in San Francisco’s Mission district where she oversaw daily operations of the school and theater, as well as programming the theater’s spring and fall seasons and coordinating all aspects of production and publicity, serving dancers, choreographers, technicians and other artists from a wide range of dance styles and backgrounds. Currently she works full time at the Arab Cultural and Community Center on cultural program development, event management, grant writing, and publicity and marketing. She works with Arab and Arab-American performing and visual artists of all genres. An active member of the San Francisco arts community, she has participated in a number of panels and committees relating to dance, arts funding and advocacy, and other related subjects, in addition to both freelance and volunteer stage management, production assistance and consultation for a number of San Francisco artists and venues. Since 2005 she has been a member of Al-Juthoor Palestinian Folk Dance Company. She continues to read and study widely in the fields of dance history and ethnology, ethnomusicology, and performance studies.

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