Numerology tells us that numbers carry significant energy. They guide us on our sacred path and lead us to our inner and outer work. Nine, the multi-hyphenate number that represents birthing, enlightenment, love, forgiveness and awakening, has also taken another role serving as the fitting title for Praize Productions Inc’s first motion picture.
Premiering on April 2nd at the House of Hope, a ten thousand seat arena in the heart of the South Side of Chicago, PPI is strutting by faith. As a black women-led company, Praize Productions Inc. celebrates eleven years of excellence, and the fact that they survived a global pandemic.
The black tie affair will feature a plush red carpet, the PPI Pillar Awards, live dance, and musical performances, all in advance of the highly anticipated feature length movie. The sixty deep cast, consisting of PPI’s Performing Arts Academy, RIZE Pro-Elite Professional Company and RIZE Youth Company, is brighter, bolder and braver than ever. Executive Artistic Director Ennereessa Davis(Reesie) proudly stated during an interview, “We are bringing Hollywood to the South Side! It was so important for us to have this premiere in the community with the people who supported us the most.” With a track record of producing a decade of masterful and mega performance experiences, Reesie reminds us that she raises the bar for all of her productions because “no one rises to low standards.”
Conceived in 2019, a year prior to the pandemic, “NINE" was originally on track to be a staged dance performance in alignment with PPI’s previously sold-out and multi-award-winning theatrical productions like “REVIVAL” in 2018, and “Smells Like Freedom” in 2019. However, it was the sudden blow of the pandemic shut- down in 2020, just a couple weeks shy of the performance date, that delayed the birth of “NINE.”
It was this disappointment that forced Reesie to re-evaluate her definition of success, rebuild the infrastructure of PPI, and do the necessary social and emotional work that was critical to developing the full integration of her young people. It was also during this period that Reesie professed she had a bold vision to pivot the staged production into a feature movie, thus, “NINE” was re-born.
Realized in part through several grants and an encouraging team. Collaborators included PPI veterans such as Tech Director Marshaun Robinson, Music Director Dave Felton, Erin Barnett the Associate Director of the Professional Company and new collaborators such as Cinematographer Rod Simmons, Videographer Orel Chollette, Sound/Audio by Kirk Denson and Colorist Niger Miles to name a few. PPI took full advantage at the height of the pandemic by remounting the staged choreography, filming scenes in empty lobbies at various historic landmarks throughout the city, including the contemporary Virgin Hotel and St. Sabina Church. They had minimal prep-time and were often swaying around changing city mandates that were unique for each venue.
Navigating the peaks and valleys of the pandemic is what gave the entire cast the life experience to endure and fully embody all of the definitions of the number nine. “The emotion you will see in the film is real because we filmed this movie in the height of the pandemic and this is what we were going through. We literally lived every element of the number nine.”
Although the entire motion picture is sure to take viewers on a transformational journey, Reesie is especially looking forward to premiering a couple of works for both the audience and the cast to experience. The first, “The Lord Is Coming,” is choreographed by Tashielle Gooley, Director of Arts at the PPI Academy. “This piece is absolutely gorgeous and to see Tashielle grow and evolve as an artist feels like the real definition of success because we are only as great as the people we work with.”
The second, “Things that keep my daughters up at night,” is choreographed by Reesie. This is a work Reesie was hesitant to give to her youth company due to the maturity of the subject matter. However, the students proved otherwise when they were led through an exercise that asked them to write down the things that kept them up at night. Reesie made the decision to share what was revealed with the parents and the difficult healing journey began. “As pre-teens and teens they go through so much and sometimes we are so busy we miss it.” Reesie vowed to never miss what her young people are going through again. “This piece is sacred because the dancers learned the power of vulnerability. You can see them going through every emotion and I am going to have to sit with them during the premiere to support them through this work.”
In a similar fashion, as I remember back to “REVIVAL” the first PPI performance I attended in 2018, I can vividly recall one of the most touching moments in the performance was when Reesie came boldly from backstage during a tap/hip hop combination to hype her youngest dancers from the audience floor. The way she rooted passionately for her young people was pure love. Energy and excitement swept throughout the hall and touched the hearts of us all.
It is this same nurturing spirit that helped to keep PPI’s sixty person cast intact despite the ebb and flow of personal and production challenges for the past two and half years. “Our entire cast was covered, we didn’t lose one member and I don’t take that lightly. There are Fortune 500 companies that can’t say that. There are million dollar companies that can’t say that, but this company on 46th and King Drive, we can say that we survived.” Some may call it “black girl magic.” PPI might say it was also achieved through relentless prayer, a strong foundation of hard work, flexibility, consistency, love, a family spirit and a fierce commitment to the collective vision.
“NINE” promises to bring us along on an interdisciplinary and humanistic journey featuring spoken word, music, visual arts, and dance. Encouraging us to connect with our personal stories of love, birth, enlightenment, awakening and forgiveness, it also reminds us to do our part as active citizens in the communities in which we belong.
I am finally reminded of a powerful quote from “The Last Days of Left Eye Documentary,” which says, “Nine is the highest number of change.”
According to Reesie, we can expect a few changes from PPI in the future. “Our first motion picture was created during a global pandemic, so there will be no more limitations set on funding, artists, our vision, or our young people. We will be walking boldly in our purpose, talents and gifts taking the city, the country and the world by storm.” As a fellow survivor of the pandemic thus far, I stand with Praize Productions Inc. and look forward to getting dressed to the nines and celebrating at the House of Hope!
Praize Productions presents NINE on Saturday at the House of Hope, 752 E. 114th Street. Tickets start at $45 and are available by clicking the event page below.