For the dancers in Black Movements Dance Theater, the most poignant form of expression is not found in words, but rather in an artistic and deliberate fusion of song and movement. To continue the vision set forth by its founders in 1981, BMDT turns to dance as a means of engaging the community in an important reflection on the African American experience. This year in particular, the company will celebrate the power, confidence and strength of women in their spring show, “Phenomenal Woman,” Feb. 19 and 20 in Gonda Theater.
According to Elizabeth Erra (COL ’17), one of the student co-directors of the company who lead the team with performing arts professor Alfreda Davis, inspiration for this theme came in response to various events over the summer in the women’s movement. Most specifically, the members of BMDT, who are all female this year, were greatly motivated when Misty Copeland was named first black principal dancer of the American Ballet Theater last June. Some members also had the opportunity to hear Copeland speak at Georgetown during Women’s History Month last year.
“We were really inspired by things happening in the news with women and that Misty Copeland had come to speak with us this past March,” Erra said. “This is the first time since I have been in the company that we are all women, so we thought it would be a great idea to tap in to that energy to discover our femininity and what womanhood means to each of us.”
While rehearsals are demanding and rigorous, preparation for the spring concert is not limited to practicing dance segments or memorizing choreography. The members of the company must maintain dialogues about the emotional charge of the performance in order to express the theme in each piece.
“It’s really important for us to talk to each other during the entire rehearsal process,” Erra said. “Each of our pieces has a story behind it with emotions that we are trying to convey and it’s hard to do that if we don’t verbalize the story we are trying to tell.”
To initiate this type of reflection, Davis dedicates a portion of many rehearsals to a discussion of the sentiments behind the dances. For example, she challenges the dancers to define the characteristics of a phenomenal woman so that they can more powerfully embody this persona on stage.
“I want to make sure they are not just connected in terms of their technical ability,” Davis said. “We are a dance theater so we don’t just dance — we dance in a theatrical way, to tell a story. The theatrical content must be there.”
The dances to be performed at the upcoming concert undoubtedly achieve the intended level of theatricality and emotion. With meticulous skill, the dancers combine their technical talents with unique characterization to make for an immensely touching exhibition.
“Yesterday Was Hard On All Of Us,” a student choreographed piece, is a passionate number about teamwork and support, featuring dancers carrying each other on their backs. In D.C.-based dancer and guest choreographer Maverick Lemons’ “#FollowMe,” the dancers first emerge in an expectant silence. When the music intensifies, the women begin to march to a thunderous beat with mesmerizing conviction. “Destination,” choreographed by Torens Johnson, a dance professor at George Mason University who also prepared a tribute to Natalie Cole to be premiered at the performance, sends the dancers on unique, purposeful missions while they simultaneously maintain a collective purpose.
These flawlessly executed routines represent female empowerment in its purest form.
For the women of BMDT, the spring concert is not merely a dance performance, but an opportunity to direct their artistic talents toward a greater goal. Racquel Rosenbloom (COL ’16), another student co-director, anticipates that this year’s production will resonate permanently with the Georgetown community and influence the art scene on campus.
“I hope that this connects students with the arts at Georgetown because it’s an underrated portion of student life here,” Rosenbloom said. “I hope that our show will be intriguing and interesting enough that people will want to get engaged.”
Attendees of the BMDT spring concert can expect a night of dance showcase, musical diversity and cultural celebration. Each motion conveys confidence. Each rhythm encourages hope. Each jump demonstrates power. Each step of the dancers exudes pride for phenomenal women everywhere.
“We hope that the concert inspires people to learn more about black history at Georgetown and about clubs, like BMDT, that tap into the history of black culture,” Erra said. “If we blend that focus with the narrative of feminism, we can put on a really great show.”
Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that the performances were on Feb. 18 and Feb. 19.
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