Over the course of the past six months (November 2015-April 2016), I was in the process of creating my second major choreographic work, a trio entitled Nou Led, Nou La. I had the pleasure of working with three super talented dancers, Cole Henry Jones, Maxi Riley, and Sheila Zeng.
The conception of this piece actually began while I was making Bloodlines last spring. I was then, still am, and will always be pondering issues of race and class, oppression, and injustice, and how these things function societally and within the dance field. I was thinking then about the mold that I see in dance and how my own body does not fit in it. So, what came to be Nou Led, Nou La was birthed out of a desire to explore the presence, or lack thereof, of black dancing bodies within the field of dance.
Translated from Haitian Creole, the title means “we are ugly, but we are here.” It functions within Haitian society as a acknowledgement between women. As a former French colony, Haitian women existed in the same sort of limbo as did many women of colonized countries. White, European women set the standard for beauty and femininity; as former slaves and black women, it was an ideal that was forever out of their reach. Yet, Haiti would not exist as it does if it were not for its black women. They say to each other, “We are ugly, but we are here. We are important. I see you, my sister. I recognize your beauty.”
That’s what this piece was for me. Recognizing the beauty in the pereceived ugliness that is black dancing bodies. For the longest, we were told that we could not do ballet. We are cut from shows like So You Think You Can Dance because we don’t fit Nigel Lithgoe’s idea of what a proper dancer should look like. But we are still here. Still feeding this American society as we always have.
In this work, I wanted to play with and explore the idea of what is ugly in form and appearance. I didn’t want to make a pretty dance. I wanted to make something that challenged in some ways what an audience thinks they are going to receive when they go to a dance concert (especially at OSU). I choose a cast entirely of people of color — a Black man, a Black woman, and a Chinese woman. I set it to “The Beginning” by the infamous jazz musician and composer Sun Ra. (Check it out; its very cool!)
The actual performance of this piece was everything I imagined it to be and more. There’s a special kind of nervousness that only choreographers know when we are sitting in the audience waiting for the first cue to go on our piece. There’s a special pride we feel when our dancers nail a particularly tricky section of choreography. It’s hard to let go and realize that it’s really not your piece any more — it’s theirs. Those dancers who have showed up and stayed late week after week earning your trust and faith. I’m so thankful for them and grateful for their hard work and dedication. I’d also like to thank all my advisors, friends, and family who each played an integral part in my success.
I claimed this piece to be a sort of prerequisite for my senior project. I look forward to delving into the heavier coursework over the course of the next year, and I am excited to keep making and exploring the things that I love.