When I arrived at Christopher Newport University, a small liberal arts state school growing exponentially over the past few years in Newport News, VA (known for being a ship building town), I was fulfilling a newly created position to develop the dance program in the Department of Theater and Dance -- to offer courses that might connect to the greater campus community and in particular, focus on a larger cultural component than the musical theater tradition of the department. I immediately developed a studio course in Afro-Caribbean folklore, specifically Cuban and Haitian, and began choreographing Afro-Caribbean folkloric pieces for the annual dance concert initiated by my colleague six years ago. Over the past four years I have also developed a modern class and a course that's half classroom and half studio focusing on the sacred dance traditions of the African Diaspora. I have had the opportunity to work with students across these various courses, throughout the year as we rehearse the choreography for the annual dance concert, and have begun to travel with students to perform both locally and nationally in venues in NYC.
These photos are from 2015 creation and performance of "Sacred Waters | Yemayá y Ochún" performed by Rhianan Banks, Victoria Banks, Natalie Buckley, Shu'Keia Donaldson, Eliza Eaton, Taylor Flowers, Sophie Gibbons, Alex Gutowski, Mary Lee, Emilio Marmol, Christina Martin, Kayla Noel, Quiera Nubie, John Pickard, Garret Roberts, Brianna Weiner, Madeline Wheeler. Percussion by guest artists Dale Paul Lazar & vocals by Jose Conde Lighting by students Cian Girven & Cheyenne Christopher
The following images are from "Obatalá y Ochún" performed March 20 & 21, 2014. Performed by Camille Carson, Jeannette Cortez, Shu'Keia Donaldson, Eliza Eaton, Alexandra Gutowski, Timilenin Idris, Kayla Jewette, Christina Martin, Kayla Noel, Giannina Otoya, John Pickard, Ashley Quarles, Manuel Ramirez, and Arthur Sigmund.
2013: "Afrofunk Groove" with Kelly Rossum on psychedelic trumpet and "Haitian Fight Song (Zepol & Petwo)" with Kelly Rossum's CNU Jazz Ensemble.
2012: This year was marked by two deaths of important teachers and performers in the Cuban and Haitian folkloric communities of New York City.
"Yanvalou: Bagay yo Kongole (Things Change)" was completed in the wake of the recent passing of artist and teacher Frisner Augustin, Ountògi master drummer of Haitian Vodou. This piece honored him and the voice he gave to the drum. Performed by Rodolphe "Neg Mawon” Pierre on percussion and vocals. Danced by: Monica Bonilla, Anastasia Brunk, Kayla Jewette, Anna Kern, Hillary King, EvaLynn Lott, Bridget Lundberg, Emily Mummert, Shaylyn Purcell, Claire Stringfellow, and Lauren Tapscott.
"Ritmo y Sabor Afro-Cubano" was created to honor my Afro-Cuban teacher Obbalubbe Felix “Pupy” Insua, who first taught me the patakín, or story, of Ogún and Ochún of the opening, and my friend and fellow dancer Allison “Bailerina” Notter, who both embraced and were embraced by the spirit of dance. The music was written and sung by Jose Conde with accompaniment by Rodolphe "Neg Mawon" Pierre.