Like many of my fellow interdisciplinary artist colleagues, I planned and plotted for 2020 to be my year of clarity. This year was supposed to be marked by my most frequent international travel schedule and most varied creative skill development agenda. By March however, COVID-19 had wiped those "confirmed" 2020 plans clean off my calendar (Takeaway: ALWAYS buy travel insurance!). One of several local opportunities which I had applied for and was graciously accepted to was a spot in See Chicago Dance's inaugural Critical Writing Fellowship.
While still in the applicant phase, we were informed that, due to quarantine, the selection process would be delayed as the program's administrators worked to reconfigure the scope, direction and logistics of the summer residency. Essentially, the then-nascent performing arts writing program was conceived to primarily serve as an incubator and platform for nurturing the voices of marginalized writers covering Chicago's dance community. After several weeks, it was announced that the redesigned pilot program would now include a partnership with the 22nd annual Durban-based JOMBA! Contemporary Dance Experience (Aug. 25 - Sep. 6) and their Khuluma platform (a festival magazine produced by JOMBA! and the University of KwaZulu-Natal). For this Chicago-based independent cultural producer with global aspirations, that news was truly music to my wanderlusting ears. Not only is Durban one of Chicago's official sister cities, not only would our SCD cohort glean valuable insight from internationally acclaimed scholars and practitioners but the distinctly Afrodiasporic nature of the program aligned incredibly with one of my recently-completed residencies: the inaugural AfroHemispheric Performance Virtual Workshop, presented by the Center for Afrofuturist Studies (Aug. 7-21). For efficiency's sake, I will boil down this reflective essay on the impact the people, places and performances each of these programs have had on my summer and my overall arts practice.
See Chicago Dance senior writer/editor Lauren Warnecke and Columbia College Chicago associate professor of dance Dr. Raquel Monroe were the first people I heard confirmed as members of the program's editorial faculty—the first people that, due to their respective renown in Chicago's dance world, influenced my interest in applying for the 2020 SCD fellowship. Similarly, I was lured to apply for participation in the 2020 AfroHemispheric Performance Workshop based on the involvement of New York-based interdisciplinary duo Brother(hood) Dance! and Afro-Costa Rican artist Marton Robinson. In addition to working with these esteemed individuals with whom I have prior connections, it was invigorating to be in community and have real time interaction with peers outside Chicago and outside America. JOMBA's program director Clare Craighead and AfroHemispheric Performance's facilitator Raul Moarquech Ferrera-Balanquet produced immensely interactive and supportive cohort programming; each program's culminating sessions were at once intimate and celebratory. Then of course, there were my fellow fellows. In the SCD cohort, I was joined by D'onminique Boyd, Tristan Bruns, Ash Davis, Emma Elsmo, Sydney Erlikh, Hattie Jean Hauser, Gregory King, Jordan Kunkel, Laura Paige Kyber, Jean Osberger and Mariah Schultz. My AfroHemispheric Performance cohort included: LaMar Barber, Nicole Goodwin, David Lopiki, Marcus Marcus, Jehan Roberson, Clarivel Ruiz and Anthony Sims. As one might expect, several social media handles were shared between us.
New York, Belize, Uganda, Ohio, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Kenya, Mexico, Panama, South Africa, the Netherlands and Senegal were just some of the locales represented between the JOMBA! 2020 program and the AfroHemispheric Performance Workshop. Despite the purely digital logistics, the sense of team building and cultural exchange via Zoom was a real and welcome consolation for my thwarted interdisciplinary art travel itineraries.
During the first three weeks of August, the AfroHemispheric Performance Workshop curriculum centered and illuminated an amazing range of Afrodiasporic decolonial performance practices via the visceral and unapologetically Black performances of Jeannette Ehlers, Katie Numi Usher and several others. The last week of August was the first week of JOMBA! 2020, wherein I submitted my first review of the SCD fellowship (on Deeply Rooted Dance Theater's Legacy program). The first week of September was the last week of JOMBA!, in which my second review was due (on Germaine Acogny's solo "Somewhere at the Beginning"). Between my assigned performances, I had the privilege of viewing nearly every other scheduled performance of the festival: a robust compendium of contemporary African dance legacies manifested throughout the continent and the globe. For a snapshot of the rich programming, click HERE to view the official digital JOMBA! 2020 program.
In closing, if I had to summarize my cohort experiences this summer in one word, it would be affirmation—affirmation of the direction of my unconventional “artrepreneurial” career, of my intuition, discernment and voice as a working-class independent cultural producer, of my emotional intelligence and decolonial, inclusive approach to arts programming. As we swiftly approach the Fall Equinox, I am truly grateful that my See Chicago Dance critical writing fellowship experience stands as an IRL testament that there is indeed a future for both Afrodiasporic performance and Afrodiasporic performance writing, particularly through harnessing the power of creative collaboration, facilitated community building and resource sharing in this quarantine-mandated digital era.
This piece was produced as part of the inaugural See Chicago Dance Critical Writing Fellowship in partnership with JOMBA! Contemporary Dance Experience and the University of KwaZulu-Natal (Durban, South Africa), the University of the Witwatersrand and The Ar(t)chive (Johannesburg, South Africa) and the University of East London (London, UK). Financial support is provided by the U.S. Consulate in Durban, the National Endowment for the Arts and the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events.
Fellow Felicia Holman is a native Chicagoan, an independent cultural producer/facilitator and a co-founder of Afrodiasporic feminist creative collective Honey Pot Performance. She is also a 2020-2021 Threewalls RaDLab fellow. Felicia's creative professional and social practices are firmly grounded in critical thought, intersectionality, community building and embodied storytelling. Her recent projects include: featured performer with The Fly Honey Show 10, guest curator for City Bureau's Fall 2019 Public Newsroom series and a guest contributor with The Quarantine Times (published by Public Media Institute).