A Brooklyn-based dance artist, teacher and performer, mayfield brooks, will perform in “Improvising While Black on Vashon,” alongside local dance artist Karen Nelson. (Courtesy Photo)

A Brooklyn-based dance artist, teacher and performer, mayfield brooks, will perform in “Improvising While Black on Vashon,” alongside local dance artist Karen Nelson. (Courtesy Photo)

Performance Sunday will examine issues of race on Vashon

“Improvising While Black on Vashon Island” is part of a series examing racial equity and justice.

  • Wednesday, February 6, 2019 1:49pm
  • Arts

On Vashon, it is rare to witness a dance performance on the topic of racial equity and justice, but two artists hope to change that when their collaborative project comes to the island this week.

The dance performance, “Improvising While Black on Vashon Island,” is part of an ongoing series, “Improvising While Black.” The series was created by mayfield brooks, a Brooklyn-based African American dance artist, teacher and performer, who prefers the pronoun “they” and spells their name with lower-case letters.

On Vashon, brooks will collaborate with local Vashon/Seattle-based dance artist Karen Nelson, who is white. The show will have one performance at 1 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 10, at Open Space for Arts & Community, followed by an audience discussion.

Tickets are by donation at the door, with no one turned away for lack of funds. Donations will support Nelson’s and brooks’ work on Feb. 11 with small groups of students at Chautauqua Elementary School and Vashon High School.

At the performance at Open Space, audiences can expect to see a work of dance improvisation — an art form that was created in the 1960s by dancers who were influenced by choreographer Merce Cunningham, musician John Cage, visual artist Robert Rauschenberg and others.

The performance, Nelson said, will be served up in a style that audiences may not be familiar with as compared to improvisation within the context of music, theater and comedy. It will include dance, movement, storytelling, singing and visual imagery.

“Beyond verbal, it is a poetic-like narrative, a space where interpretation is in the eye and heart of the beholder,” she said.

The performance is a reflection of brooks’ larger aim to convey their perspective of blackness in the most experiential way possible, directly addressing issues of identity, diversity and community accountability.

“In a way, blackness is like a trickster because people think they know what it is, but we really don’t. It is a question. It lives in a question,” said brooks in an interview with Contact Quarterly.

According to Nelson, the performance is also intended as a means to “create a culture of support and beloved community for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) and white allies.”

The project was originally created by brooks in 2012, and named “Improvising While Black” as a references to brooks’ personal experience of “driving while black” in San Francisco. The vernacular “driving while black” refers to a common experience of Black drivers when they are pulled over by authorities for minor or fabricated traffic infractions.

“In ‘Improvising While Black,’ my substitution of the word ‘driving’ with ‘improvising’ serves as a reminder of my personal experience with racial profiling and the fact that performance is a type of racial profiling,” mayfield explained in the interview.

Nelson and brooks first met in 2014, and since that time the pair has collaborated in creating videos, articles and workshops. This will be the duo’s first public performance.

Nelson suggested adding “on Vashon Island” to the title of the performance on Vashon, not only to name the locale but also for what she said would be “the shocking thrill of seeing the word ‘Black’ next to the name of this very white-skin majority island.”

In program notes for the dance piece, Nelson and brooks have explained their collaborative purpose: “Since we are coming together in solidarity in recognition of anti-blackness as a palpable form of violence in the world, we notice each other in the dance. … We acknowledge the breakages.”

“Improvising While Black” has received support from The Movement Research Artist-in-Residence Program and several prestigious foundations, including the Jerome Foundation and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, as well as the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs. The production on Vashon received funding from 4Culture and is co-sponsored by Vashon-Maury Showing Up for Racial Justice.

More in Arts

The Church of Great Rain is ready for its resurrection

It has been seven years since the popular variety show was staged.

The stage is set for arts center’s ‘Masquerade’

Appetizers and dinner will be served by Herban Feast as guests bid on silent auction items.

New speaker series has an eclectic lineup

“We looked for people who have experience with an audience and are great storytellers.”

What’s Happening Sept. 19 – 26

Hurra! Oktoberfest; LGBTQ films to screen; get caught in The Cyclone Line; and more.

A rainbow-hued musical mix set to shimmer at showcase

“We need more diversity among our performing musicians, and we need to hear their voices, too.”

Best of Conscious Cartoon fest arrives

The animation festival is the first of its kind solely focused on works addressing social issues

Americana quartet to bring bluegrass roots to Open Space

They are known for lush vocal performances and intricate instrumentals rooted in folk and bluegrass.

What’s Happening Sept. 12 – 19

Toi Toi Toi ‘La Traviata,’ acclaimed authors say ‘write on’ past 70, “The Boys Who Said No!” and more.

Irish accordionist celebrates move to Vashon with show

Upcoming concert will mark beginning of John Whelan’s participation in island music scene.

Most Read