“The Trace Of An Implied Presence” Explores The Influence Of Contemporary Black Dance In The United States

The Trace Of An Implied Presence Contemporary Black dance

Tiona Nekkia McClodden’s, The Trace of an Implied Presence, is now showing at the Shed in New York. Mclodden, an accomplished filmmaker and curator, has created an art installation that celebrates the legacy of contemporary Black dance, as well as showcases the talents of current performers. Specifically, the installation features four unique dance floors, each themed with a different style of dance, including modern, concert, and tap dance.

Celebrating Black performers

Each floor also includes a large, hanging screen playing footage of influential Black performers. Kim Grier-Martinez, the artistic director of the Rod Rodgers Dance Company, for example, is shown discussing choreographer Rod Rodgers’s influence on modern dance, while tap dancer Michael J. Love is also shown performing on another screen. Elsewhere, Audrey and June Donaldson, “Philly Bop” experts, can be seen performing this iconic Black social dance that originated from Philadelphia in the 1950s. Award-winning dance artist, Leslie Cuyjet, is also shown performing (Marion Cuyjet was Cuyjet’s great aunt and the first Black American ballerina. Although Black people weren’t allowed to learn ballet in the 1940s, Marion had a lighter skin tone and was therefore allowed to take classes).

Exploring the history of Black contemporary dance

McClodden also uses footage sourced from the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Hamm Archives, and footage of the Dance Black America Festival in 1983, which celebrated 300 years of African American dance, in particular. This footage features revolutionary Black contemporary dancers, such as, Katherine Dunham, Alvin Ailey, and Asadata Dafora. Unlike typical contemporary dance-orientated exhibitions that usually rely on performers to carry otherwise stagnant installations, McClodden ensures her exhibition centers around their movement and artistic expression.

The process of teaching dance

Today, contemporary dance is accessible to and welcoming of anybody at any stage of life. In the UK, for example, the Royal Academy of Dance, is a renowned dance school with classes for younger and older students alike. And, in the United States, the Joffrey Ballet School and the Juilliard School are considered some of the best dance schools in the world. At McClodden’s installation, interviews with the dancers are also played, discussions which center around the process of sharing knowledge and teaching dance — a topic particularly relevant to the issue of Black history and the disparity between Black memory and “official”, archived history. Grier-Martinez, in particular, highlights the importance for her dancer’s to closely study Rodgers’ style of movement, while Cuyjet, on the other hand, speaks of the value in disregarding tradition and embracing novelty and disorder.

Attendees at the installation have the freedom to interact with the exhibit and even dance if they feel so inclined, although most choose to remain as spectators. The Donaldson’s, in attendance at the exhibit’s opening night, opted to dance together on the floor underneath footage of themselves. Ultimately, no matter how attendees choose to take in the installation, it successfully connects the history of contemporary Black dance to the present day.


Photo by Dominik Francis on Unsplash

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