Urban Bush Women: jazz-inspired works explore race, migration

Urban Bush Women will perform at Meany Theater Feb. 12-15. (Photo by Photo Rick McCullough.)
Urban Bush Women will perform at Meany Theater Feb. 12-14. (Photo by Rick McCullough.)

Choreographer Jawole Willa Jo Zollar’s ensemble Urban Bush Women will take on race, migration, body image and culture through dance at performances Thursday through Saturday at Seattle’s Meany Theater.

The award-winning, Brooklyn-based contemporary dance company, founded and directed by Zollar, will present its 30th anniversary program of all new works.

Urban Bush Women is a dance company that “looks at how we can use the whole body, and sometimes that includes the voice,” Zollar said by telephone.

Jawole 2 Photo by Crush Boone
Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, choreographer and founder of Urban Bush Women. (Photo by Crush Boone.)

“We’re interested in all the different ways that movement supports other kinds of art forms.”

Over three decades, the core of Urban Bush Women’s work is very much the same, Zollar said.

In addition to challenging body types that are on stage, Urban Bush Women is “still very much doing works that really look at the relevancy of African American culture and that’s where our root is,” she said.

“We work to try to be original and fresh and to defy any stereotypes about who we are and what people think we should be,” Zollar said.

Urban Bush Women was chosen to perform at Meany Theater as part of the University of Washington’s World Dance Series to honor Zollar’s legacy, UW World Series artistic director Michelle Witt said.

“[Zollar] has really been a force in articulating the black American female perspective in contemporary choreography,” Witt said.

Zollar has been “fearless in challenging the issues of race, class, community and feminine identity,” Witt said. “She’s a big thinker and she’s able to explore important social issues [through] dance.

The 30th Anniversary Program

“Hep Hep Sweet Sweet” is set in a fictional jazz club in Kansas City and features live music.

The work features six women who are in a club, Zollar said. “They are the performers. They are the story. They are the club, itself.”

Zollar was inspired by her family’s migration from Texas to Kansas City, and by “being in Kansas City in a time when jazz was developing and flourishing.”

Zollar’s mother was a jazz singer and dancer who performed with her sister in Kansas City jazz clubs.

“I would hear my parents talk about them or sometimes see them get dressed up in the evening to go to [the jazz clubs],” Zollar said.

It was also the era of the Great Migration when African Americans left or were driven out of the South, Zollar said.

“Hep Hep Sweet Sweet” is about “all of the expectations you have and the hopes and dreams, and the reality of what you experience — racism,” she said.

This disillusionment included the disappointment of not being accepted as full citizens after fighting in World War II, Zollar said.

Another piece, “Walking with ’Trane, Chapter 2,” is inspired by John Coltrane’s life and his seminal 1965  jazz album, “A Love Supreme.” An original score will be performed live.

“The themes are pursuance, resolution, acknowledgment and psalm,” Zollar said.

The work is part of a suite, Zollar said, with chapters 1 and 3 to be be premiered at another time.

“It’s like a triptych,” Zollar said. “But each chapter stands alone.”

A third work, “Dark Swan,” is choreographed by former Urban Bush Women dancer Nora Chipaumire. Chipaumire originally created it as a solo for herself, and restaged it for a group.

A reimagining of Michel Fokine’s ballet, “The Dying Swan,” the dance won a 2014 New York Dance and Performance Award for Outstanding Revival.

“Dark Swan” is not only a tribute to Russian ballet, but Chipaumire also made this piece “black and African in response to classic white/black swans and to celebrate my mother/African/black women who refuse to wither away and die or die beautifully,” she writes.

World Dance Series

More information: Meany Theater, 4140 George Washington Lane NE, University of Washington, Seattle, 206-543-4880, 800-859-5342 or http://uwworldseries.org/events-tickets/by-series.

Urban Bush Women (USA) 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday (Feb. 12-14); $41-$46.

Mark Morris Dance Group (USA) returns to the stage at Meany Hall after nearly a decade. In addition to “Pacific,” the company will perform a series of Seattle premieres to live music, including “Jenn and Spencer,” “Crosswalk” and “Words.” 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday (March 5-7); $53-$58.

Lyon Opera Ballet (France), under the art direction of Yorgos Loukos, will perform William Forsythe’s “Steptext” (set to the music of J.S. Bach), Emanuel Gat’s “Sunshine” and Benjamin Millipied’s “Sarabande.” 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday (April 16-18); $47-$52.

Pilobolus Dance Theater (USA) returns to Seattle for their eighth UW World Series appearance. Their performance will feature “On The Nature Of Things,” “All Is Not Lost,” “Automaton,” “The Inconsistent Pedaler,” and “Sweet Purgatory” (program contains partial nudity). 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Saturday (May 14-16); $51-$56.

Studio Series

More information: Meany Studio Theater, 4140 George Washington Lane NE, University of Washington, Seattle, 206-543-4880, 800-859-5342 or http://uwworldseries.org/events-tickets/by-series/11.

Delfos Danza Contemporanea, Mexico’s leading contemporary dance company, debuts in Seattle with “Cuando los Disfraces se Cuelgan” (When the Disguises are Hung Up), which combines dance, music, video and computer animation. 7:30 p.m. Thursday- Saturday (April 9-11); $30.

Urban Bush Women
Urban Bush Women will perform at Meany Theater Feb. 12-14. (Photo by Rick McCullough.)
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