As Yale and the country as a whole have participated in conversations about inclusivity, race and representation, two groups have come together to address these issues through dance.
The Yale Dance Theater performed its spring project in conjunction with the Urban Bush Women, a modern dance company whose work is inspired by the African diaspora, Wednesday at the Morse Crescent Underground Theater. The Urban Bush Women, a New York-based nonprofit dance group, focuses on highlighting the stories and experiences of underrepresented artists. The untitled show, which is framed like a workshop, seeks to bring together a diverse audience as it communicates “untold and under-told histories and stories,” per the event description.
According to the Urban Bush Women’s lead dancer on the project, Amanda Castro, the collaboration with YDT represents the culmination of three months of work between the two dance groups.
“Not only was the [Urban Bush Women] the creation of a contemporary modern dance company influenced by the African diaspora, it was the birth of a space to investigate, examine and share the untold and under-told stories of disenfranchised people, bringing their voices to light from a woman’s perspective in dance,” Castro said.
Castro, a New Haven native and dancer from the group who led the project at Yale, said the company uses dance to create communities and foster leadership. She cited the group’s community engagement projects as an example, noting that they host workshops with organizations that focus on group dynamics and implicit biases.
Urban Bush Women relies on a core set of values, including respecting individual stories and using art to enact social change, according to the group’s website. Brittany Stollar ’17, a YDT Coordinator, said Urban Bush Women focuses on ensemble work and building connections through communal processes. Stollar said one highlight of the rehearsal process was the connection between dancers, which the Urban Bush Women fostered by having each performer find his or her individual voice.
“Urban Bush Women worked a lot … on developing connections [within the company] while also [having the dancers] work on finding [their] ‘mother tongue,’ or the movement that feels most comfortable, natural [and] original in [their] bodies,” Stollar said. “Even while doing explorations of our mother tongues, you will see the dancers listening to and connecting with one another.”
Not only does the piece simultaneously focus on the individual and the community, but it also puts forth a social message of acceptance and understanding. This theme falls in line with all of the Urban Bush Women’s work, which, according to Dance Studies Director Emily Coates ’06 GRD ’11, transforms the experience of women of color into an artistic form that is accessible to and brings together all communities.
Holly Taylor ’17, another coordinator for the YDT, said she first saw Urban Bush Women perform in her hometown of Providence, Rhode Island and “fell in love immediately.” She noted that the project with the group is important for the Yale community in this moment because of the conversations surrounding inclusivity on campus.
“The tenets of Urban Bush Women, which include the celebration of all bodies, of personal history and individual identity and of the African diaspora, felt and feel particularly relevant to me given the past three years of explicit activism on campus, and Yale’s self-perception as a community which pushes artistic and social boundaries towards positive change,” Taylor said.
Stollar added that the company fits well into the YDT’s philosophy in that both groups consist of dancers with varied dance backgrounds and educations, as she said these experiences can bring different skills and insights to the piece.
Currently on tour, Urban Bush Women has performed at Wesleyan University and the Baruch Performing Arts Center in New York.