“I’ve always rejected the idea that dance is ephemeral, that part of what defines it as an art form is that it goes away once it is performed. This is why I want to take a very long time working on my project, “Speech Sounds”, at least for the next few years.”
Performance artist Makeda Thomas has been working on “Speech Sounds” since 2013, and continues to add to the project.
Her latest addition to the performance is a collaboration with Haitian artist Fabiola Jean-Louis, part of which will be presented publicly during a processional performance put on by her dance and performance institute, New Waves!, in September 2016. The performance will take place as part of the 2016 West Indian American Day Carnival in Brooklyn.
Thomas said she’s excited to be working with Jean-Louis because of the work that they’ve put into building the collaboration. “We’ve had this conversation about visioning a future that is fantastic, beautiful and rooted in our experiences as Caribbean women. We’re going into the studio with a well-thought-out approach which is necessary when you’re trying to blend magic with the mundane and reality with the speculative and do that in a language that is specifically out of the Caribbean experience within multiple contexts, because we see this work being performed all over the world in multiple manifestations.”
“We’re thinking about incorporating this Paper Dresses Series Fabiola has been working with into the processional performance. Then I think our collaboration will grow into where she’s designing costumes for the stage performance work that’s going to be presented in New York in the fall of 2016/spring 2017.” Thomas then intends to carry the project into film and an art installation, which “will have dance and photography and film and installation performance artwork and it’s big and beautiful and fantastical and magical as we want to see it be.”
Thomas’ work is also based on a foundation of scholarly work and research. This weekend, she presented a paper titled “Brown Girl in the Ring: Caribbean Considerations of the Afrofuture” at the second conference of the Collegium for African Diasporic Dance, of which she is a founding member. “The title riffs off of further considerations of Afro-futurism by Kodwo Eshun and basically considers how Caribbean cultural forms, in particular dance and performance movement navigate time and space and create new histories, aesthetics, and inform what a scholar based at CUNY, Conor Tomás Reed, calls “Caribbean futurism. I’m interested in how the term Caribbean Futurisms might be useful in thinking about choreographic and performance processes that could be used by Caribbean dance artists and invigorate more broad conversation when we talk about Afro-futurism.”
Thomas said her work is heavily influenced by these considerations. “Looking at Fabiola’s photography, and the kind of movement that it inspires, and then having her really being interested in what that movement could be and look like and in then creating new photography out of that movement, there’s this constant forward and backward conversation that’s happening which is really at one of the core tenets of science fiction and Afro-futurism in that it’s not only a moment of the present, but a conversation that’s happening between the present and what we imagine the future could look like. Her work is seamless in its magic and I’m interested in embodying it as a dance artist and choreographing that.”
She said she’s also working on another section of the performance, including research for one called “Inheritance”, which is a moko jumbie performance project.
Thomas said the way dance is regarded as fleeting and ephemeral reminds her of life. “It’s sort of saying that life is ephemeral, that once you die that’s it, and some part of me totally rejects that. I feel like the actions that we make, the things that we do, the people that we connect with, are a continuation of our lives. Perhaps in some way this is me wanting to make the performative process demonstrate that it can live, that there is much life rather than this constant thought of it going away. I’m interested in taking a very long time in working with the project and developing it in all its facets until I’m done with it.”