Published: Sept. 3, 2015
Gesel Mason

Kicking off the 2015-16 CU Theatre & Dance season, “[UN] W.R.A.P.: Undoing Writing, Research and Performance” explores the complexity and evolution of “Black Dance.” 

Directed and performed by Assistant Professor Gesel Mason, the symposium—building on Mason’s solo project “No Boundaries: Dancing the Visions of Contemporary Black Choreographers”—presents a diversity of dance by prominent African American choreographers, alongside conversations about the historical impact and ongoing contributions of their work to America’s cultural landscape.

“The term ‘Black Dance’ was invented by critics, not African American choreographers,” says Mason, a nationally recognized choreographer, performer and researcher. “It’s a term that limits the many ways that dance crosses boundaries—and the important ways in which African American choreography, in particular, influences contemporary dance.

“For the last 10 years, as I’ve traveled with ‘No Boundaries’ and listened to people, I’ve come to realize the importance of dance as a lens through which to talk about our collective history. ‘[UN] W.R.A.P’ reveals a different definition of culture by bringing together scholars, choreographers and performers to have a conversation about race, the history of dance, contemporary dance, the influence of African American choreographers on the field … and why they create what they create.

“Part of the conversation will be about undoing racism, and what the future looks like. We’re not looking at Black history in isolation, but at the roots we all share. Unwrapping boundaries of all kinds, we find that the ideas we have aren’t so different from the ideas of others.”

According to Mason, audiences will experience a spectrum of dance styles. Indeed, part of her ambitious undertaking is to create a living archive of seven decades of dance, emphasizing the range of work by African American choreographers. “‘[UN] W.RA.P.’ goes beyond familiar names, or what’s expected. It’s fun and surprising in many ways … theatrical, too. It also considers the struggle of the African American experience.

“The wonderful thing about dance is that it can mean a thousand things. You can apply your own ideas to what you see.”

The symposium begins Friday, Sept. 18, 10-11:30 a.m., with a panel on Black subjectivity and performance, including Dr. Thomas DeFrantz (Duke University), Dr. Brenda Dixon Gottschild (Temple University) and Jaamil Olawale Kosoko (performance artist, Coalition for Diasporan Scholars Moving). This event is free and open to the public.

The performance event will feature live dance works, including two solos performed by Mason—one of which, “Jumping the Broom,” was created by David Roussève specifically for Mason and her “No Boundaries” project. “It juxtaposes the historical context of slave marriage and the contemporary setting of gay marriage as a commentary on who has the right to marry,” explains Mason.

The performance event also showcases Mason in a world premiere by renowned choreographer Dianne McIntyre, a recent Doris Duke Impact Award recipient; as well as performances by Cleo Parker Robinson Dance (Friday, Sept. 18, only) and internationally acclaimed hip-hop artist Rennie Harris’ Denver-based Grass Roots Project. The event culminates with a discussion among participating artists and scholars moderated by African diaspora scholar Dr. Amma Y. Ghartey-Tagoe Kootin (University of Georgia).

“[UN] W.R.A.P” runs Sept. 18 through Sept. 20 at the Irey Theatre.