Internationally esteemed dancers spoke with their mouths and feet during the “Dance, the Arts and Human Rights” performance Thursday in the International Ballroom of the Bruce M. Pitman Center.
The Cleo Parker Robinson Dance (CPRD) Ensemble, of Denver, Colorado, performed “Free?” which recalls significant events in American history, including the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the assassination of Malcom X, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and much more.
About 50 people attended the performance, a part of Black History Month, that promoted a message of unity and resistance through an art called “House” dance, a social dance influenced by more classical styles of dance.
Joann Muneta, a member of the board of directors for Festival Dance and a sponsor of the event, said she wanted the performance to evoke new thoughts about culture and race in the community.
“My hope is this performance gives people more of an appreciation of what African American dance is these days,” Muneta said. “Hopefully it will make people think about Black History Month and race relations in a different way.”
People are often taught about race relations and cultural boundaries through more traditional forms of education, Muneta said. It’s important to tell people and show people in an alternative way so they will pay attention, use their full brain and truly learn, she said.
“If you tell them the same thing in the same way, they tend to tune it out,” Muneta said. “We aren’t going to solve problems unless we look at things differently. The arts can help with that.”
Following the performance, the dancers sat on stage and answered audience questions along with Cleo Parker Robinson, the founder and artistic director of the dance institution. Parker Robinson said she has brought the ensemble of activist dancers to the University of Idaho three times.
Parker Robinson said her goal is to get the dancers out to communities of all sizes and take dance all over the world, making it accessible to people. She said her dancers, all of them teachers, are committed to the community, using dance as a form of social activism.
“When you stir up emotions, people then talk about what they really feel,” she said. “And we feel different things when we experience art.”
Throughout the discussion, Parker Robinson stressed the importance of being able to feel strongly about a topic while still showing respect. She said people shouldn’t feel there are barriers between them, and that dance crosses color, class and religion.
Dancer Chloe-Grant Abel said the ensemble teaches everyone the idea of “peace, love and respect for everybody.” Those three simple words mean so much and hopefully they are carried out to the rest of the world, she said.
“It’s best when you are together, unified in an idea, so that you can make change,” Parker Robinson said. “I think it’s very important that we see people of different backgrounds, different races and different cultural perspectives so that we can experience that.”
The CPRD Ensemble will perform in full costume and makeup 7:30 p.m. tonight at Jones Theatre on the Washington State University campus. Tickets are available through the Festival Dance office and cost $16 to $22.
CPRD is committed to honoring diversity and inclusiveness and sharing that with the global community, guided by the vision of dance as a “universal language,” according to the CPRD mission and vision statement. Dancer Antonio DeBerry said the ensemble dances to share every emotion and every aspect of culture.
“When we say black dance, we’re really saying dance with culture, dance with history, dance with passion, dance with truth, dance with hurt, pain, love, dance that can make you sit in your seat and feel your history,” DeBerry said. “It’s not really a color, it’s a feeling. It’s an experience, it’s life.”
Jordan Willson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org