We are at the edges of our seats, having just watched a video of Executive Artistic Director and Founder Vershawn Sanders-Ward introducing Red Clay Dance Company commemorating ten years of work in Chicago, IL (see more info in our Red Clay Dance Preview Article). We are ready for EKILI MUNDA | What Lies Within, an evening-length dance piece created by Red Clay Dance Company in collaboration with Keiga Dance Company from Uganda.
The four male dancers from Keiga Dance Company enter the stage and prop themselves on the set in the dark as projections by Peter Anderson play against the scrim, the set, and the dancers’ still bodies. Clocks, black and white photographs of people dancing in clubs or on the street emerge as a rhythmic instrumental track plays, suggesting themes of time, place, rhythm, and community.
We can’t be certain where these photos are from… USA? Uganda? The ambiguity allows us to understand that we are here together as a community.
The collage falls away and is replaced by red, and the dancers are lit. The track plays and the dancers begin to fluidly undulate their bodies--limbs flowing from their centers that are tethered to the rhythm. Different rhythms live in different parts of their bodies simultaneously. They sync up with a stomping rhythm--two dancers elevated on the platform of the set, two on the stage floor--all four dancers facing the audience straight on for the first time.
Lights shine, and we turn to the back of the house. Emerging from four aisles throughout the audience come the four women of Red Clay Dance Company, sneaking and slithering their way down the stairs and to the stage, where four panels of bright white light pave their way into the next dance to a current hit song This Is America by Childish Gambino. Hard-hitting, grounded, strong choreography ignites the stage as the dancers move through their individual paths of light.
This is the coming together of two worlds: USA and Uganda, men and women, dancing together on the same stage. They work together, harmoniously united by the rhythms of the music and of their bodies.
A Keiga dancer whistles loudly, and the dancers seamlessly find a partner--now they are in duets scattered about the space. This is a clear exploration of collaboration and trust in connecting these two worlds: Red Clay dancers from the USA, and Keiga dancers from Uganda. Bursts of running while sharing weight with their partner… And then we see that one has their eyes closed and is guided by their partner throughout the space. The seeing partner manipulates the not-seeing partner’s body around the space, on the set, even using their own body as a playground by hoisting the partner onto their back. Time moves slowly through this section, but these details need this pace to develop and reveal themselves to the viewers.
The two dance companies partner with each other throughout the night, showing us the sheer strength that both men and women have, and the different ways we can hold each other up. Impressive, challenging, and astonishing to experience, the duets throw out the historical rules of dance. At one point, a Red Clay dancer is launched to the top of a Keiga dancer’s head, muttering something “...she is the manifestation of...” as they toured around the stage. At another point, a Keiga dancer is supported by a Red Clay dancer, standing up on her hands at her waist. Steadily, he traverses to a Red Clay dancer in front of him, she takes his feet as her fellow company member had, and the sequence repeats until he is lowered to the ground.
Gender roles exist in dance, but this piece is dismantling these historic rules one lift at a time. We see this quite literally with a book labeled “DANCE RULES” presented by a Keiga dancer. After revealing these words in large text to the audience, he throws the book down in frustration. Rules are broken tonight, and the outcome is exhilarating.
Another panel of light emerges on the far left side of the stage, stretching from front to back. A Red Clay dancer walks towards the audience. She gives us a wave, a few of us give a holler back. She gestures toward herself, “Tic” and points to us “Toc!” She repeats this until we catch on to the call and response, a clap catches on as the energy builds and we are the music to her dance. This is the coming together of performer and audience.
Red Clay Dance and Keiga Dance Invite us Into A Community
We get to experience this coming together even more towards the end of the piece. After an intense section of choreography, all of a sudden the dancers roll across and right off the stage into the audience! One dancer approaches this writer and says, “We are going to dance together for the rest of the piece.” Hesitation runs through the crowd, until a brave audience member gets up, and like a ripple we all follow her lead. Everyone is grooving at the stage’s edge and the dancers start their last section: grouped closely together, moving low, staring down the audience—this and the music connects us all. We crouch and clap to the rhythm, some riffing off of the beat, all to encourage the dancers.
We are here dancing together, calling and responding, supporting, feeling the energy, all as a community. This is what it means to dance together.
Learn more about dance by seeing dance through dancers eyes in the Picture This Post series, “Choreographers’ Eyes - Dancers Explain Dance”. Watch this video preview of the story here—
For more information visit the Red Clay Dance website.
Click here to learn more about Keiga Dance Company.
Bookmark The Dance Center at Columbia College Chicago website.
All photos by Raymond Jerome
Sarah Stearn, a native of Chicago, is a dancer and videographer. She has recently graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign with a BFA in Dance, and is excited to be back in the city. Currently, she works with Tuli Bera as an administrator for J e l l o Performance Series.