Edisa Weeks/Delirious Dances: Three Rites

Edisa Weeks

Year: 2019-2020
DanceForce Member: Cynthia Williams
Artist: Edisa Weeks
Community Partners: 3 Stories/Cracker Factory; Hobart & William Smith Colleges, Geneva; Tools for Social Change
Audience: 332
Counties: Ontario

Cynthia Williams brings Edisa Weeks/Delirious Dances to Geneva, NY for a three-part residency and performance project spanning 3 separate visits between August 2, 2019 and April 7, 2020. The focus of the project is Edisa Weeks’ Three Rites, a multi-disciplinary, interactive performance experience that integrates live music, dance, text, video, visual installations, community conversations and shared meals to interrogate the meaning of life, liberty, and happiness in America. The residency and performance project includes creative time/artistic development for two sections of Three Rites, an informal works-in-progress showing of material from Life and Happiness (August, 2019); a week-long teaching and community interface and planning residency (Fall, 2019) that will involve a community Roots Party, community focused workshops, and the creation of a retablo for Liberty; and a fully-staged performance of Liberty with the community-built Roots, retablo, and dialogue (April, 2020).

The August 2-13 residency involves Edisa Weeks and dancers Angel Chin, Johnnie Mercer, Devin Oshiro, J’nae Simmons, and Emma Grace Skove-Epes. The focus will be on developing movement material for Life and refining/editing movement material for Happiness. Activities will take place in Deming Dance Studio Theatre on the HWS Colleges’ campus. An informal works-in-progress showing will be presented 8/12/19 for Geneva community audiences. While in residence Weeks will also meet with community leaders in Tools for Social Change, the Mount Olive Missionary Baptist Church, the director of Mosaic, NY (a social justice theatre group), members of the Diversity, Equity, and Social Justice committee at HWS, and other community groups.

The fall residency involves Weeks and her teaching/rehearsal assistant Rebecca Fitton for a week (5-7 days) of teaching workshops for the Dance Department, meeting with campus and community groups to discuss themes in Three Rites and to create a whistleblower retablo. Because Three Rites seeks to interrogate our understandings of life, liberty, and happiness in America and how those terms have different resonances for different people and communities, conversation topics could include our relationship to nature, the experience of marginalized people and the black community, prison reform, individual liberties and/or common experiences. We anticipate conversations with Geneva community members, HWS faculty and student groups, and groups such as Tools for Social Change. The fall residency will feature a Roots Party, where community members join Weeks in the making of 1,865 roots out of paper and twine. These roots hang from ceiling to floor in an installation surrounding the performance of Liberty; they represent the year that legalized chattel slavery ended in America. A Roots Party happens over several hours, during which people can participate in making roots, share a meal, and engage in conversation about liberty in America. Roots Parties gather community members in discussion about a specific topic of interest to the local community, often with an invited speaker and noted community leaders. Geneva, NY sites for a Roots Party are Mount Olive Missionary Baptist Church or The Cracker Factory/3 Stories, a non-profit community center. One of the goals for the August residency is to introduce Edisa to community leaders and begin planning the Roots Party.

The third part of the project is scheduled for April 2020. This features Edisa Weeks performing the full version of Liberty, including the hanging roots, an interactive glade (media installation) and the retablo created in the fall. We hope to present Liberty at The Cracker Factory/3 Stories where the large, open space would allow for the audience to move through the roots to find open spaces (glades) containing reflections on liberty with the constructed retablo, and arrive at the space where Weeks performs a solo exploring how the ideals of liberty are upheld in America. Shown in earlier works-in-progress versions, Weeks’ powerful solo elicited the following review: “In over four decades of writing about performance, I have never had an entire event reach me and affect me with [such] sensitivity and focused power…” (Eva Yaa Asantewaa)

This project will be significant for the HWS and Geneva community. Following our presentation of Kyle Abraham’s Pavement (2012), Camille A Brown’s Ink (2017) and the Kizuna Dance Company (2018) the community is hungry for more dance that directly addresses social justice issues, and showcases artists of color. What is especially interesting about Edisa Weeks/Delirious Dances is her commitment to community interaction and dialogue—not simply performing work as an artistic event, but engaging several circles of community in dialogue together.