The International Association of Blacks in Dance (IABD) is coming together in Philadelphia this week. That means that starting Wednesday, there are dance performances every night. It also means that 63 instructors will be giving classes in dance traditions that span the diaspora.
So, for example, if you wanted to see performances from Philadanco, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, and the Dance Theatre of Harlem, among others, all on the same bill, that would be Saturday night.
If you wanted one of Beyoncé’s longtime choreographers as a hip-hop teacher, on midnight Friday, Chris Grant will be here, and you’d have your chance.
Noted scholar Brenda Dixon-Gottschild, a professor emerita of dance studies at Temple University, lavished praise on the lineup. "I would suggest that [people] choose a concert on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday or Saturday night — one or more — and come and taste. Come and feel. Come and experience. Come and see,” Dixon-Gottschild said. “I think that you will leave with love.”
It would be a grave mistake, she said, to assume that since it’s a gathering for black dance, that there’s sameness across the dozens of companies.
“Every black dance company is different,” she explained. With showcase concerts that may feature seven or more ensembles, the diversity of perspectives will be apparent. “In a sense, it's not the same as a deep dive into one dance ensemble, but it's a taste of many different styles and ways of thinking dance … of embodying ways of making art.”
Philadelphia hosted the IABD’s first ever festival and conference in 1988, then called the 1st International Conference on Black Dance Companies. It was the brainchild of Philadanco founder Joan Myers Brown, whom Dixon-Gottschild calls the mother of IABD. Now, Philadanco and Brown are hosting this 2020 festival during one the last months of Brown’s tenure as executive artistic director. Brown, who turned 88 on Christmas, plans to retire this spring.
What should festivalgoers look out for? Dixon-Gottschild shared tips. .
On Wednesday, the Tap Philly Style program brings afternoon and evening classes at the University of the Arts. After these workshops end, there will be a 10 p.m. tap jam. The classes cost $25, and the jam costs $20. The lead teaching artists will be Jason Samuels Smith, an Emmy winner who is both the son and grandson of celebrated dancers, and Dormeishia, who was recently hailed as “the queen of tap” in the New York Times. Of Dormeishia, Dixon-Gottschild gushed: “This person is like the epitome of tap dance.”
Philly companies make up the vast majority of the roster Wednesday night, for the show that opens the festival’s concert series at the Merriam Theater. Tickets are $60. That includes Kulu Mele African Dance & Drum Ensemble, Waheed Works, and Just Sole! Street Dance Theater Company, among others. The ensemble DMB|#dbdanceproject, led by Rowan dance professor Dawn Marie Bazemore, is also set to perform.
On Thursday at 4:30 p.m. and on Friday at 2:45 p.m., Norwegian dancer Thomas Prestø, who leads his Tabanka African & Caribbean Peoples Dance Ensemble in Oslo, will be teaching a class at the University of the Arts. Non-IABD members may register for the price of $35 a class. Prestø will be teaching his technique, which Dixon-Gottschild called “indescribably beautiful in the way that he has codified and expanded on African dance tropes and made a vocabulary of his own.”
Dixon-Gottschild, founder of the Coalition for Diasporan Scholars Moving, leads a session annually at IABD for attendees to come together to discuss struggles and barriers in academia and dance culture. Her Saturday afternoon roundtable this year, Collective Strategies for Diasporan Women in Dance, will include academics from the U.K. and the U.S. at the Doubletree Hotel. (This event requires registration for IABD’s conference, which is running at multiple locations. Non-IABD members may purchase registration for one session at $35.)
“What’s important about this session is that it becomes a kind of clearinghouse and learning moment for how certain people have come up against the wall, how they have dealt with it, if they got through it, and if they didn’t, what techniques would they suggest and what is their takeaway?” Dixon-Gottschild said. “The last hour of the session is an open discussion with the audience. And it’s a very deep and necessary place that we need to go and stop and take stock, in the middle of all that we are still enduring.”
The IABD began with five companies: Philadanco, Dallas Black Dance Theatre, Dayton Contemporary Dance Company, Lula Washington Dance Theatre from Los Angeles, and Denver’s Cleo Parker Robinson Dance. Dixon-Gottschild is looking forward to seeing them all at the Saturday night performance at the Merriam Theater. Tickets are available for $60.
Dixon-Gottschild, who wrote the 2012 book Joan Myers Brown and the Audacious Hope of the Black Ballerina, said the significance of each founding company remains profound: “These five companies are unforgettable in their persistence, in their continuity, and in their continuing to thrive against all the odds,”
Performing with them, in addition to Alvin Ailey and the Dance Theatre of Harlem, is the Brooklyn-based company Evidence, led by the prestigious choreographer Ronald K. Brown.
On Sunday morning, there’s a concert and awards brunch at the Bellevue Hotel that will focus on liturgical dance. Admission is $100. Typically, Dixon-Gottschild said via email, youth groups “give a beautiful ‘sermon’ with their young dancing bodies, with gospel music accompaniment.” Every year, she insists, this event is consistently “jaw-dropping.”