Gesel Mason, Assistant Professor of Dance and Artistic Director of Gesel Mason Performance Projects, will bring together herself and three collaborators (Daniel Beahm [Digabyte Production Company], Dr. Marcos Steuernagel [Assistant Professor of Theatre, Department of Theatre & Dance, University of Colorado Boulder], and Dr. Amma Y. Ghartey-Tagoe Kootin [Theatre and Film Studies and the Institute for African American Studies, University of Georgia]) to work on the project which aims to perform, document, preserve, and disseminate dances by 10 prominent and influential African American choreographers via a digital humanities archive. The online platform will allow the user to navigate the material through an archive of the work of prominent African American choreographers with Mason’s body serving as the archive.
An Archive Transformed Residency would provide me the necessary time, space, and support to develop and build a digital humanities archive with my collaborators. This archive will house my research project No Boundaries: Dancing the Visions of Contemporary Black Choreographers. As an Assistant Professor of Dance and Artistic Director of Gesel Mason Performance Projects, one of my primary creative and research objectives is to perform, document, preserve, and disseminate dances by prominent and influential African American choreographers. During the past 15 years, I have commissioned nine solos choreographed by leading African American choreographers: Robert Battle, Rennie Harris, Dianne McIntyre, Bebe Miller, Donald McKayle, Reggie Wilson, Andrea E. Woods Valdéz, David Roussève, and Jawole Willa Jo Zollar. Since its inception, this living, breathing history project has evolved to become a multifaceted platform in order to meet the growing need of an archive of prominent African American choreographers.
The next evolution of No Boundaries is to create a digital humanities archive, an emergent field that will best serve the further reach, distribution, and preservation of this project. Each of these choreographed “texts” provides an entry point to understanding the artistic, historic, and social forces impacting the selected artists as well as their influence on the wider dance field and the greater American socio-political landscape. The online platform will allow the user to navigate the material through a multiplicity of paths and multiple modes of interaction (text, audio, and visuals), translating live dance performance for preservation, enabling an interactive experience, and highlighting the interconnected themes at play. The digital platform also expands the visibility of the project much beyond the viewership of the theatre, making it universally accessible anytime, anywhere.
The weeklong residency would bring together myself and three collaborators, two of which are Colorado-based:
● Co-Director Daniel Beahm (Digabyte Production Company) who will handle video data, develop digital content, and offer artistic direction to editing
● Digital Humanities Consultant and Humanities Advisor Dr. Marcos Steuernagel (Assistant Professor of Theatre, Department of Theatre & Dance, University of Colorado Boulder) who brings a wealth of experience in digital publications
● Humanities Advisor Dr. Amma Y. Ghartey-Tagoe Kootin (Theatre and Film Studies and the Institute for African American Studies, University of Georgia) whose research and creative work combines archival research (academic historical methodologies) with Gesel Mason Archive Transformed Proposal performance (e.g. theatre, film, television, etc.). Her topical emphasis is the African Diaspora in the areas of Performance Studies, Performing History, and Archival Research Methods.
Together, this team of collaborators converges the collective intelligences needed to fully reimagine and design No Boundaries as a digital platform. The residency will oscillate between reviewing and editing video data and brainstorming the design layout and interactivity of the digital platform.
The residency timing comes at a pivotal point in the project’s work plan. In April 2018, 651 ARTS with The Center for Arts & Culture at Bed-Stuy Restoration / Billie Holiday Theatre will present the seminal performance of No Boundaries in New York City. This performance will be captured by Digabyte Production Company in a high quality multi-camera shoot for inclusion in the archive. The project has received a National Endowment for the Arts grant ($30,000) to support the performance production. However, we do not yet have funds secured to realize the digital archive nor the funds to edit and format the captured footage. A residency in May will build upon the momentum of the performance event and provide the needed time to begin to process the hours of video data collected. Additionally, the residency will be a critical catalyst to develop and fashion a prototype platform to present to prospective funders.
As a junior faculty member, No Boundaries will be a substantial addition to my creative portfolio and a capstone project to be included in my tenure review. No Boundaries is unique in its potential to reach audiences within the fields of both Arts and Humanities. Intended beneficiaries are artists, students, scholars, and anyone interested in Dance and/or African American History. Targeted fields are African American Studies, Ethnic Studies, and Dance Studies for whom the archive will serve as a resource. Lastly, 651 ARTS will share No Boundaries with their network and to a broader national and international audience. During the residency, I am interested in meeting with CU Boulder Libraries to determine how No Boundaries can be incorporated into their digital archive initiatives.