The blog of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation
“I want to make dance as relevant as this,” Nora Chipaumire said as she tugged on her Miami Heat tank top after her performance of "Rite Riot" at MDC Live Arts Lab. Chipaumire wasn't being hyperbolic. Despite the avant-garde nature of her work, Chipaumire wants to connect with large-scale audiences and talk about important social and cultural ideas such as gender, race and class.
During her month-long teaching residency at MDC Live Arts Lab, Chipaumire encouraged participating artists to discover their personal philosophy and embody it. “I told them to write a manifesto,” Chipaumire said. And they did. Through an intense series of master classes (5 hours a day for 4 days a week), Chipaumire championed critical thinking and theoretical discussions as much as dance. These discussions helped the artists unpack the cultural and social influences that inform their movements.
“Nora challenged me to grapple and wrestle with intimate and often times difficult questions of myself and what I want my work to really say,” said participating artist JoAnna Ursal. “She gave me permission to understand all the layers of who I really am and unapologeticlly claim them as valuable, essential and relevant in my work as a choreographer, educator and researcher in the field of contemporary dance.”
MDC Live Arts Lab provided Chipaumire and local participating artists valuable time and space to experiment, research, refine their skills and engage one another in critical discussions. The residency culminated in a group performance and Chipaumire's “Rite Riot,” which gave the audience a clear idea about who Chipaumire is and what she stands for: illumination of the mind at all costs.
As Pioneer Winter shoved an incandescent light bulb in her face, Octavio Campos shouted offensive questions at her: "Are you HIV +? Are you a lesbian? Do you like to suck _____?" In the face of it all, Chipaumire moved with confidence. With her head held high and seemingly unfazed by the verbal violence, Chipaumire embodied the idea of self-empowerment.