Body Talk, the opening performance of the Bessie Award-winning Dayton Contemporary Dance Company’s (DCDC) 2016-17 season, will explore the role of celebrated African-American playwrights as the Griot (pronounced GREE-o) of African-American culture.
An original work choreographed by DCDC Artistic Director Debbie Blunden-Diggs and DCDC Associate Artistic Director Crystal Michelle, Body Talk will premiere in the black box space of Dayton’s Schuster Performing Arts Center’s Mathile Theatre on Saturday, Oct. 15 at 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. and Sunday, Oct. 16 at 4 p.m.
“This is a work that needs to be made,” Michelle said. “It is our responsibility to call attention to our voices. The dancer’s body is central to the development of the work — we’re etching these plays onto them.”
Body Talk will explore works of African-American playwrights such as James Baldwin, August Wilson, Ntozake Shange, Alice Childress and Lynn Nottage and will explore the common themes that thread through their works — themes of humans seeking purpose, the value of the journey, the ideal as defined through the presence or absence of religion, and the importance and power of identity. An important element of the work is the West African tradition of the Griot, a traveling poet, musician, storyteller and keeper of the village’s oral history and moral lessons.
“These are things we all share about being human,” Michelle said. “The plays are pages on a shelf — in performance, they transform to mean something to the people performing and watching. They remind us what we’ve been through, where we’re going, and that’s where the Griot comes in — these playwrights have the ability to do that across generations.”
The intimate black box theatre space challenges the choreographer to create a work that can be viewed from multiple perspectives. Additionally, it offers opportunity for increased energy and impact, Michelle said.
“Reading these works has changed my life,” she said. “I want to share that experience with the audience and preserve the works in another art form.”
Many of the plays to be featured have small casts — Body Talk will likewise be a collection of smaller duets, trios, quartets tied together by scenes of the village and the Griot that include the company’s full 14-dancer roster, Michelle said.
The show will also feature interludes of live music performed by the Deron Bell Band.