Urban Bush Women Celebrate 30 Years on Stage

UrbanBushWomenPHOTO2-DukePerformances2014In business, a 30th anniversary is major news. In the arts world, especially the dance community, a 30th anniversary is cause for major celebration and reflection, especially given the tenuous existence of arts entities these days.

The latest to join the prestigious 30 Club is Urban Bush Women, the Brooklyn-based, all female dance ensemble founded in 1984 by choreographer Jawole Willa Jo Zollar.

The company is celebrating its 30th anniversary by doing what it knows best—performing. In New York City, fans can enjoy free performances this summer including a July 12 performance at 8 p.m. in St. Mary’s Park in the Bronx. That performance is part of New York City’s Summer Stage series. A free, open level master class will be offered at 7 p.m. before the performance. Another free performance, rescheduled from an earlier rained out show, will be offered at a still to be determined date in Central Park.

Urban Bush Women Artistic Director Jawole Zo

Urban Bush Women Artistic Director Jawole Willa Jo Zollar

Zollar, who was not available to be interviewed for this story, has said in previous interviews that the company’s survival is emblematic of the sensibility behind it.

“It’s not something you start out thinking—‘I’m going to have a company for 25 years’,” she said during a 2009 interview. “At the same time, the company is about resilience and about strength, so I think those are qualities we embody within the work.

“In that way, I’m not surprised [to have lasted] since we embody the idea of strength and being able to find our voice under adverse circumstances. I’m not surprised to have survived.”

urban3Urban Bush Women has thrived by creating an oeuvre that melds celebrations of women—from the physical to the spiritual, with explorations that have ranged from pure physicality to themes based on historical issues and figures and current social issues such as the homeless.

Dancer Samantha Speis, who joined in 2008, still remembers watching Urban Bush Women for the first time and realizing what she was seeing was unlike anything else she had seen on a concert stage.

“I was absolutely blown away with the fact that I was seeing women who looked like me and who also were telling stories that were very familiar to me,” Speis said. “It also really struck me that it was a company that allowed an audience to experience its physical strength and vulnerability and sassiness and sensual power that women possess. We weren’t just one thing. We encompass a variety of things and that was shown on stage.”

urban1The community engagement activities that the company does, like the free workshop before the July 12 performance, were another aspect of Urban Bush Women that Speis appreciated.

“The concert dance and concert work is just one part of Urban Bush Women. The community engagement work is really our foundation,” Speis said. “The community engagement work is why we are telling these stories because these stories are coming from the community.

Images courtesy of Urban Bush Women

Images courtesy of Urban Bush Women

“Urban Bush Women isn’t just about dance. It’s about using dance as a catalyst for social change.”

For more information about Urban Bush Women and its upcoming performances, go online at www.urbanbushwomen.org.

—Karyn D. Collins

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