The exhibition centers on a multichannel video installation inspired by the artist’s research into the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s 1983 landmark festival, Dance Black America, a dynamic presentation of American dance that featured legendary Black dancers, choreographers, scholars, and dance companies. In The Shed’s Level 2 Gallery, the installation features four individual dance floors that function as stages for projected images of archival dance footage, film portraits of key figures involved with the festival, and the artist’s own documentation of the Philly Bop, a Black social dance from her native Philadelphia.
Approaching her research in BAM’s Hamm Archives as a conversation with the materials she discovered and those who have come before her, McClodden began a dialogue with Mikki Shepard, the lead curator who programmed and produced the festival and appears in one of the film portraits. Along with Patricia Kerr Ross, Shepard organized the weekend celebration of 300 years of African American dance with performances, workshops, and panels, all centering Blackness and the African diaspora. The multichannel video installation in The Trace of an Implied Presence showcases living elders of these dance communities as well as those who have passed, preserving their legacies for the future.
The gallery is demarcated by four illuminated square dance floors, each composed of distinctive materials that respond to the specific needs of different forms of dance. Hovering above each floor is a screen with a projected film portrait of the singular figures or groups McClodden highlights, including Shepard, scholar and tap dancer Michael J Love, dancer and choreographer Leslie Cuyjet, the Rod Rodgers Dance Company. and dancers Audrey & June, a couple upholding the legacy of the Philly Bop.
Continuing her ongoing work of exploring ideas belonging to the African diaspora across multiple disciplines and approaches, The Trace of an Implied Presence weaves together film, performance, sculpture, and sound in a single space. The work amplifies the powerful presence of movement and dance history as a thriving, living record that persists beyond the archive onto the stage and into the street.
The exhibition will be accompanied by a free publication featuring newly commissioned texts by writers selected by McClodden: poet and dancer Harmony Holiday and scholars Jasmine E. Johnson and Samantha N. Sheppard, who together examine the history of Black dance and the nuance of physical and movement-based awareness on the dancer’s body as a living record.
The exhibition will include special, in-gallery performances with details to be announced.
The exhibition is organized by Tiona Nekkia McClodden, and co-produced by The Shed in partnership with Nike.
The Trace of an Implied Presence takes a look at the effect of the archive in relation to contemporary Black dance across a range of forms and practices practiced today.
This project was created as result of my time spent in research within BAM’s Hamm Archives during 2019, 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 companies 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 that bridged a gap between older and emerging forms of dance at a crucial moment in history.
With consideration of the past and an interest in considering of the present, I sought out forms to Black dance and dancers still wrestling with critical questions since that convening. 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 dancer’s 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. This method has also allowed me to be in conversations with people who are considered masters of their respective practices.
With Shepard’s permission, guidance, and participation, I am creating an abstraction and "artistic addendum" to pay tribute to her original presentation of the Dance Black America program. The multi-channel installation, presented in several parts, will feature a meditation on Black dance on film and video; and several in depth portraits featuring cultural producer +programmer Mikki Shepard, scholar + tap dancer Michael J Love, dancer + choreographer Leslie Cuyjet, and the Rod Rodger’s Dance Company, and lastly a portraits of dancers Audrey & June and couple upholding the legacy of a Black social dance based in Philadelphia, The Philly Bop.
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