Stunning exhibition celebrates forgotten contributions of Black ballet dancers02/02/2021
A new online exhibition aims to highlight the impact of Black ballet dancers throughout the history of the classic discipline.
Launched by Memoirs of Blacks in Ballet [MoBBallet], ‘The Constellation Project: Mapping the Dark Stars of Ballet’, will feature the work and influence of Black dancers who have traditionally been excluded from the history books.
Since MoBBallet launched in 2015 as a digital archive preserving the history of Black people in ballet, it has been documenting oral histories, archiving historical photos, and serving as a resource for anyone interested in the professional field of ballet.
Founder Theresa Ruth Howard says the platform was founded as a way to lift up the long legacy of Black people in ballet globally.
‘Historically there has been an erasure, if not a complete omission, of the presence and contributions of systematically marginalised people (specifically Black people),’ Theresa tells Metro.co.uk.
‘The danger of the propagation of a narrative of there being one Black ballerina needed to be corrected.’
Theresa is a former member of the Dance Theatre of Harlem, and was herself a part of the enduring legacy of Black ballet dancers, which is why she says it is so important to raise more awareness about the true diversity of ballet.
‘I thought it important to lift this legacy,’ she adds. ‘In the process of doing so, all that came before and alongside it was revealed.’
Theresa says this is about more than representation. She says the Constellation Project ‘maps intersectionality’, and that is crucial element of the history of dance.
‘The lives we lead are inherently intersectional,’ she says. ‘Yet, the way history has been recorded and taught does not reflect this. The whitewashing of history is a mechanism of White supremacy.
‘A dancer (like history) is not made in a vacuum, dance is a collaborative art form.’
Theresa hopes that the comprehensive information provided within the exhibition will help to shift the paradigm and reframe thinking about the contribution of marginalised people within ballet.
She says it is important to celebrate the many Black female educators in the history of the discipline, including Marion Cuyjet, Sydney King (who founded the Sydney-Marion school of dance in the Mid-1900s), Doris Jones, Claire Haywood, Mabel Freeman and Therell Smith, who Theresa says are really the legacy roots of the tree of Black ballet dancers in America.
‘I myself am a branch on that tree,’ she adds. ‘They are the true pioneers who, with sheer belief in themselves and desire, cleared a path that later would be trod by generations and generations who should know their names and their deeds.’
The installation is now live on MoBBallet.org after launching on the 1st February.
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