P R E S S R E L E A S E S 2002
December 25, 2002
Visionary Choreographer Modernizes African Dance Forms at MASS MoCA
(North Adams, Mass.)Visionary choreographer Abdel Salaam's Forces of Nature Dance Theatre Company utilizes a unique blend of performing arts, including modern dance, traditional West African dance, live and recorded music, and martial arts. The company that led the historic procession for Nelson and Winnie Mandela on their visit to New York will perform at MASS MoCA on January 25 at 8 P.M. The New York Times described the dancers at a recent performance saying, "it was easy to forget they were human beings." According to The Washington Post, the "sizzling performance was nothing short of sensational, yet managed to avert sensationalism altogether."
The dance company will perform several pieces including Rhythm Legacy, a fast-paced exploration of dance through the ages as a form of oral history carrying down cultural information through generations. "In the slave belt, people couldn't read. The Afro-centered stuff of culture is dance and music and narrative. They 'read' it by seeing it, singing it, experiencing it live," according to choreographer Abdel Salaam. Movements repeat, crescendo, and transform into new styles as the dance moves at break-neck speed through ancestral African dance, Haitian movement, into juba plantation dances brought from Zaire, Senegal, or Guinea. Irish jigs cross-pollinate with juba to create tap, which moves into swing, hip-hop, and break-dancing.
After an intermission the troupe will perform Ascendence and Passion Fruit, the latter of which explores three couples' sensuous exploration of each other. The first couple is like slow-moving beasts; the next couple is a little more weary, content with gentler embraces; and the last is playful and combative. The New York Times described the show as "a fresh, clear, sultry look at romance." The final piece, Terrestrial Wombs, is accompanied by a rich percussion score performed by Salaam and seven other percussionists. The New York Times describes it as "a clear narrative that depicts with considerable sensuality the creation of men and women and their myths, ending suddenly with an Adam and an Eve cast forth from the waters into a new world."
The company was founded in 1981 by artistic director/choreographer Abdel R. Salaam and executive director Olabamidele Husbands, with the mission to develop an artistic language that educates as well as empowers through images of the African Diaspora. They stress the importance of living with respect and in harmony with nature. In addition to regular appearances at Aaron Davis Hall and the Apollo Theater in Harlem, the Forces of Nature Dance Theatre Company has been presented by the Joyce Theater, the Brooklyn Academy of Music's Dance Africa Festival, the American Dance Festival, the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, and the International Association of Blacks in Dance (IABD) Conference. Forces of Nature performed at the First International Black Dance Festival (UK), the International Dance Festival in Aruba, the Second International Grand Festival of Mexico, receiving the National Critics and Theater Award for Best Dance Company and Most Outstanding New Choreographer, and the Twelfth Annual Festival for Peace in Moscow as the only African-American dance company to engage in historic cultural exchange with members of the Bolshoi Ballet.
Salaam began studying music at age five, first playing the xylophone and glockenspiel and later moving to piano. By the time he was ten he was studying classical viola and jazz saxophone. He was one of the first black children bused to Public School 6 in the 1960s. After graduating from the High School of Music and Art in 1968, Salaam's college years were informed by a new African-centered identity that swept college campuses after the Civil Rights Movement. He was an integral member of Lehman College's Black Student Organization and negotiated the birth of Lehman's Black Studies Department and Curriculum. Salaam was quoted in a 1995 New York Times article: "For me it is important to be part of the solutions for the problems of my people, with esthetic visions that bring with them a sense of pride, dignity and also ancestral, cultural and historical continuity."
Salaam studied dance at Lehman under Joan Miller, Louis Falco, Chuck Davis, John Parks, and Miguel Godrean. After just 2 1/2 years he was offered a spot in the Alvin Ailey Dance Company but chose to follow his own creative direction performing with the Joan Miller Chamber Arts/Dance Players, serving as principal dancer and Associate Artistic Director of the internationally acclaimed Chuck Davis Dance Company, principal dancer with the Fred Benjamin Dance Company, and as guest artist with the American Contemporary Ballet Company and the Contemporary Dance Theatre.
Salaam's numerous honors and awards include two Choreographer Fellowships from the NEA, the Dance Africa Award from the Brooklyn Academy of Music, the Monarch Award for Achievement in Dance from the National Council of Art and Culture, and commissions from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, the National Committee for Young Audiences, the Bronx Council on the Arts, the Department of Cultural Affairs, and the New York State Council on the Arts. Most recently, Salaam has served on the faculty of the American Dance Festival in Durham, N.C., and Seoul, Korea, and at the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre as guest instructor in choreography.
Forces of Nature Dance Company is co-presented with the Williams College Dance Department and is sponsored by The Porches Inn.
Tickets for Forces of Nature Dance Company are $24 for orchestra seats, $20 for mezzanine, and $16 for students. MASS MoCA members receive a 10% discount. Tickets are available through the MASS MoCA Box Office located off Marshall Street in North Adams from 11 A.M. until 5 P.M. (closed Tuesdays). Tickets can also be charged by phone by calling 413.662.2111 during Box Office hours or purchased on line at www.massmoca.org.
MASS MoCA, the largest center for contemporary visual and performing arts in the United States, is located off Marshall Street in North Adams on a 13-acre campus of renovated 19th-century factory buildings.
MASS MoCA 1040 MASS MoCA Way North Adams, MA 01247 413.MOCA.111 www.massmoca.org
For Immediate Release