‘Black Voices Boston’ showcases personal experiences through storytelling and movement
“Black Voices Boston: Our Stories in Words and Movement” makes its world premiere on Sunday, Dec. 6 at 7:00 p.m. The free online event is a collaboration between Afro-Colombian dance company Sankofa Danzafro and the Celebrity Series of Boston.
The virtual performance will feature short dance works created by Rafael Palacios, Sankofa Danzafro’s artistic director, based on the personal stories and real experiences of seven creatives representing Boston area Black communities.
The project was commissioned by Amy Lam, director of programming for the Celebrity Series, who had heard what Palacios was doing with his company dancers in Colombia during the COVID-19 lockdown. He came up with a method to keep them moving and motivated by creating dances expressing their emotions and performing wherever they were quarantined.
Palacios was thrilled about the idea of collaborating with the Celebrity Series on this unique project. “What excited me the most was that a local idea, built in the intimacy of Sankofa, our company, can reach other places, be replicated in other communities,” wrote Palacios in an email. “That other communities show interest in an idea that was born here, and this can unite us with the rest of the world. This is extremely significant for us.”
A call was sent out to the Boston artistic and creative community. Each participant submitted a story in the form of a letter to Palacios, with the Celebrity Series ultimately selecting seven participants to work individually with him over Zoom to translate those personal stories into short dance films.
Participant Janaeya Moon, a Boston Arts Academy senior and rapper from Dorchester, heard about “Black Voices” from her dance teacher at school and thought it was important to be a part of this event. “I have a story that should be heard, and I felt this was a perfect way to display it,” wrote Moon by email. “I am a pretty private person and not a lot of people know my story. This was a way for me to show it by doing the thing I do best, dance.”
Another of the seven participants is Mattapan resident Marlon Forrester, an artist and arts educator in the Boston Public Schools and a graduate of Yale School of Art.
Forrester’s artwork explores how the black male body is viewed through the lens of sports, specifically through basketball. He saw “Black Voices” as an opportunity to enhance and share his voice with his community. “Artists have a unique perspective on the world and it was a chance for me to kind of share my experience, as a young black male growing up in America, especially in this climate,” says Forrester by phone. “I think it’s important for us to be vocal.”
It also was an opportunity for him to work with Palacios to capture a particular moment in his life and transform it into movement.
That moment, which Forrester wrote about in a poem called “If Pain,” occurred at the age of 16, when, on his way to a friend’s house, he was detained by a group of police officers under the suspicion that he had shot a police officer during an attempted arrest. Forrester, who had never been involved in a crime nor had a criminal record, was picked up for simply being 6-foot-3, 190 pounds and fitting the description of the typical black male suspect, as he wrote in his application. “If Pain,” which is a message to his 6-year-old son, Bradley, will be interpreted by actors from the New Repertory Theatre in Watertown as part of the project.
In anticipation of the “Black Voices Boston” premiere, Forrester says he wants the audience to “believe in the fact that beyond looking, they can trust their heart, their spirit, and they can trust in that moment that there is a level of purity there, and there’s a level of unadulterated openness, and a welcoming experience for them to partake in.”