Dallas Black Dance Theatre presents new ballet – NBC 5 Dallas-Fort Worth

Great art inspires more great art.

Echoes of Diaspora: A Ballet Inspired by “Afro-Atlantic Histories” is a ballet commissioned from DBDT: Encore!, Dallas Black Dance Theatre’s second company, as part of the Dallas Museum of Art’s Arts & Letters Live event series. The ballet will be presented Jan. 18 in the museum’s Horchow Auditorium.

The ballet is derived from the museum’s current exhibition, Afro-Atlantic Histories, on view through February 11. Initially organized and presented in 2018 by the Museu de Arte de São Paulo (MASP), the exhibition comprises around 100 artworks and documents produced in Africa, the Americas, the Caribbean, and Europe from the 17th century to the present day, including works from the museum’s own collection. The Dallas Museum of Art’s presentation of Afro-Atlantic Histories is the last stop of the exhibition’s U.S. tour.

DBDT: Encore! is the second company of Dallas Black Dance Theatre.

Organized thematically, the exhibition visually explores the history and legacy of the Black Diaspora, with a focus on the transatlantic slave trade.

“Afro-Atlantic Histories is a rich and revelatory exploration of visual culture that offers a deeply international vision of Black aesthetic traditions,” said Ade Omotosho, The Nancy and Tim Hanley Assistant Curator of Contemporary Art. “Rather than organize artworks chronologically, the exhibition unfolds thematically, which yields compelling juxtapositions that reveal the ways the past lingers in the present.”

Nycole Ray, the artistic director of DBDT: Encore!, uses those themes and the power of the artwork to create this new ballet. Ray discusses the impact the exhibition, the creation of the new ballet, and how these dance and visual art complement each other.

NBC DFW: What was your first reaction when viewing Afro-Atlantic Histories?

Nycole Ray (NR): Upon first viewing Afro-Atlantic Histories, I was deeply moved by the profound narratives and rich cultural tapestry presented in the exhibition. The artworks conveyed a poignant journey through history, sparking inspiration for translating these powerful stories into the language of dance.

NBC DFW: Were there any pieces of art in the exhibition that stood out to you?

NR: Several pieces in the exhibition resonated strongly with me. Specifically, Aaron Douglas’ Into Bondage, Romare Beardens’ The Black American in Search of His Identity, Ernest Crichlows’ Harriet Tubman, Toyinn Ojielu Odutolas’ All These Garlands Prove Nothing, Abdias Nascimentos’ Exu Damballah, and Emanuel Araujos’ O Navio (The Ship) to name a few, encapsulated the resilience, beauty, and complexity of the Afro-Atlantic experience. These became pivotal touchstones in shaping the narrative and emotional arc of the ballet. There were also images from the Afro-Atlantic Histories book That left an indelible impression on me. These pieces became the emotional anchors, influencing the choreography and shaping the thematic journey of the ballet.

Dallas Museum of Art Afro-Atlantic Histories Into Bondage

Kimberly Richard

Aaron Douglas’ Into Bondage is one of many artworks that inspired Nycole Ray as she created Echoes of the Diaspora.

NBC DFW: How did you translate this exhibition, the themes of this exhibition into dance?

NR: Translating the exhibition’s themes into dance has been a nuanced process. Each section of the ballet aligns with key elements from the exhibition, aiming to capture both the historical depth and emotional resonance depicted in the artworks.

NBC DFW: What music are you using and how did you select it?

NR: The music for Echoes of Diaspora is a curated selection that complements the emotional and historical narrative of each section. Drawing from a diverse range of genres, including traditional African rhythms, negro spirituals, jazz, and contemporary compositions, the music was chosen to enhance the storytelling, evoke emotions, and resonate with the audience.

NBC DFW: How do you think dance amplifies the experience of viewing the exhibition? And how do you think the exhibition amplifies the experience of seeing the ballet?

NR: Dance, as a visceral and emotive medium, amplifies the visual narratives of the exhibition. It adds a dynamic layer, allowing the audience to feel the rhythms, struggles, and triumphs depicted in the artworks. Simultaneously, the exhibition serves as a visual anchor for the ballet, enriching the audience’s understanding and creating a seamless connection between the visual and performing arts.

Learn more: Dallas Museum of Art

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