Performance » Dance

Black Lives Matter in Dance

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What: The 10th anniversary celebration of Kenyetta Dance Company. The two-act show will reunite Kenyetta dancers performing company favorites, and new works.

When: 8 p.m. Sept. 4 and 5. The Sept. 5 show also includes a 6 p.m. pre-performance reception.

Where: The Toby, 4000 Michigan Road. The theater is located inside the Indianapolis Museum of Art.

Tickets: $20 adults, $10 youths (age 12 and younger).

Info: http://www.halalwood.wix.com/kdcblackdancematters


Kenyetta has been bringing black dance to Indianapolis since 2005. - COURTESY KENYETTA DANCE COMPANY
  • Courtesy Kenyetta Dance Company
  • Kenyetta has been bringing black dance to Indianapolis since 2005.

For the past 10 years, Kenyetta Dance Company has used movement and a stage to discuss local, even world events. Through their bodies, its dancers have engaged audiences in conversations about the fires in South Africa, racism, domestic violence, infidelity, homelessness, bullying and promiscuity.

Now they dance to speak of another topical issue.

"I still think that we're pretty unique," says Vanessa Owens, executive artistic director and cofounder. "We have not been that company — even from Day One — to put out an annual season of performances, only because we've become more of a project-based company. We take on projects. We take on platforms."

Vanessa Owens is the executive artistic director, and co-founder, of Kenyetta Dance Company. - COURTESY KENYETTA DANCE COMPANY
  • Courtesy Kenyetta Dance Company
  • Vanessa Owens is the executive artistic director, and co-founder, of Kenyetta Dance Company.

On Labor Day weekend the contemporary modern dance company will mark its 10th anniversary with a two-day performance celebrating Kenyetta's history, artistry and dancers — many of whom are reuniting for this show.

It will also tackle one of the most controversial topics in recent times: Black Lives Matter, a movement that focuses on the deaths of unarmed African-American men and women at the hands of police or while in police custody.

The anniversary show, entitled Black Dance Matters, will feature some of Kenyetta's most popular works (Moody Blues, The Roots Suite and Skin Deep), and new pieces inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement.

"Yes, we did kind of take over the Black Lives Matter (name), but it seemed like the appropriate title for the concepts and the choreography, and what we're trying to say in this performance," says Owens, who started the company in 2004 with her brother, dancer and choreographer Nicholas Owens. Kenyetta's first full evening length performance was held in 2005.

The topics the company tackles are often based on the conversations dancers have when they're together, not necessarily firsthand experience.

"A lot of times it's dialogue, it's the things that we talk about," says Owens. "It's easy to get everybody excited about these issues, even if everybody doesn't necessarily have an opinion about them. It's easy to get them to say, 'This is how we articulate how we feel about what this is and what it means.'"

To truly voice their message, the movement has to come from a pure place.

Black Dance Matters tackles one of the greatest racial issues of our time. - COURTESY KENYETTA DANCE COMPANY
  • Courtesy Kenyetta Dance Company
  • Black Dance Matters tackles one of the greatest racial issues of our time.

"It basically has to come from within, and it can't be fake. It cannot be fake at all, because people can spot that," says Owens. "You can tell it's real because the idea, the seed, is so well planted that we can't do anything but be genuine when we're trying to give you the story. We try to paint the canvas and get everybody to see what we're trying to say. I don't think that you will find any fake emotion."

Owens recalls a show when a Kenyetta dancer was so overcome with emotion that she began sobbing on stage, while dancing.

"The idea, the emotion took over, and the people in the audience lost their minds," says Owens. "I could not believe it. It was a movement that even brought the performer to tears."

That emotion comes across whether they're tackling weighty issues or performing for the sheer love of dance. The chemistry between the dancers, many who have been together since they were children, adds to that feeling.

When Kenyetta started, it was comprised of a group of youth dancers. Now in their 20s, some are professional dancers, dance teachers, choreographers and even a doctor.

"We feel like if we present something that is appealing to young people ... we can incite a resurgence in young ladies and young men wanting to dance," says Owens. - COURTESY KENYETTA DANCE COMPANY
  • Courtesy Kenyetta Dance Company
  • "We feel like if we present something that is appealing to young people ... we can incite a resurgence in young ladies and young men wanting to dance," says Owens.

"It feels so good to have everybody back together and to be celebrating 10 years of Kenyetta," says Owens. "There are going to be some wonderful moments. I just remember when we first started. Everybody is just doing wonderful things."

Owens is especially proud that no matter their chosen profession, they have all worked to keep dance — especially black dance — alive.

She says part of Kenyetta's mission is to show young dancers of color that there's a place for them within this art form, even if funding for black dance companies is small, and the spaces for them in mainstream dance companies are limited.

It's why presenting quality shows is so important.

"We feel like if we present something that is appealing to young people then maybe we can incite a resurgence in young ladies and young men wanting to dance," says Owens, whose daughter Lalah, a professional dancer with PHILADANCO, will be part of the Kenyetta celebration.

"Most of these young people (with Kenyetta) are classically trained or have trained before, and they may have been the only African-American in their ballet class. But the opportunities for them to get into some of those companies aren't there, because they are looked over because their body type may not be what they are looking for."

She says that hasn't stopped her dancers from staying connected to the art form they love.

"These young people have not stopped dancing, because it's their outlet. Some of them are moms, wives and professionals, and it's hard to not have an outlet for that artist that you have always been."

Although there will be light moments in Black Dance Matters, Owens believes some of the pieces have the potential to pull at audience's heartstrings.

But it's that emotional pull that one expects from a Kenyetta performance.

"We've always been known to be that one," says Owens. "We're still out here trying to use the dance stage to articulate what's going on in our community."

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