John R. Lewis was an American politician and civil-rights leader who served in the United States House of Representatives for Georgia’s 5th congressional district from 1987 until his recent death from pancreatic cancer at the age of 80. He was eulogized today (July 30, 2020) by Bernice King, an activist and Martin Luther King Jr.‘s daughter, civil rights pioneer and Atlantan Xernona Clayton, James Lawson, an activist, and his niece Sheila Lewis O’Brien. Other speakers included former Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barak Obama, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, his friends, colleagues, family and Lewis’ House of Representatives office staff.
These are strange times in America. A racist president in the White House, the protests around the country following the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, the Black Lives Matter movement, the Me Too Movement, all at the same time as we are in one of the worse health crises this country has experienced in over 100 years, the COVID-19 pandemic.
Pat Taylor is the Artistic Director of the Los Angeles based JazzAntiqua Dance & Music Ensemble and an amazing choreographer. In 2010, Taylor premiered her work A Kindred Woe at Highways Performance Space in Santa Monica, CA. for the “Emmett Till Project”, curated by Kevin Spicer, and again that year at the Nate Holden Performing Arts Center in L.A. At the young age of 14, Emmett Louis Till, an African American, was lynched in Mississippi in 1955, after being accused of offending a white woman in her family’s grocery store. His offense, Till allegedly whistled at the 21-year-old white woman, an unwritten offense that was highly forbidden in the South at that time. Emmett Till would be 79 today if he were still alive.
Taylor wrote the following about her inspiration for A Kindred Woe. “I was driven by thoughts of the mothers (in particular) whose children have been murdered in hate fueled by racism, and the ways in which these awful deaths become catalysts in our continuing fight for freedom and equality. The mothers so often take on the mantle of becoming the face, the presence, society’s conscience, the reminder… continually stepping up to the line to give talks and interviews, to rally, protest and inspire; to stoke the fire their child’s murder infuses in the global fight against racism and injustice, to represent us (and far too often we expect this). Powerful work. And yet, surely within all of that, they would much simply rather that their child was still alive.” Her program note for the work read: “Dedicated to the Mothers of children sacrificed on the altar of freedom.”
Fortunately for us, A Kindred Woe is having an online encore performance on Taylor’s Vimeo page.
Four women dressed in identical black dresses enter one at a time in front of a hauntingly graphic image projected on the back wall of people in a graveyard against a fire red sunset, and a tall tree evoking memories of lynchings in the south of blacks. It is an image of the collage work titled “Morning After” by visual artist Micahel Massenburg. They meet seeking support because they all share the horrible grief of losing a child to racist-related violence by whites. A fifth woman evidentially joins them and throughout the piece Taylor conveys their “kindred woe” via unison movement phrases that express grief, pain, anger and defiance. She does so quietly, however. The five women twice stand in a row across the front of the stage, but their confrontation is offered up by a silent stare.
Taylor moves her characters through united formations and gives each woman a moment of individual expression, but she always draws them back together. By doing so, Taylor reminds us of just how long this sorrow has been experienced and shared by black women in America; something that sadly continues to this day.
I mentioned John Lewis at the beginning of this article because he believed in non-violent protest. Lewis loved music and he enjoyed dancing to it. I think that he would have thoroughly enjoyed Taylor’s A Kindred Woe and given her a knowing smile of appreciation and harmony.
A Kindred Woe was powerfully and soulfully performed by Terrice Banks Tillmon, Keisha Clark-Booth, Rayne Duronslet, Kacy Keys, and Shari Washington Rhone. Music was by Hypnotic Brass Ensemble; and Costume Design: Pat Taylor.
To view Pat Taylor’s A Kindred Woe, click HERE.
To learn more about Pat Taylor and JazzAntiqua Dance & Music Ensemble, click HERE.