Blending passion, wit and expertise, “Jubilee,” the University’s annual Black Cultural Show, put a festive note at the end of Black History Month last Saturday night. The sold-out performance filled Crowell Concert Hall with an eclectic audience, with attendees ranging from President Michael Roth to residents of Traverse Square. As the crowd rose to sing the Black National Anthem, it was evident that themes of unity and cultural translation would carry the night.
Sponsored by Ujamaa, Wesleyan’s Black Student Union, the Feb. 23 performance showcased ten acts, spanning from eloquent spoken-word pieces to fierce dance numbers.
“Ujamaa’s theme for Black History Month 2008 was black unity, which I believe was the driving spirit behind all of the events we planned for the month,” said Tamar Charles ’11, who took on organizing the event after wanting to get in touch with the University’s student of color body. “Jubilee was only one example of the celebratory spirit that allows the student of color body to appreciate the community that exists on campus.”
Following the Black National Anthem, the show opened with a hilarious “Dreamgirls” parody, entitled “Seniors,” that was endearingly lip-synched by soon-to-graduate Rashida Richardson ’08, Betsy Souffrant ’08 and LaShawn Springer ’08.
With a droll tone set for the evening, the event’s three other hosts“Mike Bolds ’08, Justin Michael Douglas ’08, and Tameir A. Holder ’08”joined the senior divas onstage to introduce the night’s slew of performances.
West Indian dance troupe Kalalu took the stage first, executing two high-energy pieces with grace and gusto, causing audience members to cheer and nod their heads to the rhythms of the exotic music. Tania DeBarros ’11 a.k.a. Miss Mica Phone Majesty followed, singing an original song titled “Know Me Better.” DeBarros belted out the lyrics she co-wrote in a voice that was at once clear, edgy and soulful.
Though the end result was a doubtless success, enormous planning and organization went into the two months it took to produce “Jubilee,” as Charles explained.
“[Organizing] it involved a great amount of communication to all parties involved, which includes the performers, administration and the rest of the Ujamaa board,” she said. “We held several auditions for both the hosts and the performers to make a tentative schedule for the show. I realize [that] for a big production like Jubilee, it is important to stick to a timeline in order to meet deadlines, and that more than anything determined who performed in the show. If the performers expressed interest and came to the auditions, they got into the show!”
The extensive rehearsals and coordination were well worth it, and the night’s dance performances were clear examples of the devotion of Jubilee’s participants. WesStep, stormed the stage to give one of the most anticipated performances of the evening. Looking sharp in tagged “WesStep” t-shirts, dark jeans and white sneakers, the all-women troupe made jaws drop and they stomped, clapped and shook their way through a piece called “Club Banger” with unparalleled precision.
“This year’s [“Jubilee”] looked pretty impressive to me,” said attendee Christie Kontopidis ’10. “I think we have some very talented people at this school, and it was exciting to see so much of that talent gathered in one night.”
This was especially highlighted by the evening’s literary performances, featuring spoken-word, poetry and prose pieces. Maya Barros Odim ’10 gave a sophisticated performance titled “Azucar” (Spanish for “sugar”) that creatively merged spoken-word with choreography. Odim’s voice was melodic and assertive, flawlessly switching between English to Spanish as she spoke of her roots““Cuba, Nigeria and the States.” Lines from her writing such as “Don’t glide, step precisely,” were translated into the solo dance she performed afterwards, evoking emotion and imagery with graceful gestures. Other works included the hopeful, empowering “I Foresee” by Latasha Alcindor ’10 and a synaesthetic prose piece addressing family and identity by Ruby-Beth Buitekant ’09.
Following the intermission, Douglas performed his own rendition of Snoop Dogg’s music video “Sensual Seduction””vocoder and all“that had the audience both cheering and chuckling before he was playfully told off by his co-hosts. Minutes later, however, Douglas reappeared on stage, his pimp-kitsch ensemble swapped for a handsome black suit, and his juvenile antics replaced by the delivery of an articulate and thought-provoking spoken-word piece. The audience listened attentively as he read his work, which addressed racial profiling, economic privilege and the socio-economic stratification that faces the black community today.
“The event was an expression of beauty; it was the image and feeling of Black History Month,” said Arielle Hixson ’11. “It was really positive and well put-together. Thoughtful and a lot of fun.”
Other performances featured the elegant members of West African Dance, as well as the ISIS Women Of Color Dance Troupe, who swerved and leapt across the stage in brightly-colored hoodies and androgynous white masks. X-Tacy”The Collective took the stage with a racy partnered dance piece that had the crowed shouting out, and which demonstrated some of the evening’s most technically complex choreography.
Not on the program for “Jubilee,” however, was an improvised dance battle incited by Douglas and Holder, who invited audience members to the stage to compete. Though the talent was strong, the winner was arguably a boy from Traverse Square, who, though no older that eight, could have doubtlessly taken on the best dancers from any of the University’s troupes.
“The best part of Jubilee, undoubtedly, was seeing everything come to fruition,” Charles said, reflecting on the performances. “It truly was a wonderful show, and I believe it was unlike many in the past, or so I’ve been told, because of the unique hosts, and creative pieces.”
The evening was rounded out by an electrifying performance from the University’s newest dance troupe, No-Def. Stepping onstage in black clothing and metallic sneakers, the ladies didn’t need the shoes to tell the audience that the way they move is golden. The piece, called “Creation,” alternated between intense full-group choreography and a playful but edgy solo from two of the members. Certainly living up to their “no-definition” name, the troupe seamlessly blended hip-hop, old school and modern dance techniques.
The night was an invigorating and insightful celebration of community and identity.
“I loved the way Jubilee turned out,” said Charles. “I was very pleased with execution of the performances, the ingenuity of the hosts and the energy from the crowd. I just wish more people had the opportunity to see the show!”