The Trace of An Implied Presence
Tiona Nekkia McClodden
[Coming in 2022]
The Trace of an Implied Presence is a new installation work produced as a result of my time spent in research within BAM’s Hamm Archives, in particular the archives of Dance Black America (DBA), the festival produced in 1983. Dance Black America was one of the most dynamic presentations of dance in America, presenting legendary Black dancers, choreographers, scholars, and dance company’s through films, live presentations, panels, and workshops The festival was presented April 21 – 24, 1983 by the collaboration of festival directors Mikki Shepard (lead curator) who worked at the Brooklyn Academy of Music and Patricia Kerr Ross (deceased) who brought in the support of the State University of New York. The weekend festival explored the range of dance in America centering Blackness and the African Diaspora over the span of 300 years while showcasing the richly diverse traditions of African-American dance within the groupings; Black Dance on Film, Black Social + Street Dance, and Black Concert Dance. Dancers, choreographers, scholars, and dance companies presented a range of programming from workshops, panels, and dance concerts. Alvin Ailey to Chuck Davis to Garth Fagan. The uniqueness of this gathering, however, was in the inclusion of younger dance ensembles like the Rock Steady Crew (the first professional breakdance ensemble) and the Jazzy Jumpers, a group of teenage girls who became one of the highlights of the weekend through their exhibition of acrobatic jump-roping.
With this work, I wanted to continue to think about gestural based movement, citation and how it works within and through the body across time and form, as a continuation of my practice––one that is invested in the cultural retention of African Diasporic ideas across formal methods and medium. I’m interested in the trace left by the dancers body in movement and the choreographer’s transference to the dancer or dance company. I’m interested how one's legacy in and through dance is held within the body through technique and form, and how a dance company can function as the conceptual framework and extension of one’s singular dance legacy. Several dancers, choreographers, and dance companies from the Dance Black America festival are still living, and several dancers have dance companies in place continuing the legacy of their work.
With Shepard’s permission, guidance, and participation, I am creating an abstraction and "artistic addendum" to her original presentation of the Dance Black America program. The multi-channel installation, presented in three parts, will feature a meditation on Black dance on film and video; programmer Mikki Shepard, writer Julinda D. Lewis, and the Rod Rodger’s Dance Company in a series of film portraits; and lastly the presentation of a Black social dance at risk of fading away called The Philly Bop.
The Philly Bop is the official dance of Philadelphia, PA and a Black social dance Philadelphia based social dance through an autoethnographic lens using photography, video, and audio interviews highlighting members of the dance community who carry on the legacy of the city’s official dance. The Philly Bop emerged in the 1950s and was made popular with the emergence of American Bandstand, the dance and live music television series filmed on location in West Philadelphia. Originally known as Bandstand, the show did not allow Black dancers to attend the live tapings at the height of the shows popularity, resulting in the emergence of a modified version of the dance in Black communities. The Philly Bop was created at this historical moment and is upheld to this day by many of those pioneering Black dancers and their descendants. Across one year, I documented my own learning of the Philly Bop dance, as well as the dance as it is performed within cabarets in North Philadelphia that have remained a viable space for early Black dancers, who are now elders, considering how this dance could be reintroduced to a larger community to ensure that it does not disappear over time.
When I first met with lead archivist Sharon Lehner at BAM, I told her I was searching for time-based Black works on the fringes of the early 1980s. I knew I wanted to look at Black women, especially those who were dominant figures throughout BAM’s 159 year history. I wanted to explore what forms allowed Blackness to be expressed not just topically, but through the body and engagement with Diasporic cultural narratives.
After considering several different figures and programs, I requested a look at Dance Black America (DBA). DBA took place from April 21-24, 1983, presenting legendary Black dancers, choreographers, scholars, and dance companies through films, live presentations, panels, and workshops. The festival was a collaboration by lead programmer/curator Mikki Shepard, who worked at BAM, and co-organizer Patricia Kerr Ross (now deceased). The weekend festival showcased the richly diverse traditions of American dance centering Blackness and the African Diaspora, using several categories spanning over 300 years: Black Dance on Film, Black Social + Street Dance, and Black Concert Dance.
I was immediately taken with the archival materials. I looked closely at the correspondences between Mikki Shepard and Harvey Lichtenstein (then president of BAM), Mikki's correspondence with the dancers, the budget, and more. I was extremely impressed by Mikki’s admin skills, her creativity, and her ambition to bring all these prolific dancers together. I immediately thought that perhaps I was looking too outwardly––what about the people behind the scenes? I decided to focus on Mikki, a Black woman who facilitated so much Black cultural production. The archive demonstrates the immense opportunity of the project, but also how much was at stake. I knew I should talk to Mikki.
I asked Sharon for an introduction. When I met with Mikki, she was warm, light and humorous. She was really sharp. She was generous. So I pitched her my idea. I proposed that I make an addendum to Dance Black America.
My project, The Trace of an Implied Presence, will look at what is left: those who are still dancing, still writing, still teaching, as well as Mikki, who is still pushing for Black American culture in a range of ways. It presents my own observations in regard to the archive while also including surviving participants of Dance Black America. Many of those dancers have passed away, but some choreographers have companies in place. For those who have passed, and for the companies that survived, those organizations become the legacy of the dancer. I’m interested in this citation through the body, how performances and dances function as scores, and how a company can retain the pitch and quality of their founder.
When I enter into an archival space, I don't feel comfortable to move on an idea unless I have a sort of permission. My engagement with archival material often takes the form of an overdue conversation––I look for materials that remain to be addressed or that need to be put up against each other in order to talk. For me, this project is driven by the intergenerational dialogue between Mikki and I, between Mikki and the archive of what she created.
Tiona Nekkia McClodden